The art of the handshake is a difficult one to perfect. Growing up, we're often taught that the best kind of handshake is one administered with a firm grip, accompanied by brief pump and a quick but direct dose of eye contact. Don't go limp like a fish, they say. But don't squeeze so hard your new acquaintance loses all feeling in their fingers, either. There are a lot of rules when meeting someone new, and in many ways, a handshake is an exercise in moderation and personal judgment. Indeed, your unique handshake style says a lot about you.
Which is why, perhaps, we're so obsessed with President Trump's bewildering glad-handing technique. It's been analyzed and critiqued from all angles, both mocked as weak and lauded as legendary. And since he assumed office, he's had many a strange handshake (and hand-holding) encounter with fellow world leaders.
Some of his handshakes are unnecessarily aggressive, even causing the person on the receiving end to nearly lose their footing. In rare instances, Trump's handshakes are fleetingly tender, like when he held Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's hand for a prolonged period and then complimented his "strong hands." And nearly all of the president's handshakes are awkward enough to make onlookers cringe.
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But the saga of Trump's handshakes dates back long before he even set his sights on the Oval Office. Here's a comprehensive rating of Trump's most memorable handshakes. They've been judged on their levels of awkwardness, aggressiveness, and tenderness. Our scale ranges from 1 to 5 — with 1 being the least aggressive, tender, or awkward. Let's meet the contenders, shall we?
French President Emmanuel Macron
Here, we see Macron refuse to let Trump emerge dominant from this white-knuckled grip. The fact that it's not a one-sided yank of an arm makes it less cringe-worthy than some of Trump's other handshaking experiences, though the begrudging semi-smiles on both men's faces up the ante on awkwardness. The Washington Post's Jonathan Capehart reported that Macron had been warned in advance about Trump's handshakes.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe
Take a look at the expression on Abe's face for evidence of how monumentally uncomfortable this handshake was. Trump managed to score high ratings in all three categories by maintaining the grip for a grueling 19 seconds. Trump's grasp looks just a little too firm, and the hand pat at the end coupled with Trump's comment on Abe's hand strength puts this encounter off the charts.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
What started out as a handshake between Trump and Modi after a joint press conference slowly morphed into a hug, scoring this handshake major tenderness points. Trump gives Modi's arm a slight signature yank before they mutually agree to go in for an embrace, but compared to Trump's white-knuckled grips with other world leaders this is about as non-aggressive as a Trump handshake gets. The tentative back-patting does make this awkward though.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson
A little prolonged and definitely jerky, but nothing particularly notable when compared to some of Trump's other introductions. Points gained for tugging at Tillerson's arm.
Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau
This handshake manages to rate pretty low across two of the three ratings thanks to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau's quick reflexes. When Trump goes in for the grab, Trudeau strategically places his other hand on Trump's shoulder, effectively preventing Trump from holding him in too long or too close, or yanking Trudeau's hand too hard. The look Trudeau gives to Trump's extended hand later in their meeting, however, reveals just how weird the whole ordeal really was.
Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch
Poor Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch, then just a nominee, nearly lost his balance (and maybe his arm?) on his big night thanks to Trump. Gorsuch's entire upper body jerked forward like a rag doll at the force with which Trump yanks his arm, and Trump managed to pack an impressive three tugs into this one handshake. He also squeezed in a hand pat. And this all happened on stage.
Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson
This little encounter happened way back when now-Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and Trump were just Republican presidential candidates. While onstage at a Republican presidential debate, Trump extended his hand, as if to give Carson a high-five. But then Trump went in for a handshake and ended up grabbing Carson's thumb, which he gave a quick shake before retreating. This one wins extra points for awkwardness because it happened in the middle of a live televised debate.
Vice President Mike Pence
Trump has a crowd to attend to while he's shaking Vice President Mike Pence's hand, so their handshake is relatively brief by Trump's standards, though perhaps on the longer side for everyone else. Trump does fit in his signature arm-jerk, dragging Pence forward just a step. He turns back to the people before letting go of Pence's hand, letting the vice president escape before Trump doles out a hand pat or a bizarre comment on Pence's grip.
British Prime Minister Theresa May
Trump's meeting with British Prime Minister Theresa May quickly devolved into what looked like a very weird wedding procession. Trump may have grabbed May's hand as an act of chivalry as they descended the stairs, but then the whole thing went on for far too long. Awkward indeed.
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