Smaller-than-average hands, but a bigger than average handshake. Since Donald Trump
became the 45th President of the United States of America, screeds and screeds of Internet have been devoted to analysing his hostile-seeming handshakes with world leaders.
According to the raft of online analysis covering these moments of first contact, most of them have been drawn — quite literally — into the Trump trap. The roughhouse technique seems to involve Trump using his considerable girth to pull his opponent into his body. If that fails, he simply ensures that his fingers get further up the wrist of the unsuspecting foreign leader than might reasonably be expected in any non-competitive hand-offering.
In an article for the Independent UK newspaper, Geoff Beattie speculated that the move is an extension of Trump's ‘America First’ foreign policy, and ultimately, a play for the cameras.
Whatever the motivations behind the Trumpshake, it cut no ice with Emomali Rakhmon, Tajikistan's de facto president-for-life, who he met in Riyadh, Saudia Arabia as part of the Arab Islamic American Summit on May 21.
As can be observed in the gif above, Rakhmon, whose authoritarian Central Asian country is the poorest in the former Soviet Union, clearly came out of the shake as the stronger strongman, joining Canada's Justin Trudeau on the elite list of non-losers in Trump's favourite sport that isn't golf.
But while Trudeau's memorable counter to Trump during their meeting in February was all about planning, Rakhmon's victory seemed to have been secured with instinctive brute force, neatly summing up the theme of his rule of more than two-decades over Tajikistan.
It's all about him
With corruption entrenched and around half of working-age males seeking work abroad in Russia, Rakhmon, 64, has honed a talent for projecting an image of success in a failing state. His recently-accorded official title is “The founder of peace and national unity – Leader of the Nation”, which pays tribute to his leading the country out of a bitter five-year civil war that befell it shortly after independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.
In an article for Litro magazine, American researcher Emily Neil quotes a Tajik woman explaining her reverence for a figure, who to most observers beyond the country's borders is the epitome of a self-serving, old-school dictator.
That is not the whole story of course, and individual freedoms have nosedived to such an extent in recent years that any Tajik offering a critical opinion of Rakhmon in print would have to seriously consider the prospect of jail time, but the point remains clear: Rakhmon is Tajikistan's Mr. Everything. (If it needs to be clearer, check out this image of Rakhmon manning a bulldozer to begin work on a hydroelectric dam his country might never be able to pay for).
And yet in one sense, he came to power, like Trump, as an outsider.
A former collective farm boss from the country's rural hinterland — the traditional elite during the Soviet period was sourced from the more industrialized north — his promotion to the leadership was supported by powerful security figures that believed they could control him. Many ended up dead after he consolidated his position.
Like Trump, Rakhmon has a sense for a photo opportunity, and like Trump his life story stands as a dubious tribute to the male ego and its dangerous capacity to dominate and control by any means necessary.
But unlike Trump, Rakhmon isn't some lily-fingered son of privilege — he knows how to come out on top in a handshake war.
This article, written by Peter Paul Rankin, was published on Global Voices on May 24, 2017