As a gesture of greeting dimplomatic or ministerial guests, it is customary to shake each other's hands when offered. But, for US President Donald Trump there are no norms or customs. In a departure from the traditional gesture of greeting and interacting, Trump on March 17, 2017, ignored Angela Merkel's request to shake hands with her at the White House.
It is important to know that Trump's antagonizing gesture has a root in the past and in Merkel's completely divergent opinions and policies over immigration issue.
Angela Merkel is the first female Chancellor of Germany since 2005 federal elections. She is the longest-serving incumbent head of government in the European Union. She has also received the highest ranking ever achieved by a woman. After Vladimir Putin, Merkel has twice been named the world's second most powerful person by Forbes Magazine.
On December 9, 2015, Time Magazine named Merkel as the Person of the Year, with the Magazine's cover declaring her to be the "Chancellor of the Free World." Her leadership qualities on issues of global importance, including the Syrian refugee crsis and the Greek debt crisis fetched her the sobriquet "Chancellor of the Free World." However, this didn't sit well with many of her baiters, one of them being Donald Trump, who was among the finalists for the "Person of the Year".
No sooner did Time announce Merkel as the Person of the Year, Donald Trump, who was expecting his name to appear, took to Twitter with his scathing remarks. He wrote on his Twitter handle, "I told you @TIME Magazine would never pick me as person of the year despite being the big favorite," he tweeted soon after Time's announcement. "They picked person who is ruining Germany."
Despite these remarks from United States President, Merkel's stance on immigrants and refugees has been supportive and encouraging. Criticising Trump's travel ban, the German leader said that efforts to make borders secure and integrate immigrants must include "looking at the refugees as well, giving them opportunities to shape their own lives." This has been a stated difference between the two.
The ideological and political differences translated into antagonistic gestures from Trump during Merkel's White House visit on March 17. When the photographers clicking their pictures asked the two world leaders to pose for a picture and shake hands, President Trump ignored the request and did not take an initiative to put forward his hand. Instead, he continued sitting with his legs apart and hands hanging in between.
During the joint news conference held by Merkel and Trump in the East Room of the White House, the fundamental difference between the two came to the fore. In first face-to-face meeting, while Merkel defended her stand over immigrants, refugees and globalization, US President Donald Trump did not shy away from reiterating the most often used phrase "radical Islamic terrorism." Also, while Merkel supported "win-win" trade deals, Trump laid down a nationalist economic vision, where the American workers would be prioritized.
While both of them discuss and deliberate on issues of global importance, what remains to be seen is if both Merkel and Trump can come to a consensus on these issues, thus reversing the chill and tension in the relations between the two sides.
Whatever is the eventual outcome of the meeting, Merkel's remarks made during the press conference are a glimmer of hope for the global community that is struggling with similar issues. Merkel had said, "It's much, much better to talk to one another and not about one another, and I think our conversation proved this."