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  • Writer's pictureNicholas J Johnson

Why can’t Donald Trump shake hands?

In recent days, the media has become obsessed with Donald Trump’s complete inability to shake hands like a normal human being. What is Trump trying to do? And why does he look so weird? Why do people look so uncomfortable when faced with his aggressive pumping?

One of the go to techniques for any budding con artist is a good handshake.


Because handshakes are a symbolic gesture with no real purpose other than to express a relationship between two people. And manipulating human relationships is the bedrock of any good scam.

Some historians believe that the handshake evolved as a way of showing that you are not armed. Hence why we always shake with our right hand because this is the one most likely to hold a weapon. (And also providing another reason not to trust lefties.)

For a con artist, a gesture like this is a goldmine. A handshake allows the con artist to establish trust. Not only is the gesture symbolic of goodwill, the skin on skin contact stimulates the flow of oxytocin. Oxytocin is a hormone that promotes peer-bonding and encourages trust. (You can also stimulate the flow of the hormone through laughter, chocolate, hot drinks and breast feeding. But perhaps sticking to the handshake might be simpler.)

A handshake can also be used to establish status. The goal among normal people is for the shake to be equal. However, assorted douchebags from business execs to pick up artists try to use the handshake as a power play.

There’s a few things that people do to subtly get the upper-hand.

1. Turning the handshake so that their hand is on top. 2. Squeezing harder than the other shaker. 3. Placing one hand on top of the other person. 4. Not letting go. 5. Pulling the participant towards them. 6. Punching the other participant in the crotch with their free hand.

These techniques are so popular that business publications have even provided counter-techniques for escaping them.

The problem with Trump is the, like in most things, he lacks subtlety. If the other person notices you attempting these techniques, your power grab is undermined.

The other participant should feel intimated but not be conscious of why. Trump’s weird twisting, tugging and wiggling is so over the top, so ridiculous that the other person can not help but react.

They are left confused and embarrassed rather than inspired or awestruck.

So the next time you have to shake hands, just do it like a normal person.

EDIT: a much better suggestion via twitter.

@CountLustig I just thought he was putting his other hand on top to cover the fact that his hand is so much smaller than the other persons. — Irma Gherd (@maureenchuck1) February 13, 2017

Nicholas J. Johnson is a Melbourne author, magicians and collector of scams.


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