On Tuesday, April 24, the president and first lady made an appearance outside the White House in a formal ceremony to mark the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron and his wife Brigitte. But the ceremony wasn't all smooth sailing. The video of Donald Trump trying to hold Melania's hand is another one for the record books.
In an MSNBC video from the ceremony Tuesday, Melania, wearing a white blazer and skirt, can be seen standing to her husband's left. He reaches out to initiate holding her hand using his pinky, and receives no response. He does this again a couple of times before, finally, Melania acquiesces. I spoke with Traci Brown, a body language expert who's written a book on the subject, about what the interaction meant.
"She is just not interested in engaging with him at all, she has no energy for that," Brown says. "He keeps trying, and eventually, she half-heartedly gives in. But she's checked out."
Trump's pinky maneuver was essentially him "testing the waters" to see whether he'd be rejected, Brown says. "It's no different from a 14-year-old kid trying to do that with his first girlfriend."
On social media, users descended upon the moment picked up by news cameras with abandon. "Donald Trump attempting to hold hands with Melania, only to be rejected over and over, is the cringiest thing I’ve ever seen," wrote Bleacher Report's Tyler Conway.
The Daily Show's handle shared an edited version of the video, splicing in views of Melania's face during each stage of the interaction.
Huffington Post reporter Maxwell Strachan wasn't pulling any punches, sharing a close-up clip of the couple's awkward hand moment.
One user joked that the couple's body language suggested that bribery was the only way they eventually locked hands.
But Trump apparently didn't struggle to get Macron on board with holding hands.
Digital strategist John Aravosis pointed out that it's not the first time the couple has failed to execute a normal handshake.
And in fact, it's getting hard to count on one hand (pun very much intended) the number of times Melania has outright rejected her husband's attempts to make the connection. The first and most notable was in May 2017 when the couple were in Israel for their international trip. The original infamous Hand Swat took place as the crossed the tarmac in Tel Aviv. But it would only herald one of many similarly painful moments. The next day, Trump again attempted to hold his wife's hand as they descended the plane in Rome, and she wasn't having any of it.
The trend has continued through this year, too. Not all of the moments have been as aggressive as the obvious swatting motion from May 2017, but regardless, they've been notable. When the couple went to Ohio in February, the president seems to have attempted to hold his wife's hand, and though her coat was in part preventing the connection, experts told Elite Daily that Melania "wasn't helping him at all." That seems to be the common thread, as the same thing happened on Easter. In fact, that time, Trump didn't try too hard to make the connection, either. But Tuesday's encounter went differently: There were no coats in the way, and Trump showed clear persistence in getting Melania to go along. And eventually, it worked.
Brown points out that in the past, Melania has put her coat over her shoulders rather than wear it, in warmer weather, which serves as a natural barrier between the two, whether that's her intention or not. "That's been a convenient way for her to block her hand from him holding it, whether it's unconscious or on purpose, we don't know," Brown says. She adds, "She's at risk of more exposure, so to say, to him, just by having that barrier gone."
Jokes aside, the interaction was unnerving to some. "It's fun to laugh at all the awkward videos of Trump trying to be affectionate with reluctant partners," tweeted HuffPost's Laura Bassett, "until you remember that he's been credibly accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women." (Trump has been accused by 19 women, in fact, of sexual misconduct of one form or another, and he and the White House have denied all allegations.)
Brown doesn't think there's anything more sinister going on than Melania simply not being engaged. The fact that it's not the first time we've seen it happen, she says, makes a pretty clear case of what she's feeling. "I think we know where she's at," Brown says, "which is just there in body and not in spirit."