It was a 2017 meeting between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Donald Trump, and reporters wanted a handshake. Merkel leaned in toward Trump and seemed, to many observers, to say something like, “Shall we have a handshake?” Trump appeared to ignore her and glared straight at the camera, in what many considered a breach of protocol. Or at least an awkward moment. Merkel pursed her lips, an important woman attempting to go with the flow.
On Twitter, a comedian named Sean Kent took note. “Trump’s refusal to shake Merkel’s hand or look her in the eye is an embarrassment,” he tweeted. “Can we get him the hell out of office?”
Kent was far from the only one to voice those sentiments, as a quick Twitter search for the words Trump, Merkel, and embarrassment will attest. We all feel secondhand embarrassment sometimes, like while watching a co-worker writhe as she frantically searches her brain for the boss’s husband’s name. But according to a new research paper, many Americans seem to be feeling a lot of embarrassment on behalf of one person in particular lately: our president, Donald Trump.
Of course, Americans have a history of expressing shame and embarrassment about all presidents. President Barack Obama was hammered by conservatives for going on what they called “an apology tour” internationally. Nevertheless, this study found, people tweeted about embarrassment during Obama’s presidency much less frequently than they have during Trump’s. The one exception was on October 9, 2016, the date of the second 2016 presidential debate, in which Trump called Hillary Clinton “the devil” and admitted to not paying federal taxes.