Now it's a fact: you can get some insight into President Donald Trump’s foreign policy by taking note of the bizarre ways that he shakes the hands of foreign leaders. Seriously!
First there was the Abe Assault, nineteen seconds of Trump trying show the Japanese Prime Minister who’s the boss. Remember Shinzo Abe’s eye roll?
I'm guessing Justin Trudeau must have seriously prepared for the exchange. He leaned in deliberately with one hand firmly on Trump’s shoulder. The Canadian managed to force a handshake among equals.
Who can forget the Theresa May grab? It was not a handshake but rather a determined clutching of the British Prime Minister's hand. It looked like Trump intentionally misunderstands the term “special relationship.”
And finally we have had the Angela Merkel moment!
If you haven’t seen it, please go and look the video. The German Chancellor and Trump are seated in the Oval Office in yellow chairs that seem color matched to Trump’s yellow hair. While photographers are wildly snapping photos, someone off camera suggests a handshake, which grows into a chorus of “Handshake? Handshake?” Merkel turns to Trump and asks, “Do you want to have a handshake?” Trump says nothing, does nothing, and just stares straight ahead. He sits with legs splayed out, and posture bent forward. He sits like those men who take up two seats on the subway. Anyway, Angela Merkel then offers a slight shrug and turns her head away. That was the only thing she could do.
Of course it’s possible that Trump didn’t hear Merkel, or understood her words. But there’s no way he didn't hear the chorus of photographers calling for a handshake.
Trump’s lack of a handshake is not just a question of manners. It is another reminder of the vast differences between Merkel’s Germany, seen as today’s valiant protector of the global liberal order, and Trump’s America, a country ruled by a populist whose policies feature walls on borders and refugee bans.
Some of you might think these measures are justified and that they make sense, but bear in mind that societies die when cruelty masquerades as common sense.
And finally, Merkel came to the United States to talk about bilateral relations between the US and Germany, as well as each countries role on the international stage. Trump received her to talk about himself. His idea of finding common ground with Angela Merkel was by repeating the bizarre allegation that he too had been spied upon by Barack Obama.
The handshake is revealing. The origin of the handshake is to illustrate that you come in peace, to indicate that you are not carrying a weapon and that you want to bond with your fellow human through the mutual grasping of palms. The equivalent of the handshake in the world of governance is diplomacy. We can go and ridicule the strange spectacles surrounding Trump’s handshakes, but behind these weird anti-diplomatic pantomimes lies reality: Trump's is a government that doesn't believe in diplomacy and it downplays cooperation with others. The current American administration doesn't show any respect toward other countries and governments. And the President doesn't have any respect for other people. A handshake tells you a lot about a person.
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