On the campaign trail, Donald Trump urged Americans to “declare independence from the elites who’ve led us to one financial and foreign policy disaster after another.” Later this month, he’ll join those very elites at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Trump will address thousands of attendees at the conference that starts Jan. 23, after shunning it last year, and being shunned by organizers in all the decades before. (Despite years of building Trump hotels and selling Trump products worldwide, Trump was never invited to attend before he became president, the New York Times has reported).
Trump “welcomes opportunities to advance his America First agenda with world leaders,” the White House press secretary said in a statement today (Jan. 9), and “looks forward to promoting his policies to strengthen American businesses, American industries, and American workers.”
Davos has become synonymous with the wealthy and powerful who have benefited most from globalization. Populist leaders like Trump say they are out of touch with the common people hurt by the offshoring of jobs and whole industries. And, yes, a conference for the 1% that features sessions on “mindfulness” is easy to mock as a supreme exercise in narcissism.
A look back at Davos groupthink in recent years shows that “out of touch” may be an understatement—that collective mindset has often been downright wrong. Last year, for example, Davos attendees said they thought the world had reached “Peak Trump,” and would soon start ignoring the US president’s insults, taunts and bluster, and that he would begin acting more like a conventional leader. (The opposite has happened). In 2008, a Davos speaker called the idea of a world recession inconceivable.
Last year, Chinese dictator Xi Jinping delivered a keynote speech that seemed a direct rebuke to Trump, positioning himself as globalization’s most vocal champion and criticizing protectionist policies. “No one will emerge as a winner in a trade war,” Xi said. Short-time White House communications director and former campaign advisor Anthony Scaramucci also drew crowds then as the most visible representative of the incoming Trump presidency.
Scaramucci, a Davos fixture for years because of his work in the hedge-fund industry, described his future boss an “unbelievable strategist” with the “best political instincts of his generation.” Anyone who did not view Trump that way was too used to the Davos way, he told Bloomberg: “These folks are used to a buttoned-up, politically correct presentation style.”
Several members of Trump’s cabinet are also expected to appear this year.
Anyone expecting that Trump will moderate his anti-globalization rhetoric to appease the liberal crowd may be disappointed. Trump’s speeches since taking office have often traced a familiar arc—touting his own election successes, the US stock market’s record rise, and any recent moves in Washington, capped off with a declaration that he is “Making America Great Again.”
The most the Davos crowd should expect is a free #MAGA hat.