If those get-ahead-in-business seminars in the conference room of your local Radisson are to be believed, the number one most vital key to success—above intelligence, market savvy and even start-up money—is a good handshake. A limp handshake indicates strength. A firm handshake shows confidence. And then there’s Donald Trump’s handshake: a rare physical display that seamlessly combines insecurity, aggression, narcissism and the vague look of someone who adds superglue to his palm before going in for contact. Given his newfound high-profile role as “side-show performer who momentarily conned his way into leading a country,” we now get the rare joy of viewing Trump’s cringe-inducing handiwork on nearly a daily basis. Here are his top five most awkward handshakes, ranked.
5. The London Calling
Before we go any further, let’s set some handshake standards. First: Pretend to shake someone’s hand. We’ll wait. Done? If you’re in public right now, someone probably took a vid of the weirdo trying to handshake a ghost and it might go viral but that’s not what we’re here to talk about. Notice how you extended your hand with your palm perpendicular to the floor? That’s because you’re a normal person, at least in this one tiny little way. But when Donald Trump goes to shake the hand of British Prime Minister and fellow leader of the free world Theresa May, he extends his hand with his palm facing the ceiling. Instead of going in for a respectful shake, Trump acts more like he’s about to kiss the delicate lady’s hand, possibly before turning to look for her husband or father to discuss matters of import. Unfortunately, the fact that he’s meeting with a world leader makes an otherwise quaint gesture simply uncomfortable to watch.
4. The One-Shake, Two-Shake Solution
When Benjamin Netanyahu was living in the New York in the ‘80s, he became friendly with Fred Trump and his family; perhaps that’s why Trump’s recent handshake with the Israeli Prime Minister is softer than we’re used to, maybe reflecting a familial or even paternal connection. But don’t get me wrong—that doesn’t mean it was remotely normal. President Trump at least extends his hand like a human, not some sort of odd orange pile of mashed hot dogs, but that’s where the customary approach ends. Perhaps in horror that he allowed himself to reach out to another person, once Netyanhu’s hand hits his, Trump extends no more kindness and no more arm, keeping Netanyahu close, as close as a child holding onto a security blanket, silently imploring the security blanket to get him out of this mess he failed upwardly into. Not to mention that, like all of Trump’s handshakes and like his presidency, it goes on longer than anyone involved is comfortable with.
3. The Poorly Judged
Neil Gorsuch is a conservative federal appellate judge and Trump’s nominee to serve on the Supreme Court, so we expect that Trump at least likes him. After giving a respectful speech thanking Trump for his nomination, Gorsuch reaches out to shake the President’s hand. At this point Trump takes the opportunity to pull Gorsuch towards him like he’s pulling in a misbehaving toddler who is about to be sent to time out. During the shake, Gorsuch actually has to readjust his footing, which might elevate this handshake to some sort of dance—as though Trump is both asserting dominance and trying to attract the best mate to birth his plans to repeal Roe v. Wade.
2. The Tokyoh-No
Nineteen seconds is a miniscule period of time in the grand scheme of the universe, but in certain moments—say, when waiting for your microwaved pizza bagels to cook, or for an auto-play ad to finish before you watch a video, or when shaking hands with Donald Trump—nineteen seconds is an eternity. That’s how long it took him to shake hands with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Sure, it was during a photo opp. Sure, at the very least both parties were sitting, so Trump couldn’t pull any of his classic “plant and yank” tactics. But he still managed to be both oddly condescending (look at him patting Abe’s hand) and uncomfortably confused as Abe tried to direct him, as politely as he could, to look at the cameraman. But the key to fully understanding those awful nineteen seconds is in Abe’s face after he finally gains freedom from the tiny suction cups of Trump’s palms. His expression reads, in a single flash, “Okay, how did America elect this bumbling sentient pile of squashed yams, and where is the nearest shower?”
1. The Oh Canada
While Donald Trump pretended the women’s marches didn’t even occur, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau praised the marchers, calling them inspirational. When Donald Trump shamefully turned away refugees, Trudeau calmly asserted Canada would take them in. Where Trump’s footsteps inexplicably salt the earth, leaving the ground beneath him scorched and barren, adorable baby animals get into no-holds-barred forest-fights to determine which ball of fluff gets to fall behind Trudeau, bouncing to populate every verdant step in his wake. When these two leaders met, everyone was focused on one thing: the handshake. Trump goes in full-force—you know he wants to drag that pretty boy towards him like a demon dragging a soul to hell. But, but, oh but—the world’s darling, Justin Trudeau, grabs Trump’s shoulder, clearly paralyzing our Supervillain-in-Chief with firm human kindness, at which point Trudeau doubles down and trumps Trump by pulling Donald’s hand in to him. For one moment we see the fear flicker across Donald’s face as he wonders when Trudeau will let him go, until—with a big smile, Justin releases the shake and Trump is free again to be the man he so desperately wants us all to think he is. This is the single most awkward handshake we’ve seen from Donald Trump thus far, and hopefully one we’ll get to see many more times.
Maura Quint is a writer whose work has been featured in The Onion, McSweeney’s, Playboy, and Death and Taxes. Follow her at @behindyourback.