The XX Factor

Who’s Winning the Trump Handshake Challenge?

U.S. President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron hug with their fingers.
President Trump and President Macron hug with their fingers.

Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

When I was a little girl, my father, a salesman, taught me to always shake hands with a firm grip to make a strong first impression. Someone clearly gave a young Donald Trump that advice, too, but his toddler brain never adapted the info to accepted standards of human behavior. Now, every time the president must shake a fellow adult’s hand, he turns it into a cartoonish show of strength, pulling his partner’s hand to and fro, forcibly waggling his or her arm for an extended routine that looks both physically and emotionally painful.

Trump has been in office for several months, giving world leaders ample time to catch on to his attempts at manual intimidation. In Slate’s Trump Handshake Challenge, statesmen are pitted against each other in a battle of the phalanges. There can only be one winner—or can there? Here’s how some recent contestants fared.

Kanye West
After his bizarre meeting with the newly elected president at Trump Tower, Kanye West engaged Trump in a hand clasp–bro bump combo, forcing Trump into a stilted performance of masculine bonding. This made the president-elect look very uncool. But West still let Trump get the last word in their body-language conversation, allowing Trump to pat his arms like a father sending his unloved toddler son off to his first day of boarding school. 6/10

Shinzo Abe
The Japanese prime minister posed for a handshake photo with Trump a few months back, subjecting himself to an excruciatingly long session of Trump arm-wiggling. Abe kept his wrist limp, letting Trump use his knuckles as a grip strengthener and pull him so close he could probably smell the ketchup on Trump’s breath. Afterward, Abe wore an ambiguously amiable expression, either “Whoa ho ho, this guy is strong!” or “Whoa ho ho, this guy is nuts!” Trump commented, “Strong hands!” after the shake was over, making a motion like he was reeling in a fish. Overall, not a good look for the PM. 3/10

Neil Gorsuch
The Supreme Court’s freshest recruit managed to keep both his feet planted while twisting his torso, a move no doubt learned through reading Golf Magazine. After Trump’s first two pulls, though, the president knocked Gorsuch off balance a bit, causing the justice to mangle his dismount with an extra catch-step. 5/10

Mike Pence
A pet gains nothing by exhibiting strength before his master. The vice president puts his tail between his legs, lowers his head, and piddles a little when Trump comes over to shake his hand. Pence allows his body, an empty vessel for Trump’s wishes and excretions, to be pulled wherever the whims of the president take him. 1/10

Emomali Rahmon
A cute little tug of war broke out when the president of Tajikistan met Trump. Jolly and pleased, Rahmon pulled Trump closer, using Trump’s favored maneuver against him. 7/10

Emmanuel Macron
The brand spanking new French president pulled two power moves against Trump. First, he executed a fake-out while walking to greet NATO leaders, swerving away from Trump’s outstretched bogeyman arms to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel first.

When he did say hello to Trump, Macron pushed the president’s arm away when Trump got too aggressive.

In another handshake, with his face in a constipated grimace, Macron braced his arm against the Trump offensive. “We must show that we will not make small concessions, even symbolic ones,” Macron told the Journal du Dimanche of the handshake. 9/10

Justin Trudeau
When Canada’s heartthrob prime minister first greeted Trump, he gripped the president’s shoulder, preventing Trump from lurching any closer. This is a high-quality move known to anyone who’s ever had to slow-dance with an undesirable date at a wedding! Then, using his very nice arm muscles, Trudeau pulled Trump’s hand to his chest, taking control of the action. 9/10

The Winner
Match nul. These Francophone hotties have shown utmost gumption and agility when forced to touch Donald Trump—Trudeau totally topped in his handshake, and if Macron’s was a shade too reactive, his denial of Trump’s open arms in favor of anti-fascist Merkel more than made up for it. So it’s Trudeau and Macron in a tie. Let’s celebrate with a friendly handshake, fellas!

The co-winners of the Trump Handshake Challenge congratulate each other at the G7 Summit in Taormina, Italy, on May 26.

AFP/Getty Images