The Current

Trump and the art of the political handshake

World leaders are pushing back against U.S. President Donald Trump with his favourite age-old weapon — the dominant handshake.
U.S. President Donald Trump's awkward encounters with world leaders have prompted hundreds of viral memes and ample discussion. (Sean Kilpatrick/Canadian Press)

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U.S. President Donald Trump's handshakes have become legendary.

His awkward encounters with world leaders have prompted hundreds of viral memes, videos and photos over the last few months, but analysts say there's more to his handshakes than just comic appeal: Trump's wide range of pulls, yanks and tugs are significant power moves intended to signal alpha dominance.

Related: The Madness And Science Behind The Donald Trump Handshake

Washington Post reporter Philip Rucker has witnessed a series of such encounters, including the most recent handshake faceoff with the newly elected French President Emmanuel Macron at the NATO meeting in Brussels.

"It was very clear to me watching it that Macron wanted to establish himself as an alpha as well as Trump," Rucker tells The Current's Anna Maria Tremonti.

"He didn't want to be a secondary figure."

According to Rucker, Trump's signature handshakes originated from his decades-long career as a reality television star and real estate developer.

"Trump is an actor. He's a performer. He knows how to use body language to advance his cause politically," he explains.

While presidents in the past such as Barack Obama also put emphasis on their handshakes and body language, Rucker believes that people pay more attention to Trump's encounters because he cares about personal relationships.

"To him, foreign policy is less about the ideologies and the issues and more about the relationship that he can form with his counterparts around the world." 
As somebody who comes from a reality television and real estate background, Trump knows the importance of asserting dominance through body language. (Jonathan Ernst/Reuters)

'The perfect handshake'

Geoffrey Beattie, a psychology professor at Edge Hill University, has been shocked by Trump's interactions with other political leaders.

"The whole point of the handshake ... it's meant to be a cooperative and ritualized form of interaction and Trump somehow managed to change that," Beattie explains.

According to Beattie, the handshake is meant to be used as a sign of peace and reconciliation, not a power play.


However, asserting dominance using body language and handshakes are nothing new when it comes to politics.

"What's really interesting when you watch world leaders ... for example, going through doors, who puts their hand to the other person's back? Who pats for the last time?"

"You can see that they know about the incredible significance of these kinds of things."

Beattie says there are about 12 components that make up the perfect handshake.

"In order to send out the right signal … you have to get them all right. In Trump's case, he gets most of it wrong," he says.

"Deliberately so because for him, it's all about Donald Trump. It's all about centre stage. It's all about control and dominance."

Listen to this segment at the top of the web post.

This segment was produced by The Current's Catherine Kalbfleisch and Samira Mohyeddin.