A Trump Photo Goes Viral, and the World Enters a Caption Contest
Posted June 10, 2018 11:15 p.m. EDT
Many very important matters of global diplomacy were probably discussed at the Group of 7 summit meeting over the weekend.
But let us be honest: The meetings are over now, and all many people are still talking about is that viral photo.
The picture — taken Saturday by Jesco Denzel, a German government photographer — was quickly posted to Instagram on the verified account of Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany.
In the photograph, Merkel is staring at President Donald Trump and Trump is staring right back. We could go on, but you know what they say about a photo and its worth relative to words.
Since we live in a world with social media, the publication of the photo kicked off something akin to a worldwide caption contest in which clever writers have been rewarded for their comedic quips with retweets, likes, favorites and new followers.
Before we round up a few of the most popular interpretations, some context.
The buildup to the showdown:
Trump and Merkel have had a fraught — sometimes chilly — relationship from the start. You may recall that last year, on her first White House visit of the Trump era, Merkel held out her hand and the president did not grip it; the two then appeared openly at odds at a tense news conference.
A meeting in April went somewhat smoother, but Trump and Merkel made no attempt to hide their disagreements over the future of the Iran nuclear deal and trade relations between the United States and Europe.
Then, Friday, Trump aggressively confronted Merkel and other leaders of Europe, Canada and Japan, calling for the Group of 7 nations to readmit Russia and refusing to ease his assault on the global trading system. (More on Russia later.)
The next day, the now viral photo went up on Merkel’s Instagram with the caption: “Day two of the G-7 summit in Canada: spontaneous meeting between two working sessions.”
By the end of those sessions, the allied nations had drawn up a joint statement, which the Canadian government released, noting it had been agreed to by all seven countries. Moments later, though, Trump announced that he would not sign while also threatening to escalate his trade war on America’s neighbors and deriding Canada’s prime minister, Justin Trudeau.
From Trump’s side of the table:
Not long after Trump excoriated Trudeau on Twitter, John Bolton, the president’s national security adviser, tweeted out the photo.
His interpretation of it cast Trump, his arms crossed, as a stubborn defender of American interests.
“Just another #G7 where other countries expect America will always be their bank,” Bolton wrote. “The President made it clear today. No more.”
From a German newspaper:
Back in Europe, the magazine for Sueddeutsche Zeitung, one of the largest daily newspapers in Germany, had a different view: that of an exasperated mother speaking to her insolent son. On its Instagram, the magazine posted the photo with the caption: “Probier den Brokkoli doch wenigstens mal,” which translates roughly to “at least try the broccoli.”
From a former European leader:
Guy Verhofstadt, the former prime minister of Belgium, went further.
Verhofstadt, leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe, a group in the European Parliament, chose not to sugarcoat his apparent suspicions about Trump and his relationship with Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin. (Trump’s presidency has, from the start, been clouded by investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible ties between the Trump campaign and Russian officials.)
In a caption he wrote on Twitter, Verhofstadt said: “Just tell us what Vladimir has on you. Maybe we can help.”
From an artistic interpretation:
Many observers, though, stepped back from partisan critiques and took a moment to admire the beauty and composition of the photograph itself.
“This is a Renaissance Painting,” said Pete Forester, a contributor to Esquire and other publications. Another Twitter user pushed back, arguing, with exhibits, that the photo was closer to a Baroque.
But HuffPost reporter Matt Fuller and others said it reminded them of something else entirely, something quintessentially American: a Rockwell.