Machismo, Hand-shakes, and Angela Merkel

Since the US Republican Presidential debate in 2016, and more so since the entry of Donald Trump into mainstream politics, hands have played an important role in political discourse. “And he referred to my hands, ‘if they’re small something else must be small.’ I guarantee you there’s no problem, I guarantee it,” Trump had said, in response to Senator Marco Rubio’s comment about him having rather small hands.

It has been more than a year since this adolescent-level display of machismo in a completely inappropriate setting. Yet, Trump’s hands, and jokes surrounding their size have remained a constant in political coverage as well as late night comedy shows.

This hand obsession followed Trump in his first foreign trip as the President of the United States. A video of Melania Trump swatting away his hand as they walked on the red carpet at Israel’s Ben Gurion airport went viral. Even as talks about the Trumps’ unhappy marriage were doing the rounds, Donald’s little hands got even more coverage.

Trump’s awkward style of shaking hands was in public focus long before he embarked on this international voyage. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s expression after a painfully long handshake with Trump, Canadian President Justin Trudeau’s resistance to Trump’s awkward hand-yanking, Trump ignoring German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s request for a handshake, and French President Emmanuel Macron and Trump’s tense handshake were all widely covered, and spoken about. Newly elected Macron, who is seen as a counter against the wave of nationalistic politicians rising across Europe, explained his handshake saying, “One must show that we won’t make little concessions, even symbolic ones.”

Trudeau and Macron, both considered forward-thinking modern leaders, were hailed as the heroes who emerged victorious in this show of powerful handshakes, a topic that barely made news in the pre-Trump era.

Whilst the show of masculine prowess was still being discussed around the world, it took a woman, Merkel, to stand up and state in clear terms that Europe could no longer rely on their former allies, and had to take their destiny in their own hands. Some said that her actions may be poised for the upcoming German elections, where her opponents are taking a thoroughly anti-Trump stance, thus pressuring her to become more vocal about Trump’s policies. The need for a stronger, more united Europe after the shock of Brexit may also have prompted her actions. (http://www.reuters.com/article/us-germany-merkel-trump-idUSKBN18P0VV) Be that as it may, she was the first European leader to make a definitive statement about Europe’s opinions on Trump where others have only tiptoed.

Angela Merkel may have her own awkward handshake moments, where she appears to have dodged a handshake from our own Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a similar manner. But like the consummate professional that she is, never has she gotten into statements or discussions of meaningless one-upmanship. She may never have deemed that as necessary, being the leader of Europe’s strongest economy.

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Merkel at Trudering festival in Munich
FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor and head of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Angela Merkel toasts during the Trudering festival in Munich, Germany, May 28, 2017. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle/File Photo

On June 1, 2017, Trump made the decision to pull out of the Paris climate deal, which is a global agreement with 194 countries (including India), pledging to reduce carbon emissions and work towards a future with clean energy. While dismay at this decision was expressed by many of the developed nations bound by the agreement, Merkel was her usual composed but clear self, called the decision “extremely regrettable,” also saying, “I’m expressing myself in very restrained terms.”

Being a woman in a man’s world, perhaps she is not expected to participate in strenuous handshakes. But no one, not even Trump, doubts her great capability as one of the world’s most powerful leaders. Perhaps Merkel’s greatest strength is to speak clearly and consistently, nevertheless emphasizing on Germany’s willingness to co-operate with other nations. Then again, maybe her greatest strength is to act calmly and rationally, in spite of the constant show of machismo that surrounds her.

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