What Trump's Handshake with France's President was All About

May 25th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

President Donald Trump met his handgrip match on Thursday.

During a meeting in Brussels on Thursday, Trump shook hands with France's newly elected president Emmanuel Macron. The handshake was marked by "considerable intensity," The Washington Post's Phillip Rucker wrote, with "their knuckles turning white and their jaws clenching and faces tightening."

But while extended, forceful handshakes have become something of a hallmark of Trump's foreign relations, this one was different: Macron seemed to have the upper hand. He hesitated before letting Trump escape the death grip, which lasted about five seconds — and that was intentional, media critic and body language expert Joel Silberman told ATTN:.

"When you look at the close-up of the handshake, Mr. Trump wanted it to end far before the man from France did, and you see it in the waving fingers," Silberman said. "Those waving fingers were surrender. He met someone younger, more vibrant, and more energetic than he is — who is definitely looking at him with a look to say, 'You do not intimidate me.'"

By the end of the handshake, the grimace on Trump's face also proved telling, Silberman said. He pointed out the president's "narrowed slit of eyes," noting that his smile "was not congruent with what the eyes were saying." Rather, the facial cues indicated that "Trump knew he didn't win the exchange."

Beyond the veneer of diplomacy, there was a discomfort and tension, Silberman said. That's due in part to Trump's implied endorsement of Macron's conservative opponent Marine Le Pen in the run-up to France's 2017 election. But it also had something to do with the setting of the meeting, which took place just ahead of a NATO summit. Last year, then-candidate Trump called NATO "obsolete" and threatened to pull out of the alliance.

Though he's since reversed his position on NATO, Silberman said "Macron was absolutely wanting to present himself as very strong and saying, 'Think twice, sir, before you abandon your European allies."

"There was a bit of warning in Mr. Macron's approach to Trump," he said. "I definitely feel like an implied threat was placed."

The handshake wasn't Trump's only interaction that caught international attention on Thursday. The president also forced his way to the front of a group of foreign NATO leaders, pushing Montenegro's prime minister, Dusko Markovic, aside in the process.

The alpha move raised eyebrows, with some speculating that Trump was overcompensating due to his sense of insecurity at the summit.