The refrain has continued ever since Donald Trump stunned the world with his election victory: “But what will he actually do?” As the two-plus month interregnum winds down, ahead of the Jan. 20 inauguration, some (but not all) of the answers have begun to emerge. The first clear message is that he will nominate whomever he damn pleases to work in his cabinet and the White House, which now includes his son-in-law Jared Kushner, challenging longstanding U.S. government nepotism regulations.
Meanwhile, even as major questions remain about the fate of his own personal business holdings and the conflicts of interest they raise, Trump has made clear that he plans to very much follow through on his vows to run the country like a business. Kanye West and his Trump Tower lobby “bro handshake” aside, the president-elect has been holding serious meetings, sending bullying tweets and, yes, shaking hands as only an alpha-male celebrity businessmen knows how.
For corporate leaders from Silicon Valley to Detroit, Trump’s message is clear: “Everyone has their price. Everything is negotiable. I’m ready to play hard ball: Let’s make a deal.”
This week we have also seen some top global business leaders arrive at Trump Tower, including Jack Ma, the founder of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba who vowed to “create one million jobs.” The French press was particularly focused this morning on the arrival at Trump Tower of Bernard Arnault, the debonair French billionaire CEO of luxury brand multinational LVMH, who also promised to invest in creating jobs in the United States. And smiled. And shook Trump’s hand.
For the meeting, Arnault brought along his 24-year-old son, Alexandre, who has the same well-scrubbed look of Trump’s own sons, and even more so, his extra-super scrubbed son-in-law Kushner. Trump, probably sensing an air of vulnerability in the young French heir, did what he would do.
There in front of all the cameras, he teaches him how real men, real businessmen, shake hands. It is very different from how presidents usually shake hands. Probably different from any handshake young Monsieur Arnault has ever shared, back in Paris. The scene is not pretty to watch, but its message is clear: When it comes to making deals now, for better or for worse, Trump is in charge.