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The handshake that wasn’t

The handshake is such a common occurrence that it rarely makes the news when it happens. But a recent handshake that didn’t happen made headlines around the world.

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Gladys Sicknick, left, mother of U.S. Capitol Police Officer Brian Sicknick, is greeted by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell at right, during a Congressional Gold Medal ceremony in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2022. The ceremony was honoring law enforcement officers who defended the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

The handshake is such a common occurrence that it rarely makes the news when it happens. But a recent handshake that didn’t happen made headlines around the world.

The handshake “has existed in some form or another for thousands of years. One popular theory is that the gesture began as a way of conveying peaceful intentions. Another theory is that the handshake was a symbol of good faith when making an oath or promise. When they clasped hands, people showed that their words were a sacred bond,” explains Evan Andrews at History.com.

Continues Andrews, “The epic poet Homer described handshakes several times in his Iliad and Odyssey, most often in relation to pledges and displays of trust. In ancient Rome the handshake was often used as a symbol of friendship and loyalty.”

There have been powerful handshakes in modern history:

  • Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse to end the American Civil War.
  • William McKinley and Leon Czolgosz, which ended in McKinley’s assassination by Czlgosz.
  • Adolf Hitler and Neville Chamberlain, which signaled the sellout to the evilest dictator in modern history.
  • Harry Truman, Winston Churchill, and Joseph Stalin at the Potsdam Conference to restore Europe after the defeat of Germany, and a warning to Japan to surrender or face dire circumstances.
  • Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat for the signing of the Oslo Accords.

The refusal of a “handshake” can be just as powerful.

“It was a simple and rare gesture of resistance. It was a rebuke of hypocrisy and duplicity. It was a profound and necessary moment when a still grieving family chose principle over hollow civility,” writes Andrew Mitrovica in “At Capitol Hill, a family takes a beautiful stand.”

The U.S. Capital Police, D.C. Metropolitan police, and their loved ones gathered to be awarded the Congressional Gold Medal as an expression of respect and gratitude for beating back a Donald Trump-inspired insurrection on January 6, 2021. The mob’s intent was to attack Congress to halt the democratic, constitutional transfer of power to keep a defeated, delusional loser in power.

The insurrectionists failed thanks to the courage of police officers, like Brian Sicknick, who fulfilled their oath to “defend the US constitution against all enemies – foreign and domestic.”

Sicknick gave his life. Many other officers still have the scars – the permanent residue of an insurrection that tested the seat of our American democracy for the first time since the Civil War.

And because of their bravery, Congress was able to exercise their constitutional duty to certify the election of a new and legitimate president.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Senate Majority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) were joined by Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) in a receiving line framed by American flags.

First, two police officers walked down the line. They were followed by the late Officer Sicknick’s family.

“Sicknick’s father shook Sen. Schumer’s hand. The Senate majority leader nodded towards McConnell’s out-stretched palm. He walked by ignoring McConnell and McCarthy. Sicknick’s mother pecked Schumer on the cheek before she passed by the bewildered McConnell and a stiff McCarthy,” details Mitrovica.

“The humiliation seemed to register on McConnell’s pale, forlorn face. He stared downward; a limp smile was replaced by a sullen, almost defeated look of an important man reduced to mimicking a mannequin. McCarthy stood there speechless. Distant. Vacant.

“The Sicknick family made it plain that they were not going to sully themselves or their lost son’s sacrifice and memory by rewarding – with a handshake – these Republicans who failed not only to abide by their oath to ‘protect and defend the U.S. constitution’ but to hold the principal architect of the January 6 mayhem to account.”

Family members expressed their disgust with McConnell and McCarthy: “They have no idea what integrity is. They can’t stand up for what’s right or wrong. For them, it’s party first.

“They’re just two-faced. I’m just tired of them standing there and saying how wonderful the Capitol police is. And then they turn around and go down to Mar-a-Lago and kiss his [Trump] ring and come back,” Sicknick’s mother reported. “Mitch McConnell and Kevin McCarthy are even hesitant to condemn Trump by name despite his repeated calls to ‘terminate’ the constitution they swore to uphold.”

Mitrovica notes: “After having acknowledged that Trump bore practical and moral responsibility for the desecration of Congress by a marauding army of thugs, the spineless McConnell voted against his impeachment. Meanwhile, McCarthy made a pilgrimage to Mar-a-Lago to grovel and stand by the insurrectionist-in-chief.”

To the Sicknick family and millions of others “the handshake” is a symbol of good faith when making an oath or promise. Too bad these Republicans don’t understand truth, integrity – or keeping an oath you swore to.

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Written by John James Alexander, a pseudonym for a long-time Kentucky educator.



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