President Donald Trump continued his series of awkward handshakes with foreign leaders on Friday, engaging in a hard-to-watch 25-second-long handshake with French President Emmanuel Macron on the streets of Paris.
Following the Bastille Day military parade on the Champs-Elysees, Macron and Trump bid farewell with a prolonged handshake that, according to body language expert Patti Wood, quickly became a power struggle between the two alpha males.
After the two leaders met at the G7 summit in May, Macron described his first handshake with Trump as a way to “show he would not make small concessions.” That show of power was once again on display in the two leaders’ Paris encounter.
Wood explained in an interview that from the first moments of the handshake, Macron established power by putting his hand on top of Trump’s and turning the front of his body away from Trump, giving him the upper hand.
“Trump is exposed and he’s not,” said Wood, a professional speaker and author of SNAP: Making The Most Of First Impressions, Body Language, and Charisma. “That’s interesting, you know — it’s very thoughtful, not to expose the front of [Macron’s] body, so that he’s more protected, and then he came top-down in that handshake.”
Trump, meanwhile, was “glaring down at the hands and has a seed of a grimace on his face, so he’s not happy,” Wood pointed out.
“He’s not happy about being on the bottom — that’s passive,” she continued, adding that Trump then patted Macron’s hand “to admonish him for doing a top-down handshake and gain power again.”
“Here you see a response and a struggle for power,” Wood said.
The two continued to struggle, neither letting go — but while Trump had to “make more of an effort” to gain control, Macron was “much more comfortable” as he continued to assert his power, Wood said.
“Macron is keeping the handshake more in front of his body, which is what we’ve traditionally seen since Trump became president, what he does — [Trump] tries to keep the handshake in front of him, to try to maintain his power and control,” Wood said.
Macron’s wife, Brigitte Trogneux, eventually entered the interaction. Though Trump seemed to try to end the handshake, a “bizarre battle” ensued, Trump embracing Trogneux while continuing his handshake with Macron.
“You can’t analyze this handshake without talking about what happens with [Trogneux],” Wood said.
“Notice how [Trump’s] left hand and arm go up over her shoulder and grip on tightly, and it’s an awkward grip,” she said, adding, “I can’t describe it any other way than slightly creepy.”
Trump’s interaction with France’s first lady marks his second awkward moment with her. The president came under fire Tuesday for making comments about her figure.
“It’s interesting to me that [Trump] can’t get out of the struggle with the guy, so he tries to take over the woman,” Wood observed. “It’s very primitive to me. And very highly unusual, in terms of etiquette. You would finish the handshake, and then you would go on to the next person — unless the handshakes are very warm and affectionate, and you know the person and want to bring them into you — and that’s not what this is. It’s a struggle for power.”
As Trump continued to grab at Trogneux, Macron hit at Trump’s arm — a way of silently saying, “Stop, let go of my wife,” Wood said.
Even as the handshake finally came to an end, Wood said the struggle between the two alpha males continued.
“I think Macron lets go, but then you see it continues,” she said. “Trump goes on top of his shoulder, and he goes underneath. It just continues. The struggle continues. Each one wants to continue on the power note.”
The whole excruciating interaction may signal that when it comes to Trump’s alpha-male handshakes, world leaders are coming prepared to fight. It was evident at the G20 summit, Wood pointed out.
“People are now aware of his desire to dominate the handshake and they’re prepared,” she said. “And they’re not letting it go.”