World leaders didn’t know what to make of President Trump during his chaotic tenure, which, among other more serious matters, included unwanted hand-holding, impromptu show and tell sessions, and odd phone calls.
This dynamic is explored in a new three-part BBC Two series, Trump Takes on the World. Documentarian Norma Percy explores the former president’s presence on the world stage and his relationship with the United States’ bemused allies. Interviews with Trump officials, heads of state, as well as ambassadors and civil servants still getting over their shock of the turbulent Trump era reportedly make up a bulk of the storytelling, which sounds ideal: Who better to spill the tea on just how much of a “strange creature” Trump was behind closed doors than the unfortunate foreign dignitaries forced to interact with the man.
Take this anecdote as reported by the Guardian, regarding Theresa May’s awkward hand-holding with Trump during their first meeting in 2017 (emphasis ours):
May had travelled to Washington in 2017 with the intention of persuading the new US president to make a supportive statement about Nato. Little did she expect that she would be calling her husband, Philip, to warn him that images of the US president of holding her hand as they walked through the White House would soon be flashing around the world.
The meeting took a bizarre twist as they walked through the White House.
“He held her hand going through the colonnades, which took us all by surprise, and as it turns out, took Theresa by surprise,” Fiona McLeod Hill, the former joint chief of staff at No 10, told Percy.
“She couldn’t really take her hand back, so she was stuck … And the first thing she said [afterwards] was ‘I need to call Philip just to let him know that I’ve been holding hands with another man before it hits the media’.”
And then there’s this strange anecdote from former Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who had an encounter with Trump at the 2017 G20 summit that sounds like it’s straight out of a stoner movie.
From the Guardian (emphasis ours):
Like May, Turnbull had important issues on his mind, in this case steel tariffs. Taking his chance, Turnbull collared Trump, who was obsessing about something else. “Donald said: ‘Malcolm, do you want to see my SCIF? It is so cool.’ I had no idea what he was talking about. I thought he was talking about a boat [a skiff]. We turned around a corner and there was this big steel box about the size of a shipping container.”
Trump pulled Turnbull into what turned out to be a “sensitive compartmented information facility”, an ultra-secure communications hub, with the new French president, Emmanuel Macron, also in tow.
“He said: ‘This is so cool – when you’re in there, nobody can hear you, not even the Chinese. It’s so secret.”
Yeah. Cool, dude.
One US defense official described Trump’s attention span as distressingly short, like a “squirrel careening through the traffic.” That tracks, given a discussion former French president Francoise Holland recalled in the documentary.
From Financial Times (emphasis ours):
François Hollande recalls his first baffling phone conversation with Trump, as the then French president vainly tried to bring the subject round to issues such as climate change, Iran and the global economy while Trump just wanted to talk about how much he loved French wine, food and culture. The world would have to get used to Trump’s stream-of-consciousness style.
Trump, a notorious non-drinker, waxing poetic about French wine is curious, but it makes sense given that wine, food, and culture is probably the only thing Trump knew about France. The man probably tried his hand at saying a few words in French too. Omelette du fromage, anyone?
Trump Takes on the World premiers February 10 on BBC Two.