The first time I met old-school Georgia Sheriff Arnold Ray Akins in 1993, he reached out to greet me and then turned his massive paw above mine in a weird display of handshake dominance.
It was pretty clear the Bulloch County Sheriff was trying to demonstrate that he was the biggest bull in the room. I liked the man, who I covered as a reporter for the Savannah Morning News, so I wrote off his irritating handshake as one of his little ways. Even though he habitually employed it each time we greeted one another.
I didn’t see the adolescent stunt again for 23 years, until Donald Trump won his battle of dueling Wall Street cheerleaders with Corporate Democrat Hillary Clinton in 2016 to become arguably the worst President in United States history. The fake tough guy and five-time draft evader now polluting The Oval Office plays a similar game. Unlike Arnold Ray, who was a genuine tough guy, he also squeezes hard in an attempt to inflict pain and continues the handshake for far too long.
Trump routinely turns handshakes into physical contests with world leaders, other U.S. elected leaders, opposing political candidates and even his own staffers. Just like a young teenager trying to prove his manhood by bullying anyone he can overpower and studiously avoiding those capable of standing up for themselves.
One of the few people Donnie Bagadonuts doesn’t pull this adolescent stunt with is Russian President Vladimir Putin. This notable omission is what poker players call a “tell.” A physical tick that indicates another player’s concealed hand.
When Trump turns his hand to assume the dominant position he’s saying “I’m the boss.” When he assumes the submissive position with Putin by turning his hand belly up, he’s basically saying “you’re the boss.”
Trump used a similar submissive shake with North Korean strongman Kim Jong-un, who he’s hoping will keep his word about denuclearizing The Korean Peninsula.
Curiously, Putin studiously avoids both the dominant and submissive handshake positions with just about everyone else but Trump. So, it’s not a tell for him. Whereas Trump pulls the dom-shake with almost everyone – male or female, ally or rival.
“Frankly, it’s rude,” body language expert Joe Navarro told Quartz.
Donnie Bagadonuts has four handshakes. The one he uses the most is the dom-shake, the one he uses the least is the submissive shake. His two other shakes are both efforts to camouflage dominant handshakes by others, either by covering the shake with his free hand or pulling it up into a bro shake.
Bagadonuts was an indifferent college student, who basically flunked out of Fordham University. He’s definitely not what would be considered a student of history. He may even be the first developmentally disabled president in our history.
So this trust-fund baby doesn’t know that a handshake is not meant to be a contest. It’s not a fight, it’s a greeting.
And he doesn’t seem to be able to distinguish between our longtime allies in England, France and Germany and our longtime rival in Russia.
He also doesn’t know that physically dominating aging, soft-bellied politicians who spend their days at a desk is a show of both weakness and poor manners. Not strength.
Others do, and have taken notice.
Trump shook hands with a visibly uncomfortable Shinzo Abe in February for a full 19 seconds – alternately pulling, pushing and lifting the arm of the smaller Japanese Prime Minister as photographers looked on. He pulled the same juvenile game with Emmanuel Macron in May, just before the NATO summit. Then again at the summit.
The 39-year-old French president retaliated by squeezing all the butter out of Trump’s 72-year-old paw at the G-7 Summit in June, leaving a white thumb print on it.
“The handshake is the ultimate focus of anxiety for a certain sort of self-conscious man,” according to The London Telegraph’s Rupert Evans. “Just as Trump is a poor person’s idea of what a rich person looks like, he also does a laughable impersonation of an alpha male.”
The hand shake began in Medieval times as a way to demonstrate you came in peace. Just like the military salute.
People shook hands to prove they had no weapon concealed in their palm. Mounted knights lowered their visors to make themselves vulnerable to attack, in a move now approximated by the military salute.
When Trump turns his hand to dominate those he’s greeting he communicates the idea that he’s in charge. So why doesn’t he communicate the same message to Putin, the former KGB intelligence agent whose social media troll farm is widely believed to be the architect of his improbable electoral victory?
Could it be because this opportunistic con artist works for Putin and the wily Russian has enough dirt to bury him?
Trump’s handshake says “yes.” So do his policies.