Support 100 years of independent journalism.

  1. Politics
14 February 2017

A brief history of Donald Trump’s handshakes

Would you prefer the Potential Whiplash or the 19 seconder? 

By ruby Lott-Lavigna

Hello and welcome to the 21st century, where the President of the United States struggles to perform simple actions such as completing a handshake. The man tasked with unifying a nation divided, managing delicate international relations and trying to ban Muslims without explicitly stating he’s banning Muslims has one more thing to add to his list: performing a greeting.

Trump has literally no experience in almost every part of politics, but one would assume he’d have vaguely grasped the concept of a handshake. For President Trump, masculinity lies in the act of a handshake. His pure virility is on show as he wraps his hands around yours and tugs at your every fibre of being. “I Am Man,” his shake seems to say, as you try and unclasp your hands 26 seconds into the exchange, anxious and clammy from this hitherto unforeseen finger jive you’ve just unwillingly performed.

Every state meeting, every deal he completes – Trump’s got to do the shake. The 60s had the Cuban Missile Crisis, the 70s had Watergate, and today we have a powerful head of state unable to say hello in the form of a standard physical greeting.

So, for future games of Trump Handshake Bingo, here’s what to look out for:

The “Potential Whiplash” shake

Sign up for The New Statesman’s newsletters Tick the boxes of the newsletters you would like to receive. A weekly newsletter helping you fit together the pieces of the global economic slowdown. Quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics from the New Statesman's politics team. The New Statesman’s global affairs newsletter, every Monday and Friday. The best of the New Statesman, delivered to your inbox every weekday morning. The New Statesman’s weekly environment email on the politics, business and culture of the climate and nature crises - in your inbox every Thursday. Our weekly culture newsletter – from books and art to pop culture and memes – sent every Friday. A weekly round-up of some of the best articles featured in the most recent issue of the New Statesman, sent each Saturday. A newsletter showcasing the finest writing from the ideas section and the NS archive, covering political ideas, philosophy, criticism and intellectual history - sent every Wednesday. Sign up to receive information regarding NS events, subscription offers & product updates.

A man somewhere early in Trump’s life once told him: “Son, if you grab a man by his hands, and yank him towards you so hard that he can barely stand, you will win his wife and cattle.” This seems to have determined the businessman’s technique to present day. This particular style can be seen in exchanges with Vice President Mike Pence, as well as Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Judge Neil Gorsuch. It is characterised by an erratic tug that transposes the vertical axis of a generic handshake to a horizontal one.

Content from our partners
Small businesses can be the backbone of our national recovery
Railways must adapt to how we live now
“I learn something new on every trip"

The “I am scared of small ramps so let me grasp your hand limply” shake

After constant coverage of the first meeting between Prime Minister Theresa May and Trump, a weird thing happened. Sure, there was much to be said about Trump’s feelings towards Nato, or May’s blatant inability to condemn Trump’s ban, but the real political intrigue lies in why exactly Trump held May’s hand. Was it an in-transit shake on the way to lunch? Or, as sources have suggested, a panicked reaction based on the small decline of the pavement Trump and May were walking on? A true mystery of our times.

This shake defies conventional definition, sitting in an ambiguous space between an elderly couple holding hands, and heads of state greeting for the fifteenth time. A gentle technique is used here, often combined with a small pat – one of Trump’s rare soft moments.

The “19 Seconder”

Need to show one of your closest international allies who’s really boss? This handshake is for you. A real marathon session, this particular handshake shows not only a physical confusion from Trump, but a temporal one too. Lasting for a total of nineteen seconds, the shake between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump at their joint press conference was a new addition to the cannon. Abe’s parting eye roll at the seconds he would never get back in his life is a must for this style of shake.

The “Do you even lift bro” shake

Beautiful Justin Trudeau and his stupid beautiful hands. Here, Trump’s standard handshake was overridden by Canada’s Prime Minister, in a true dance of morals (and bicep control). Anticipating an erratic shake, Trudeau steadies himself with a shoulder grab. This in turn requires Trump to also grab Trudeau’s shoulder. All four hands are now touching, grabbing at power and masculinity; scrabbling over truth and justice; liberty and freedom. In this important show of power, it is Trudeau, that wins.