Trump-Macron relationship all touchy-feely

US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron engaging in public displays of affection on Monday and Tuesday, during Mr Macron's state visit to Washington.
US President Donald Trump and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron engaging in public displays of affection on Monday and Tuesday, during Mr Macron's state visit to Washington.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

WASHINGTON • There was, simply, so much touching.

The two men kissed each other several times on the cheek. They shook hands and held hands and clasped hands. And they embraced and backslapped and shoulder-rubbed.

They were US President Donald Trump and French President Emmanuel Macron, and on Tuesday, they became even more entangled in their grand histoire d'amour.

The whirlwind, touchy-feely visit offered yet another glimpse into the Trump-Macron relationship.

The copious public displays of affection also raised the question of whether Mr Trump and Mr Macron had finally embarked on a true transcontinental bromance or if the two men were merely partaking in an alpha game of one-upmanship.

The answer, said Dr David Givens, director of the Centre for Nonverbal Study, is a little of both. "It's more of a playful dominance. The romance is there and they're just kind of fooling around, but it's real," he said.

Their relationship began last May with a white-knuckled, jaw-clenching handshake in Brussels.

Mr Macron is a savvy politician. He stands to gain on issues ranging from Iran to Syria if he can manipulate Mr Trump, and his affection, to become the leading European power player.

The physicality began almost immediately, as soon as Mr Macron's limousine pulled up to the White House South Lawn and the men exchanged double-cheek kisses.

At one point during the visit, along the East Colonnade, Mr Trump reached behind him for Mr Macron and they joined outstretched hands.

At the news conference, Mr Macron sometimes touched Mr Trump's arm as he spoke. And when the French President finished his prepared remarks, the leaders shook hands, then clasped hands, and then patted hands, before pulling one another close for another partial hug. Then it was time for yet another cheek kiss.

There were also moments of clear power dynamics. In the Oval Office, Mr Trump turned to Mr Macron and said that, in a sign of their "very special relationship", he was even willing to brush something from his suit. "In fact, I'll get that little piece of dandruff off," Mr Trump said, using a finger to briskly swipe at Mr Macron's suit. "We have to make him perfect. He is perfect."

The interactions throughout the visit, said body language expert Patti Wood, was largely about "gamesmanship". In calling out Mr Macron's alleged dandruff, Mr Trump "did something called primate grooming", she said.

"It said, 'We have an intimate relationship, but I'm dominant, I'm the alpha gorilla, I'm going to groom you. But I'm going to criticise you by saying you have dandruff and I'm going to do that on the world stage and see how you handle that,'" she said.

WASHINGTON POST

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2018, with the headline 'Trump-Macron relationship all touchy-feely'. Print Edition | Subscribe