Why was the Trump/Trudeau handshake a thing?

US President Donald Trump met Canadian PM Justin Trudeau for the first time last week. It was a cordial affair between neighboring leaders featuring a roundtable discussion of ‘Women in Business’ alongside Ivanka Trump and several female CEOs from both countries.

However the enduring narrative from the visit were the handshakes, a commonplace but time-honored tradition. Memes circulated about how adeptly Prime Minister Trudeau maneuvered against Trump’s infamous handshake style.

What do we make of the fascination behind the showdown. Why were so many people invested in a handshake?


That Viral Photo of Justin Trudeau and Donald Trump Is Not What It Seems
… We live in a new normal of misinformation sharing, one where falsities are pushed as truths by the highest levels of power. And so people are grasping for images that either back up their preexisting notions or turn the mainstream narrative on its head, and then sharing with their followers to further the reach.

In this case, a confrontation between western democracy’s top babyface (hero) and top Heel (villain). The dreamboat liberal, Justin Trudeau against divisive celebrity mogul, Donald Trump. Both men are evenly matched and have overlapping qualities despite their philosophical differences. They’re similarly privileged sons who’ve capitalised off their Father’s name and have a keen understanding of stagecraft to bypass traditional media.

Is Trudeau the ultimate image manipulator? Not quite
Traditional media are weakening, social media and online media strengthening, and the latter feast on image and celebrity. Of course, the Prime Minister’s Office counts on new media to counterbalance the traditional skeptical coverage of old media.
Justin Trudeau headlining ‘Fight for the Cure 5’ (2012). Donald Trump in the Main Event of WrestleMania 23 (2007)

Interestingly both men used blockbuster fight events as a springboard for their presidential ambitions. With their outsized personas and rabid following as champions for diametrically opposed world views. A showdown between these bordering leaders is a promoter’s dream, the ultimate matchup. Even the thought of a clash provides catharsis.

The audience knows what they want

To best sell a fight its ideal that both fighters come in strong and to have juice behind them. In wrestling the positive reaction a fighter gets is called a “pop”. The negative reaction,“heat”. This was evident on Twitter timelines with varied reactions to #TrudeauMeetsTrump depending on one’s political leanings.

A change in orientation (turn) from hero to villain or vice versa is commonplace in wrestling. Not so in politics as flip-flopping is ordinarily viewed as political suicide. Reinvention is integral to wrestling, characters change gimmicks and switch allegiances to keep audiences engaged. There’s also the opening for a glorious return to form, a reboot of their persona. Interestingly this mirrors the transformation of public figures like Trump and successful celebrity cum politicians before him. Such as governors, Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger. It’s worth noting all three are in the WWE Hall of Fame.

In today’s partisan times its rare for politicians to cross the aisle to get matters resolved, let alone switch parties. Those who do are generally viewed with skepticism, seen as pariahs from both sides. The antidote to this is having the support of the people. To fashion yourself as a “maverick”, an outsider taking on the establishment. With the correct gimmick and the unwavering support of your fans you can get away with anything. The same in wrestling goes for politics.

Irreverent wrestler “Stone Cold” Steve Austin had license to assault respected celebrities and an elderly woman. Likewise, Trump’s popularity and charisma inoculated him from scandals that would have felled previous politicians. Inexplicably, stoushes with war heroes and the Pope only strengthened his aura.

Whilst a duel between Trump and Trudeau would be a major draw, it will unlikely yield what political partisans are after. Especially the #NeverTrumpers longing for a bogeyman to finally dethrone the Donald. Annihilation is only possible through the erosion of public support, the key is preserving relevancy. As main event fighters and image savvy personas, Trump and Trudeau understand this. If both men remain standing, the rival fanbases would only become further entrenched rather than converted by defeat.

In wrestling, the slightest event can trigger a program. A stolen action figure or a spilled coffee cup could foreshadow a future rivalry. Donald Trump is not known for his subtlety, he telegraphs his intentions through tweets and isn’t afraid to make enemies. Conversely, Trudeau takes after Barack Obama. The former top babyface and Trump’s predecessor, a sensible diplomat who’ll be restrained in his engagement with the world’s most powerful man. The social media response over the handshake teases the excitement that would come off a Trump/Trudeau face-off. I just wouldn’t force it.

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