You knew President Donald Trump’s trip abroad went well because the American media focused on hand-holding and handshakes instead of the dramatic changes in foreign policy toward American interests. Did Melania brush away her husband’s hand? Did you notice the power and strength of French President Emmanuel Macron’s handshake with Trump?
It was Macron’s handshake that enraptured the American media. They covered it from every angle, happy that someone on the global stage was standing up to Trump. The Washington Post, as of last count, has 41 articles mentioning “Macron” and “handshake,” dissecting it from every angle. A recent one explained the issue here:
Macron had surprised the world last week with his white-knuckle grasp of President Trump’s hand when the pair met for the first time. Trump had already gained notoriety for his handshake, a vigorous tug that has caught some world leaders off guard.
The French president, however, came prepared.
Though Trump leaned in first, he tried to release his hand from the lengthy shake, twice, while Macron kept squeezing. Speaking to Le Journal du Dimanche this weekend, Macron explained that ‘my handshake with him, it wasn’t innocent,’ later adding: ‘One must show that you won’t make small concessions, even symbolic ones, but also not overpublicize things, either.’
Politico listed it as No. 1 of the seven most “Macho Moments” of Macron:
Here are 7 moments when Emmanuel Macron showed his tough side:
1. The Trump squeeze
A great deal was riding on Macron’s first encounter with Trump. Would he stand up to the U.S. president or would he emerge cowed from their meeting, vowing to make America great again? At first the answer wasn’t clear. Leaders in suits were behaving like leaders in suits. Then came the handshake, when Macron squeezed the U.S. president’s hand (a Washington Post reporter described how the men’s ‘knuckles turned white’ and ‘faces tightened’ from the strain) and refused to let go even when Trump tried to pull back. In case anyone missed the handshake’s significance, Macron himself provided an explanation, saying it was ‘not innocent’ and symbolized his refusal to grant concessions.
CNN said that with his handshake, “Macron had faced down Trump” and that his handshake “looked more like an arm wrestle.”
You’d have to have a heart of stone to not laugh, then, when reading the end of this almost-entirely anonymously sourced report from the Washington Post about what that handshake got Macron. Remember the context was that the G7 leaders were trying to make sure that the United States stayed in the Paris climate deal. According to the Post’s anonymous sources going back and forth about how ineffective the lobbying to stay in the climate deal was:
But the president’s mind was largely made up: He would withdraw from the Paris accord.
If he needed a nudge, though, one came from France over the weekend. Macron was quoted in a French journal talking about his white-knuckled handshake with Trump at their first meeting in Brussels, where the newly elected French president gripped Trump’s hand tightly and would not let go for six long seconds in a show of alpha-male fortitude.
‘My handshake was not innocent,’ Macron said. He likened Trump to a pair of authoritarian strongmen — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and said that he was purposefully forceful because he believed his encounter with Trump was ‘a moment of truth.’
Hearing smack-talk from the Frenchman 31 years his junior irritated and bewildered Trump, aides said.
A few days later, Trump got his revenge. He proclaimed from the Rose Garden, ‘I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.’
Oh, Macron. Macron, Macron, Macron.
However stupid men and their handshakes can be — and this goes for both our president and France’s — if you’re going to play the intimidation game, you better have negotiating advantages to go along with it. Global leaders would be well advised to pay less attention to the media’s obsessions with regard to Trump and more to the real world, where American power is a force to be dealt with.
Did the young new president of France need to massage his own ego up by squeezing Trump’s hand really hard to firm up Trump’s resolve to say au revoir to the Paris deal? Maybe, maybe not. But it did give progressive journalists something vapid to obsess over instead of coming to grips with the fact that Trump is in charge and setting policy, and they’re not. And isn’t that what’s really important?