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29 October 2014updated 07 Sep 2021 11:18am

The handshakes of history

By New Statesman

What does a handshake reveal about the fragility of the world order? When Ronald Reagan met Mikhail Gorbachev for the first time, in Geneva in November 1985, the young Soviet leader recalled that their handshake was like a “spark of electric mutual trust which ignited between us”. It was the beginning of an unlikely relationship that considerably eased tensions between the two Cold War-era superpowers.

As a former reality TV star, Donald Trump likes stylised set pieces and grand public occasions. His summit with the North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un in Singapore allowed him to grandstand and posture. There was also a warm handshake. On 18 June, President Trump, who once refused ostentatiously to shake Angela Merkel’s hand after a bilateral meeting, traduced the German chancellor on Twitter. If, as David Reynolds writes on page 26, “summitry is all about symbolism”, the recent G7 summit in Canada exposed the deepening rift between the US and its long-time allies. And on this occasion it mattered little that Emmanuel Macron grabbed Mr Trump’s hand as if in desperate search of reassurance: the situation is much worse than the French president thought.

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