Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin met yesterday at the G-20 summit. Presumably they had something important to discuss — but you wouldn’t know it from the press coverage.
No, newspapers around the world were more interested in the Trump-Putin handshake, and more specifically which of these leaders of two of the world’s most powerful countries got the better of the other during the handshake. The New York Post even consulted a body language expert who concluded that Trump “won on points” because he used the palm-up approach, which apparently is some kind of domineering power-play technique that allows the handshake to proceed to a vise-like grip. From the breathless analysis, you’d expect that President Trump carefully considered, but ultimately didn’t use, the “knuckle-roll” approach to really let ol’ Vlad know who was boss.
The reporting on this brief incident make it seem as though these two leaders were behaving very consciously during every instant of the handshake encounter. Perhaps that is so at the international leader level, but for most people a handshake is a pretty unconscious event. You meet someone, you reflexively stick out your hand — a tradition that apparently stems from ancient times, where the open hand indicated you weren’t holding a weapon — and give the other person’s paw a basic shake. It’s only a noteworthy incident if the other person’s hand is weirdly damp, or their handshake is incredibly limp, or they try the bone-crusher approach. Absent something like that, the handshake moment passes by in a flash without a thought and you get into the substance.
In our modern media, though, substance just isn’t as interesting as trying to read “body language” and speculating about what each twitch and eye movement meant and being distracted about meaningless minutiae. Next thing you know, the media will be asking Putin what he thought about President Trump’s hand size.
Let’s hope Trump and Putin actually focused on something more meaningful.