INTERNATIONAL - President Donald Trump has a familiar message for the global elites populating the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland: You were wrong.
A year ago, some Davos participants predicted Trump’s protectionist rhetoric would lead to sluggish economic growth and lackluster stock market gains. It didn’t. And the president isn’t about to let that go unnoticed.
Trump will arrive at the conference Thursday, joining a large delegation of U.S. officials already there, where he’s expected to boast about U.S. economic performance during his first year in office -- unemployment down, the stock market up, robust growth. He’ll also seek to persuade the Davos audience in a major speech on Friday that his populist, “America First” policies can co-exist with globalism.
The president said on Twitter that he plans “to tell the world how great America is” and that “our economy is now booming and with all I am doing, will only get better.”
“He wants to shatter the myth that he is only an ‘America First’ president,” said Anthony Scaramucci, the financier who was briefly Trump’s communications director and still informally advises the president. “That’s not the case. He is a globalist. He has a duality to his personality. He’s here to disrupt things, which he does a reasonably good to great job of.”
The Swiss mountainside gathering of bankers, corporate chiefs and academics isn’t exactly Trump’s scene, and his administration deliberately spurned the conference prior to his inauguration last year. But now, chief executives are warming up to the president after a year in which his administration began a major deregulation effort and won passage of a law that slashes the U.S. corporate tax rate.
“What I’m bulled up about is that policy makers are making good policy decisions in the U.S. about taxes, about proper regulatory reform,” JP Morgan Chase & Co. CEO Jamie Dimon said in a Bloomberg Television interview at Davos.
“I like a lot more stuff than I don’t like,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. CEO Lloyd Blankfein said in an interview with CNBC.
The U.S. Davos delegation, led by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, is already having an impact. On Wednesday, Mnuchin said at a news conference that a weaker dollar isn’t a concern and would be good for trade. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said that the U.S. was already in a trade war, a day after Trump said it wasn’t.
Trump will host European executives on Thursday night to argue that the U.S. is a better place for businesses as a result of the tax overhaul and deregulation, his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn, said Tuesday at a briefing. Earlier that evening Trump will attend a reception hosted by the World Economic Forum, Cohn said.
Trump told reporters late Wednesday that he decided to go to Davos “to get them to bring back a lot of money. They’re going to invest a lot of money in this country.”
‘No Clear Idea’
But after a year of flouting international norms, issuing combative tweets and abandoning international agreements, there is also trepidation about the president’s visit.
“Many people talk about his unpredictabilities,” Hitachi Ltd. Chairman Hiroaki Nakanishi said in an interview at Davos. “That is very, very important for us. We cannot imagine what will be his next sayings. What may happen in Davos we have no clear idea.”
Microsoft Corp. co-founder Bill Gates expressed unease with Trump’s foreign policy in an interview with Bloomberg News Editor-in-Chief John Micklethwait in Davos.
In “the balance of hard power versus soft power, the U.S. uniquely has a ratio emphasizing hard power and I’d hate to see it go even further,” Gates said. “You don’t want to give up your soft power tools.”
And other foreign leaders are drawing their own contrasts with the U.S. president. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced during a speech at Davos on Tuesday that the remaining signatories to the Pacific Rim trade pact abandoned by Trump had reached a deal on a revised agreement that would go forward without the U.S.
“The anti-trade tendency in globalization” will “leave us all worse off,” Trudeau said. “We have to put the concerns and the well-being of our ordinary citizens at the center of what we are negotiating.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday that “when we see that things aren’t equitable, we look for multilateral solutions rather than unilateral ones that simply promote isolation and protectionism.”
Scaramucci describes Trump’s “America First” rhetoric as benign -- “all he’s simply saying is a good leader should put his country and his country’s citizens first,” he said. Doing so in the U.S., he said, will lead to higher wages for middle-class families, raising consumer demand for imports.
“If American working-class families have more money in their pockets, it’s good for the world,” he said.
The president will be in Davos for less than 36 hours, and in addition to the speech and hob-knobbing with business leaders, he’ll meet with several foreign leaders, including British Prime Minister Theresa May and Rwandan President Paul Kagame. Trump reportedly used an expletive to denigrate African countries in a Jan. 12 immigration meeting, causing offense across the continent.
Trump is the first sitting U.S. president to attend Davos since 2000. Vice President Mike Pence was initially invited by the meeting’s organizers, but declined the offer and suggested to Trump that he go instead, a White House official said. Trump was also encouraged to go by other world leaders and company executives, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said.
In his speech on Friday, Trump is expected to focus on national security, calling on world leaders to unite against North Korea, Islamic State and Iran -- a familiar refrain from many of Trump’s speeches to international audiences, said a person familiar with the text.