President Donald Trump’s plans last weekend were ruined by the government shutdown, when he felt it was wise to miss a glitzy Republican Party fundraiser at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. His fans had to celebrate the anniversary of his presidency without him.
Lucky for Trump, the shutdown ended in three days, so his next trip is on. He arrived Thursday in Davos, Switzerland, for a conference that he might have been expected to shun, even condemn. For a week in January, the ski resort becomes an invitation-only beehive buzzing with elitist globalists: the men and women who forged the Paris Climate Change Accord and trade pacts excoriated by the “America first!” president.
Many participants consider him a xenophobic oddity, and xenophobes are not typically seen in Davos. When Trump was merely a real estate mogul and reality-TV star, he was never invited to attend the World Economic Forum. Sure, Trump was wealthy enough, but Davos snobs had no interest in what he might have to say.
Now that he is who he is, Trump is a “get” for conference organizers. As a man who loves to feel irresistibly magnetic, he will revel in being the center of attention. On Friday, he will get a chance to speak his mind to the kind of audience he slammed during the 2016 campaign as “the elites who’ve led us to one financial and foreign policy disaster after another.”
They, in turn, dismissed him as a ludicrous candidate and were stunned that he won the election. Surprise turned to fear, and conversations with dozens of foreign politicians and diplomats indicate that most still worry that his gut instincts and unpredictability are dangerous.
However, corporate executives — including the majority at Davos who are not American — seem intrigued by Trump’s business-friendly policies. He is almost certain to boast that his tax cuts and elimination of regulations are triggering economic growth that almost everyone would envy.
Perhaps all he needs to do during his visit is “act presidential,” which candidate Trump used to say would be very easy to accomplish. Yet administration officials say he has higher ambitions for his Davos visit.
They say Trump will explain that “America first” does not mean “America alone,” and that boils down to a message that the United States is open for business. It might not be open to many immigrants, but it will welcome investments from abroad.
He will likely add that, despite his reputation as an isolationist, he wants to encourage trade with other nations. But he will insist on new rules for “fair trade,” and we can expect him to trumpet with pride the heavy tariffs he clamped this week on washing machines and solar panels made in China.
It seems strange for someone to threaten the potential start of a trade war while speaking at Davos — ground zero for open-border exchanges and the benefits of an enlightened capitalism with broadly liberal values.
Could Trump possibly persuade the globalists that he is not the monster they assume him to be? The answer might depend on how he behaves in the Swiss Alps. Many in the audience will be impressed if he sticks to the TelePrompTer and dutifully reads his speech.
While overseas last year, he called on each country’s leader to consider only his or her own national interests. That is the opposite of the Davos credo and this year’s slogan for the forum, “Creating a shared future in a fractured world.” Yet if Trump is consistently charming, and if his message makes a sound case for enlightened selfishness — Steve Bannon’s phrase for that was economic nationalism — then America’s improbable president might make a good impression in an improbable locale.
Dan Raviv is senior Washington correspondent for i24NEWS and author of “Friends In Deed: Inside the U.S.-Israel Alliance.”