Trump has completely ruptured the Davos ideal of what global leadership means

Steamrolling norms.
Steamrolling norms.
Image: Reuters/Carlos Barria
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We increasingly live in our own echo chambers, surrounded by like-minded peers convinced that the rest of the world has got it all wrong. Around this time each year, one of the biggest bubbles envelopes the Swiss resort of Davos, where the global elite gather for the World Economic Forum to cheer on free trade, free markets, and the liberal world order.

But next week, the Davos echo chamber will feature one of its most ideologically diverse slates of leaders ever. Take the first and last major mainstage presentations. First is Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, who heads a less-and-less secular democracy developing “profoundly illiberal traits.”  

The last will be Donald Trump, who has completely ruptured the Davos ideal of what global leadership means. His “Make America Great Again” ideology and fealty-at-all-costs management style has helped create a nation so deeply divided that basic functions of governance have broken down. In the president’s “America First” view, economic gains by definition come at the expense other countries; this won’t go over well with the multilateral-minded Davos crowd.

Sandwiched between the populists is German chancellor Angela Merkel, the longest-serving head of a G7 government and “leader of the free world.” Also appearing mid-week are Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau and French president Emmanuel Macron—young, centrist, pro-globalization, self-declared feminists tailor-made for the traditional Davos set. They are all likely to call for more global co-operation on trade, governance, and climate change; for most in the crowd, it will be a welcome return to traditional Davos talking points.

Even as Modi and Trump poke holes in the liberal bubble, it remains the case that the forum is an ultra-exclusive, unrepresentative gathering. Davos attendees are overwhelmingly rich, white, and male—women comprise just 21% of delegates, although organizers have filled the program with sessions on gender equality and tapped an all-female set of co-chairs. The bubble may be a bit more boisterous than before, but don’t bet on it bursting anytime soon.—Heather Timmons and Eshe Nelson

This was published in the weekend edition of the Quartz Daily Brief, our news summary that’s tailored for morning delivery in Asia, Europe and Africa, or the Americas. Sign up for it here.

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