During a Thursday afternoon ceremony in Poland, President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump met with Polish President Andrzej Duda and wife Agata Kornhauser-Duda. The ceremony was standard world leader fare, a pause for the cameras as Duda and Trump shook hands, the public confirmation of the good relationship between the two countries. Trump then reached out to shake the hand of Polish first lady Agata Kornhauser-Duda who promptly walked past him and instead reached her hand out to greet Melania Trump.
The slight was likely accidental (Poland’s president is sympathetic to the Trump administration) but it clearly registered on Trump’s face who looked blankly at Kornhauser-Duda before returning his gaze to the sea of cameras. By now, this is a familiar enough scene; women either purposefully or accidentally avoiding either a handshake or embrace from the president. It usually comes from women close to Trump—from Tiffany Trump swerving to avoid her father’s embrace or Ivanka Trump removing his hands or even Melania swatting away her husband’s embrace.
Men have done it too, most famously, recently elected French President Emmanuel Macron played one-upmanship in Trump’s bizarre game of finger crushing handshakes. Justin Trudeau paved that particular path, white knuckles resisting Trump’s famously aggressive pull during a February meeting. And much has been made about the upcoming handshake between Trump and Vladimir Putin, what’s sure to be the most melodramatic game of potent masculinity ever played out on the international stage. But if the man-on-man handshakes go viral, then they don’t have the particularly rich—and perhaps petty delight—that accompanies watching women slight Trump. Maybe it’s because there’s a sense that watching the Trudeaus and Macrons of the world play the Trumpian game of handshake is depressing—a nagging reminder that power is often little more than men playing at being stereotypes of being men and that the stakes of international diplomacy can be boiled down to a kind of refined arm wrestling.
Yet, when women have slighted Trump there is something delicious about watching the embodiment of ego and power reduced to standing uncomfortably, emptily staring at cameras recording the moment. Perhaps it’s because there’s so little at stake. What is Trump to do in this moments? It seems unlikely that he would lob sexist diatribes at the few women loyal to his administration, particularly his wife and daughters. He appears small in this moments and would seem smaller still if he were to tweet about his interaction with Kornhauser-Duda. Think of what a petty tyrant he looked like when he refused to shake Angela Merkel’s hand. Instead, in these moments, he’s simply left to stand, made passive for a quick moment, silenced by the ceremony and captured by the camera.
It doesn’t alleviate the White House’s often cruel policies nor does it disrupt the rhetoric of nationalism that Trump reiterated today in Poland when called on the West to “defend our civilization” and to exert our international energies on “preserve our civilization in the face of those who would subvert and destroy it.” Racism and sexism remain, but for one fleeting moment, watching a tiny rupture on the surface is a reminder of the smallness of the man who loudly defends these ideologies. It is, for a moment, all we have.