The simple handshake is a standard greeting in American culture, derived from a European practice that goes back at least to ancient Greece. I say, “simple,” but the act of shaking hands is often not simple at all.
I have always been fascinated by the secret handshakes by which members of various sub rosa societies may recognize one another. I worked with a man in the early 1980s who was a Mason of a fairly high order of magnitude. He was a member of one of the more serious-minded and tradition based historical Masonic orders, as opposed to the more common “masonic lodges,” which should more properly be called drinking clubs. This man was a fine poster-child for freemasonry, embodying all of its better characteristics. He told me of a time when he visited Australia with a group of manufacturing engineers on some kind of work related trip. Upon landing, they were met at the airport by several men from the Australian company that they would be working with. Shaking hands all around, he was alerted to the fact that one of the Australians was a fellow Mason. Later on that evening, they exchanged the coded secret words to insure that the handshake had not been a coincidence. Thereafter, they were bound to assist each other as brothers. Fascinating.
Perhaps it’s better to say that shaking hands is never really as simple as the nature of the act implies. A handshake always betrays personal information, and we are always judged by the nature and quality of our handshake. Along with a reading of facial expressions, there is a lot that may be learned in a short time. Fear may be noticed in a fight-or-flight response. Aggression and sociability are frequently displayed. Real affection is possible. But if you are not lucky, some men will attempt to dominate you with their handshake.
Yes, I’m winding this around to Donald Trump, as so often happens on this blog. I’ll get to that in a moment.
There are the bone crushers, a disturbingly large group with many sub-categories. Some are just glad-hands who don’t know their own strength. Of these, there are many that you can educate. I attended law school with a big, strong young Texan from a farm/oil community in West Texas. He could turn coal into diamonds with his hands, and evidently a powerful handshake was the norm in his milieu growing up. When I explained to him that he was killing me, he was genuinely grateful to hear it, and he modified his handshake permanently so as not to cause further offense. He thanked me again a few years later, because he had been glad to go forth into the legal community with a socially acceptable handshake, and not have to learn the hard way.
Others of this type do know their own strength, and they enjoy using it on every man that they meet. You can tell them that you have a bit of arthritis, so please take it easy, but they think that’s funny somehow and go on hurting you.
HELPFUL TIP: if you know, or suspect, that a man that you are about to shake hands with is a bone-crusher, seize his hand powerfully by the fingers before he has a chance to get his death-grip on you. Unless he is a trained martial artist, he will be helpless.
Then there are the guys who hold on tight and never let go. Now we’re moving on to Donald Trump territory.
By now there is a visual record of hundreds of Trump handshakes from the last two years, and it is disturbing. Trump is a dominator; man, woman, boy, or girl, he will try his best to dominate and frighten you with his wrestling-like handshake maneuvers. First he jerks your hand towards his right side so hard that you almost bump into his ample waistline. Then he pushes back and forth like a baseball umpire calling strikes. Then he turns his hand palm up, squeezing and jerking your hand the entire time. Often this procedure seems to go on forever. Mr. Abe of Japan was obviously confused and embarrassed by this kind of rough handling. Mr. Macron of France seemed almost amused, and attempted to turn the tables on Trump the next time they met. I’ll wager that there are many in the diplomatic community who have resolved never to shake hands with Trump again, and it is a certainty that Trump’s handshake is a popular topic of diplomatic conversation.
Yes, our unfortunate president treats everyone he meets as though they were air-conditioning contractors from Philadelphia. His attempt to dominate them with his handshake is part of his intention to bully them and cheat them. The effort begins immediately with the first handshake.
This is symptomatic of a larger problem with Trump. He seems to crave the approval of certain classes of people, such as the high society types in New York, Washington politicians, and the Hollywood upper crust. He almost seems to wish that people in general liked him. And yet he himself does not seem to like anyone, much less love anyone.
His children are virtual strangers to him; he famously ignored them all until they were university age. After that, the children of his first marriage seem to have gotten some attention from him, but the nature and extent of that attention is a matter for specialists, and I will not express an opinion. Poor Tiffany seems to have been born on the shit-list. She has always been, and remains, a non-entity. Trump ignores Barron whenever they appear together. Regarding children in general, Trump seems ill at ease. At this year’s Halloween gathering at the White House, Trump reached out and touched their little hands gingerly, as though he were afraid to catch an infection.
Of his ex-wives, he seems to get along with Ivana in some shallow way. Marla Maples, on the other hand, fled after their brief marriage to California and has not been seen or heard from since. That’s Tiffany’s mom. They share a life in the shadows. There’s a story there, but we will not hear it during Donald’s lifetime. Marla wrote a book for a major publisher about ten years ago, but publication was mysteriously cancelled “by mutual decision” at the last minute. Melania seems by turns pleased with the attention that she’s getting and annoyed to be in a room with Trump. Luckily for her, she maintains what for her and Trump passes for good looks, that medically enhanced, mega-statuesque quality that exists in relation to the truly beautiful as donuts exist in relation to the truly delicious. I can’t imagine that they talk together that much. She has future-ex-wife written all over her.
Of his friends, well, Trump does not appear to have any friends. In fact, he does not appear ever to have had any friends at all. There are no old friends from Jamaica; no old school chums from Fordham or Wharton. It’s possible that Trump’s only friend in history was his mentor, Roy Cohn. How sad would that be?
It is often said that Trump loves only himself, but my hunch is that the opposite is true. He hates everybody, including himself.
Oh, woe is the country that finishes its brief existence in the spotlight with a misanthrope like this for a president. Politicians and other paid professional optimists will say that America remains the Shining City on the Hill, and that it will take more than Donald Trump to bring us low! That’s what they get paid to say. But if we are being honest, we will admit that the arc our greatness turned downwards about thirty years ago, and Trump’s presidency is only steepening the decline. There’s time left, so enjoy it while you can. Don’t spend down your savings just yet, but diversifying your holdings might be a good idea. Think about including domestic and foreign property, precious metals and stones (with physical possession), and a basket of the more reliable foreign currencies. I no longer trust our politicians with the fate of the dollar, stocks, or bonds. If you have no holdings to diversify, and especially if you are over forty-five years old, might I suggest learning woodcraft, hunting, and gathering.
And if you somehow get stuck meeting the Donald, don’t shake his hand. Use any excuse, tell him you have the flu, tell him you just jerked off a dog, spit in your hand, anything. You’ll thank me after you watch him yanking the other suckers around the room.