What It Means When the U.S. President Conspicuously and Publicly Removes a Speck of Dandruff from the French President’s Lapel

In their joint press conference Tuesday afternoon, President Trump initiated the event by noting the “special relationship” between the U.S. and France, and Emmanuel Macron and himself, adding, “In fact, let me get that little piece of dandruff off you,” as he used one of his famously small or large hands to do so. “We have to make him perfect,” said Trump, as though grooming a Mr. Universe.  “He is perfect.”

What does this fleeting moment in time mean?

1. It means that Trump likes to touch younger men on camera. That itself is not problematic in 2018. The cheek-kissing and Macron’s overt gesture of walking away from the press conference with his arm over Trump suggest a bromantic rapport which would not be problematic nor anybody’s business were it not based on layers of geopolitical strategizing. The question is why Macron submits so smoothly on the Iran language etc.

2. It means Trump isnot germophobic. Real germaphobes typically don’t playfully flick off other men’s dead skin cells from their suit jackets. They think, Ew.

3. It means Trump feels the U.S. president can patronize allied leaders, and that they will respond with good-natured resignation recognizing global power realities.  On the one hand, this is normal; recall how George W. Bush disturbed Angela Merckel by an impromptu shoulder massage in St. Petersberg in July 2006. But on the other hand, Trump no doubt specifically embarrassed  Macron by noting his pellicules. As an instance of imperfection, no less.

(Compare Trump’s humiliations of Chris Christie, after he’d become his loyal supporter.)

4. The media is drawing attention to Trump’s faux-pas. Partly because it allows them to use that word on TV, pompously, and partly because it wants Trump to look bad. As it should of course; who can blame it?

5. On the plus side this episode draws our nation’s and the world’s urgent attention to the very real trauma of dandruff and related conditions, such as seborrheic dermatitis—a sort of facial dandruff treatable with hydocortisone valerate and ketocanazole cream. (Full disclosure: I myself suffer from this very common condition.)

We could obtain a cure for dandruff in our lifetimes if funds could be diverted from imperialist wars towards that end. People being infinitely creative and energetic, we could go to Mars and back, or build a railway under the Bering Strait, or convert to electric cars.

Ce n’est pas un problème compliqué, et la solution est évidente.  Let us eliminate dandruff in our lifetime.

Gary Leupp is Professor of History at Tufts University, and holds a secondary appointment in the Department of Religion. He is the author of Servants, Shophands and Laborers in in the Cities of Tokugawa JapanMale Colors: The Construction of Homosexuality in Tokugawa Japan; and Interracial Intimacy in Japan: Western Men and Japanese Women, 1543-1900. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, (AK Press). He can be reached at: gleupp@tufts.edu