Maybe we should have seen this coming. Maybe when Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada, shocked the world by fighting Trump to a stunning handshake draw in Washington D.C., it should have opened our eyes to the fact that one of the great handshake combatants of our time was, dare we say, vulnerable. You can watch that instant classic in the tweet below, and read our fight analysis here.
But even after Trudeau's shocking result, Trump loomed large in the handshake world. Many, in fact, consider him to be the best of all-time. Look at what he did, for instance, to Japanese PM Shinzo Abe:
Here he is absolutely destroying his own Supreme Court nominee, Neil Gorsuch:
Did Mike Pence think he could stand up to the TrumpShake, just because he’s Vice President? If he did, he quickly learned his lesson:
And in what historians have come to recognize as one of the great psychological victories in handshake history, Trump owned Germany’s Angela Merkel by refusing to shake hands at all:
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. So you can forgive us if we thought that this legend of the game would never be defeated—not now, when he’s occupying the world’s most powerful office, and can use the prestige of the presidency, in combination with his great natural skill, to establish dominance over almost anyone.
Nor did we think, for even a second, that he would be defeated on neutral ground by a Frenchman. But that’s exactly what happened today, in Brussels, when he met with newly elected French president Emmanual Macron. Watch the video below, and then we’ll analyze it together. The handshake begins at the 17-second mark:
Unlike Trudeau, who clearly prepared for days ahead of his TrumpShake, and was prepared to engage in a kind of complex, fluid jiu-jitsu from a standing position at the White House, Macron takes a simpler approach. Basically, he eschews finesse and plays a pure power game. It’s a risky strategy against a big man like Trump, who, though he’s older, has clearly demonstrated that he hasn’t lost much strength in his recent tug-of-war battles.
The handshake starts, as most do, as a battle of wills. Beginning at 18-seconds in the video above, Trump and Macron lock hands and stare into each other’s eyes as the flashbulbs pop. From the start, though there is no obvious advantage, it’s obvious from the expression on Trump’s face that he’s mildly surprised by the Frenchman’s strength. Both men instantly grimace, and try to transform that grimace into a smile, but it’s clear that the test of force has begun.
At the 20-second mark, Trump attempts his patented “Trump Pump”—the forceful pull into the body which has destroyed so many world leaders. This time, though, the movie is almost indiscernible, and that’s because Macron counters it so quickly, and with such brute muscle, that Trump gained less than an inch of leverage, and in fact wound up losing ground as a result of Macron’s crushing defense. We saw Trudeau manage to withstand the same move in Washington, but with him, it was a matter of survival, while Macron actually took the offensive. It’s clear that he studied the film of the Trudeau encounter, and decided on the risky gamble of taking his response one step farther and playing for a win.
It paid off. After this daring maneuver, a stunned Trump was unable to recover. Macron, smile widening, continued to pump from the elbow and increase the strength of his grip on Trump’s hand, exerting pressure on the American president’s exposed knuckles. At the 23-second mark, now barely smiling, Trump broke eye contact first—a rarity—and turned to the photographers in desperation. He held on gamely for another split-second, but then came the critical moment that turned the handshake world on its head:
He tried to let go. Watch closely, and you can see his fingers release. Macron’s grip is clearly too much for him, and five seconds was all he could withstand. It’s a remarkable concession for such a proud man, and, unbelievably, Macron wouldn’t let him go. As if to emphasize his victory, and deepen Trump’s shame, Macron redoubled his grip. Trump’s fingers fluttered once, attempting to close the grip, but then released again. It was an absolutely vicious move from the Frenchman, and undoubtedly some scholars will question whether it violates the spirit of the game.
Finally, Macron shows a bit of late mercy and releases Trump’s hand, while saying “thank you very much” in English—a subtle hint to Trump that he has just dominated him in the public eye, and can now use the language of the vanquished enemy to assert the victory.
In all, the brutal six-second bout was shorter than most of Trump’s engagements, and shorter by a second than his draw with Trudeau. Macron was the kind of opponent he had not seen before, and was frankly not prepared for. It was a savage win for the French president, punctuated by a dose of humiliation, and it will inevitably tarnish the legacy of Trump, whose aura of invincibility has been irrevocably punctured. By a Frenchman.
In related news, expect America’s entire nuclear arsenal to fall on Paris by the end of the week.