Everyone deserves the occasional getaway, but it can also be difficult to leave all your troubles behind. The latest person to discover this was Donald Trump. The Times rudely interrupted Trump’s two-day trip to the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, by revealing that, last June,...
Everyone deserves the occasional getaway, but it can also be difficult to leave all your troubles behind. The latest person to discover this was Donald Trump. The Times rudely interrupted Trump’s two-day trip to the World Economic Forum, in Davos, Switzerland, by revealing that, last June, the President tried to fire Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of the Russia investigation, and was talked out of it only when the White House counsel, Don McGahn, threatened to quit.
This news broke early Friday morning, Swiss time, when Trump was presumably in bed. (Since he sleeps only four or five hours a night, you never can be sure.) A few hours later, on his way into the Davos Congress Center to deliver a speech, the President dismissed the Times report, saying, “Fake news, folks. Fake news. Typical New York Times fake story.”
Trump seemed to be in good spirits, and he delivered an upbeat speech, in which he lauded his own achievements, claiming, “There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest, and to grow in the United States. America is open for business, and we are competitive once again.” In a nod to the neo-isolationist pledges he made in 2016, he also told America’s allies that “common security requires everyone to contribute their fair share.” But the Trump on display here was the sweet-talking real-estate developer marketing his spiffy new development, not the populist wrecking ball sticking it to the pampered, globalist élite. (“This is what happens when you sack Steve Bannon: Boring #Davos2018 speech,” Peter Spiegel, the news editor of the Financial Times, tweeted.)
During a brief post-speech question-and-answer session with Klaus Schwab, the economist who founded the World Economic Forum, Trump did go a bit off message—but his target was the media rather than the assembled C.E.O.s and bankers. After claiming that he had a positive relationship with the press when he was a businessman (that’s not entirely true), Trump went on to say, “It wasn’t until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious, and how fake the press can be.” To the credit of the assembled one-per-centers, some of them hissed and booed.
In general, though, Trump received a warm reception in Davos. His attendance there had been billed in some quarters as an intrusion by the nationalist tiger into globalist lions’ den, but it turned out to be more of a rah-rah session for fellow-members of the plutocrats’ club. Long regarded by the Wall Street and Fortune 500 élite as an outer-borough grifter, Trump finally got some of the fawning he has long craved, especially from Schwab, who introduced the President’s speech by saying that his “strong leadership is open to misconceptions and biased interpretations.” (That comment also prompted a bit of hissing from the crowd.)
Trump had done Schwab a favor by turning up, of course. The big companies that are members of the World Economic Forum pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege of sending their top dogs to the annual shindig, and having a world leader on hand adds to its allure. (The last U.S. President to go was Bill Clinton, in 2000.) Last year, China’s Xi Jinping used the conference to position his country as the new defender of a liberal trading system, so there was a quite a bit of interest in what Trump would say, especially about global economic issues.
In the end, much of Trump’s speech, which he read from a teleprompter, could have come from one of his Republican predecessors. He began by saying that he was there “to represent the interests of the American people, and to affirm our commitment to helping to build a better world.” He went on to say that he believes in free trade, but that it “needs to be fair, and it needs to be reciprocal.” He even said that he would be willing to negotiate a trade deal with the countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, “if it is in the interests of all.” (As one of his first acts in office, he pulled the United States out of the T.P.P.) Repeating a line Gary Cohn, his chief economic adviser, used the other day, he added, “America first does not mean America alone.” Was this a true representation of Trump’s beliefs and policy agenda? The fact he was willing to read it from a teleprompter meant something, perhaps. The practical, pragmatic globalists in the audience will have interpreted it as evidence that the practical, pragmatic globalists around Trump, such as Cohn, are still exercising a restraining influence. From their perspective, this is very welcome news.
What Trump really believes in, of course, is tooting his own horn and taking shots at his opponents. When Schwab asked him what experiences in his past had helped him as President, he boasted about his ability to make money. “The stock market is up since my election almost fifty per cent,” he said. He added that he believed the market “would have been down close to fifty per cent“ if the Democrats had won. Having provided that glimpse of the real Trump, he was out of there. Shortly after the speech, he headed, in a Presidential chopper, to the airport in Zurich, where Air Force One was waiting to fly him back to Washington. When he gets there, Mueller and the Russia investigation will be waiting.
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