The tweets, the outbursts, the threats against formidable world leaders all continue. But business leaders both American and otherwise gathered here to say not to worry—incoming US president Donald Trump either will himself resist such antics and become more traditionally presidential, or, if not, people at home and abroad will become inured, thus rendering his bluster mere white noise.
Under this view, that makes today Peak Trump—the apex of the spectacle of a loud, coarse Trump calling out perceived foes by name, and the world responding with dismay.
“We are all going to get a little numb to it. He is going to get a pass,” said Ross Perot Jr., the Texas billionaire. “People are going to be interested in what Trump does, not what he says.”
The source of this benign view of the new American administration appears to combine wishful thinking with a familiar refrain from the 18-month presidential campaign and after: that Trump could not possibly mean what he has said, or even if he did, it was for show. ”There are two Donalds—the one that you see in private, and the one you see in public,” Perot said.
The distinction is important. Trump has rattled Europe with an ambivalence toward the integrity of the European Union and NATO, a broadside against German chancellor Angela Merkel, and a seemingly complete embrace of Russian leader Vladimir Putin. He has outright alarmed geostrategists with a vow to block China from man-made islands in the South China Sea, a posture that, if carried out, would almost certainly lead to a serious response from Beijing, including possible military action.
But people who have watched Trump over the years say they see nothing surprising. We are merely observing his opening moves in a negotiation. “His style has been to come on strong, and then accept something less,” said Nariman Behravesh, chief economist at IHS Markit.
Not everyone here is so certain. “His supporters are assured that this was all rhetoric and that he would become presidential. But he hasn’t,” said Paul Laudicina, a partner at A.T. Kearney, a global consulting company.
This hasn’t hurt the bullishness toward a US economy under Trump. UBS chairman Axel Weber said he expects US GDP to grow in excess of 3% this year, and a strong US stock market.
Larry Summers, the former US Treasury secretary, said in public remarks that he’s been “very troubled” by what he’s heard from American business leaders while in Davos this year. “People who two, three months ago were saying he was a man they’d never do business with, are today hailing him as a great economic statesman,” he said. ‘‘I see a very disturbing tendency to enable whatever the instinct of this new administration is. That’s something that over time the business community may very much come to regret.”
George Soros, the hedge fund investor, is not assured at all. Trump “stands for a mafia state,” he said. “But he won’t succeed.”