Amr Moussa, the former Arab League Secretary General and the Egyptian Foreign Minister, told me that without Trump, WEF would be just a lot of people running around without credible vision, purpose, or power, all pretending to be great and good, but not doing anything interesting. He predicted that Macron, Merkel, and Modi—the event’s other three headliners—would be rudderless and fail to create much stir. He was right.
I asked Moussa what he and the other Davos elites expected from Trump. He paused before saying: “If Trump is nice to us in Davos, we won’t believe him. If he beats us up and attacks us, we will revile him. But we need him. He defines who we are by who he is.”
The cost of being one of the lucky attendees at Davos often runs anywhere between $75,000 and tens of millions of dollars, depending on how deeply interwoven one’s firm is with WEF founder Klaus Schwab’s operation. And like with any high-priced theater ticket, say for Hamilton, the audience wants to see some sizzle, some genuine drama. They want to be in the room when Trump happens.
Schwab tried to provide it. He organized a 37-member, dazzlingly attired, feather-hatted, Swiss Honor Guard band, which played the Coburg March as Schwab and Trump walked on stage. This was dazzle that no Davos attendees had ever seen before, and some even thought it was off-putting. The spirit of Davos, in this view, is supposed to be one of serious discourse, not one of celebrating and paying tribute to heads of government, particularly Trump.
But at least the show started with some pomp. And tensing up the lead-up to Trump just a bit more, Schwab triggered boos by saying in his introductory remarks: “I’m aware that your strong leadership is open to misconceptions and biased interpretation.”
But the wow died fast. In words clearly Stephen Miller-free and crafted by one of the administration’s resident “globalists,” National Economic Adviser Gary Cohn, Trump actually said to a red meat-wanting audience that wanted to dislike him:
“Represented in this room are some of the remarkable citizens from all over the world. You are national leaders, business titans, industry giants, and many of the brightest mind in many fields. Each of you has the power to change hearts transform lives and shape your country's destinies. With this power comes an obligation, however—a duty of loyalty to the people, workers, customers, who made you who you are.”
What? What happened to shithole countries? Where was the Putin love? He even dropped in a line that “maybe joining TPP is possible.” This after he famously withdrew from the agreement that would set up a massive free-trade area among Pacific Rim countries, and is now going forward without America.
Trump even touted—and essentially took credit for—high employment rates of Hispanics, African Americans, and women in the United States. No barbs or jabs. He wasn’t high-energy, New York obnoxious. He was just benign—with the single exception of a parting shot at the press.