The president of the United States and the president of France have weaponized an ancient gesture invented to signal the absence of weapons. They have double-handedly ruined the handshake. On Friday, they made it official, in an excruciating conclusion to a long-running saga.
I. The Test of Wills
This story begins with what the French president, Emmanuel Macron, has described as a “moment of truth,” but which in truth was several long moments of calculated alpha-male bravado. Ahead of a NATO summit in Belgium in May, the French ambassador to the U.S. had warned his boss that Trump was a domineering handshaker; by this point, the American president’s fearsome Yank-Grip-and-Pump had already ensnared the likes of a Japanese prime minister and U.S. Supreme Court nominee.
Macron, fresh off an election victory that made him the youngest president in French history, decided to prove that he wouldn’t back down on the issues where he and Trump were at odds, including combatting climate change and strengthening the European Union. He chose to communicate this through a feverish clasping of hands that, according to one reporter in the room, caused each man’s knuckles to turn white and jaw to clench. When this became too much for Trump, he tried to break free. Macron wouldn’t allow it.