Have you heard the news?
Yes, if President Donald Trump’s first overseas sojourn has been successful in any way, it’s been his generous donation of peak hand-related content for the internet to consume. One moment, he’s clasped in a handshake with foreign leaders. Then he’s touching a glowing orb. Later, and perhaps continually, his wife is swatting his palm away like it was some kind of gnat. It’s all very weird. And so, I thought I’d try to make sense of it.
I’ll warn you from the outset that this was probably not a good idea.
Still, it is rather fascinating! What is happening here, exactly?
Melania seems to want no part of this hand hold. And we, in turn, seem to want to watch Melania swat it away, again and again. The above video is Zapruder-esque in its insistence that we perceive the details of this exchange. And a day later, she was shunning her husband’s hands again.
Perhaps the power of the Glowing Orb is still coursing throughout President Trump’s body, and it’s just too much for the first lady right now. Or maybe she’s not ready ― in these moments ― to exchange long protein strings with her husband. Holding hands is the best way to do that. (If you can think of a simpler way, I’d like to hear it.) It could be that it is she, and not the president, who is the actual germaphobe in the family.
President Trump is often the subject of speculation in that regard, but based upon his history of handshakes, I don’t see it. He seems to really enjoy shaking hands. I’d wager that meeting people, and getting to shake hands with them, is one of the things about the job that Trump finds fun.
Trump has a strange way of shaking hands. Sometimes it looks like he’s sawing a log with his handshake partner. Often, he seems to come in too high and too tight, with his hand curling over the other hand like some kind of talon, clutching meat. Sometimes, there’s a little bit of yanking involved. And, of course, there was the famous handshake that wasn’t, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The New Statesman’s Ruby Lott-Lavigna created something of a taxonomy of Trump handshakes back in February, noting a number of varietals ranging from “The 19 Seconder” (an epic handshake with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) to the “Potential Whiplash” ― the one in which Trump seemed to test the mettle of his new Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch, by attempting to pull his arm out of its socket.
One of the more common explanations of Trump’s odd handshake technique is that he is performing what amounts to a primate dominance ritual every time he goes to clasp hands with another human being. One on level, it works ― one can’t be blithe about a handshake with Trump. You know going in that it’s going to be weird. You have to plan for it, re-assert your own dominance. Trump deprives those with whom he shakes hands of the casualness of the encounter, giving him a psychological edge.
Of course, it still ends up looking weird and comical, like Trump has alien hand syndrome. So in this way, he squanders that edge.
Or does he? According to the History Channel’s Evan Andrews, there are historians who “suggest that the up-and-down motion of the handshake was supposed to dislodge any knives or daggers that might be hidden up a sleeve.” Check out this handshake from earlier this week, I think it’s safe to say that Trump’s handshake technique is really good when it comes to dagger dislodging.
When Trump got to shake the hand of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, it looked for all the world like he never wanted it to end. He offered his upturned palm with excitement and warmth. He patted the back of Abe’s hand with ginger affection. There was generous eye contact between the two men, and more hand patting. Afterward, most people read Abe’s facial expression as annoyance for how long the handshake took. But I don’t know. To me, Abe just looks spent after a really intense experience. Maybe a handshake from Trump is a really amazing thing to endure.
Trump is reportedly very insecure about his hands ― Graydon Carter’s old “short-fingered vulgarian” slur has apparently remained stuck in his mind over the years, to the extent that he often sends Carter photos of his hands in an effort to earn a retraction.
But he could do a lot worse. My hands are a spindly mess of double joints and marauding angles. If your hands say something about you, then mine attest to an overabundance of chlorine in my gene pool. Trump’s hands, while perhaps smallish, are architecturally sound and sturdy looking. His palms have distinct lines on them. My own do not: they look like a wayward chicken pecked its way across the topography of my palm.
In fact, here’s a true story. I was once at a party that was attended by a palmist ― one of those people who “reads” palms for signs that predict the future. Figuring my own weird impressionist-painting palms would flummox her to no end, I insisted she take a look. Immediately, she shot me a look of concern, and asked me, “Would you say that right now, in your life, you have distinct goals about what you want to achieve.” I did, and answered in the affirmative.
“Yeah, so,” she said, “Your goals are not going to work out.”
This was not what I expected to hear. “Really? Are you saying I should have different goals.”
“No. It won’t matter if you change them,” she said, “The same principle applies in any event.”
I was now pretty annoyed. “So, what? Are you saying I’m screwed?”
“I’m not saying that at all,” she insisted, “You just need to know that nothing in your life is ever going to go specifically the way you want it, no matter how badly you want it to.”
And so it came to pass that I woke up this morning and wrote a think piece about Donald Trump’s hands, despite wanting nothing more than to never have to do so.
Looking back, it’s clear that I never had a chance.
Jason Linkins edits “Eat The Press” for The Huffington Post and co-hosts the HuffPost Politics podcast “So, That Happened.” Subscribe here, and listen to the latest episode below.