In the game of global politics making a move doesn’t necessarily mean bromance is in the air.

Whereas professional footballers may engage in personal grooming, they generally focus on themselves, not each other. That’s because doing so would be a little awkward. It’s also something primates do, not modern men. So it was a little disconcerting when during a recent state visit by French president Emmanuel Macron to the White House, President Trump offered to brush what he called ‘dandruff’ off Macron’s jacket.

Context: the three-day state visit was marked by many a touchy-feely moment between the two leaders. They even held hands at one point, inspiring media references to a ‘bromance’ or histoire d’amour. Trump seemed enamoured by his guest, at one stage commenting sweetly, ‘He’s perfect’.

So, is Trumpacron now a thing? ‘Non!’, the French would insist, and conservative commentators in the US will shudder at the thought of Trump cuddling up to the poster boy for European libéralisme. So what’s going on?

Both Macron and Trump were making moves, but not on each other. They were engaging in one-upmanship the technique and practice of securing an advantage over one’s opponent. In the game of global politics, when the cameras are on, this is normally quite subtle – a snub here, a public pat on the back there.

But Trump is no champion of restraint; ‘The Office’ has gone oval. What the world witnessed was the physical expression of political one-upmanship ramped up to the excruciating.

So why did Macron play along? Because he’s a fox of note. He’s not only a savvy politician, but an astute student of Trump. France, Britain and Germany need an easily-distracted Trump to stay focused and engaged in Iran and Syria, and Macron probably knows how to manipulate Trump and his affection. In short: Trump probably got played.

The game naturally found a great deal of traction in the media. A much-shared tweet claiming to invoke leading primatologist Jane Goodall read: “When the ageing gorilla is confronted with the much more virile, new alpha-male, he shows submissiveness by grooming the alpha-male, but the gesture is actually a vain attempt by the old gorilla to humiliate his much younger rival.”  

[This article originally appeared in the publication Fox Bytes and on the mindofafox Growing Foxes app in the week of 30 April 2018. Growing Foxes is a school strategic intelligence programme designed by mindofafox. It is being piloted in a number of leading schools in the UK and South Africa. The app serves to support those students currently engaging with the programme. Click on the logo to find out more]

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