On Thursday, a plethora of European leaders convened at the NATO summit in the Belgian capital of Brussels, along with President Donald Trump, the leader of their highest-profile foreign ally. Needless to say, it was a very fraught situation, given Trump's frequent jabs at the NATO alliance and his apparent, utter lack of international knowledge and diplomatic skills. And the tension inherent to the new American president's visit was put on display for all to see by the new president of France ― Emmanuel Macron dodged Trump to hug Angela Merkel instead, giving his first greeting of the summit to the longtime German chancellor.
If you follow political news, and checked out Twitter in the immediate aftermath of the epic geopolitical snub, it's almost a certainty that you saw what happened. The full video includes quite the wind-up, as Macron was shown slowly walking toward a group of world leaders, including Merkel and Trump out front, with his back to the camera. He initially looked right in line to approach Trump first, but at the last minute, veered to the right to hug Merkel instead, at almost the exact same time as Trump turned his palms outward, as if anticipating a greeting.
Perceptive viewers will notice that Merkel quickly and subtly tilts her head to the left ― from Macron's perspective, away from Trump ― just before Macron changed course in her direction. This raises the remote possibility that she was giving him a subtle physical cue to come to her first, although obviously that's purely speculative, and impossible to know for sure.
Macron actually shook hands with several other people before finally making his way to Trump, a rather delicious sight for any of his many opponents and detractors. After all, as he proved at another point in the summit, when he pushed his way to the front of a camera shot and straightened his suit jacket with a self-satisfied look, this is not a man who seems comfortable with other people getting their share of the limelight.
When Macron finally got around to shaking hands with Trump, of course, it wasn't a normal handshake. It probably wouldn't have been even if he'd greeted him first, but it stuck out even more amid the perception that Trump likely had his ego bruised by having to wait. Rather, it was the classic Trump handshake, which is more of a jerky, off-putting arm yank than anything else.
All in all, it was a quick, simple visual reminder of something that many international observers anticipated heading into the Trump presidency ― that foreign heads of state might increasingly view EU leaders like Merkel as the stewards of the so-called free world, rather than the leader of the United States. And when you consider reports (from The Wall Street Journal's Eli Stokols in particular) that Republican national security officials had to apologize to their European counterparts for Trump's embarrassing behavior at the summit, it's not hard to see why.