Cameras captured the awkward moment that former first lady Michelle Obama, seemingly reluctantly, shook Donald Trump’s hand and then quickly looked away — while in attendance of former president George H.W. Bush’s funeral, People is reporting. Mrs. Obama had previously vowed to “never forgive” Trump for his “birtherism” — that is, promoting the idea that Barack Obama wasn’t born in the United States.
As far as is known, Wednesday’s funeral for the 41st president, which was attended by five living current and former presidents and their first ladies, is the first time anyone from the Obama family and the Trump family have been in the same room since Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
That the Trumps and Obamas wouldn’t likely be willing to spend a lot of time in each others’ company would seem to make sense. In her book, Becoming, Mrs. Obama says that she will “never forgive” Donald Trump for his birtherism.
“Birtherism” is the belief that Barack Obama wasn’t born in Hawaii, as he claimed, but rather that he was born outside the U.S. — and thus is and was ineligible to serve as President. Further, the theory says that the supposed Hawaii birth certificate, one that proves Obama was born there, is fraudulent. Donald Trump has long been a proponent of that theory — for example, in August 2012, Trump tweeted that a “credible source” told him the birth certificate was a fraud.
“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that @BarackObama’s birth certificate is a fraud.”
Trump offered no proof of his claim, and as of this writing, efforts to debunk Obama’s purported Hawaii birth certificate have been met with steep criticism and controversy.
As People reported in early November, Mrs. Obama wrote in her book that the Birther movement, and Trump’s promotion of it, put her daughters Sasha and Malia at risk.
“[Birtherism was] crazy and mean-spirited… its underlying bigotry and xenophobia hardly concealed. But it was also dangerous, deliberately meant to stir up the wingnuts and kooks. What if someone with an unstable mind loaded a gun and drove to Washington? What if that person went looking for our girls? Donald Trump, with his loud and reckless innuendos, was putting my family’s safety at risk. And for this, I’d never forgive him.”
Whether or not any bad blood between Trump and Mrs. Obama was visible in the handshake likely depends on your point of view.
In the video, which you can see below, Mrs. Obama does appear to have her eyebrows raised when she looks at Trump, and does indeed appear to look away quickly once the handshaking is over.
However, more than one observer has called the exchange awkward. Former RNC Chairman Michael Steele, for example, tweeted that the exchange “wasn’t the best part of her day.” And NPR TV Critic Eric Deggans called her expression “priceless.”