The White House’s Tuesday announcement that President Donald Trump would attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland later this month came as a bit of a surprise, given that the last U.S. president to attend the swanky annual event was Bill Clinton in 2000.
Event organizers said Trump’s presence will allow other participants to “get a direct perspective on U.S. political and economic priorities,” the Associated Press reported on Wednesday.
The Davos forum is where around 350 government leaders and thousands of powerful business executives, other members of the elite, and celebrities gather to discuss and set global economic agendas.
But the global nature of the forum seems to fly in the face of President Trump’s “America First,” largely isolationist agenda. In his first year as president, Trump has repeatedly promised to undo the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), threatened to leave the Iranian nuclear agreement, announced a withdrawal from the Paris Agreement, and severed a free-trade agreement with South Korea over what he viewed as “appeasement” of North Korea.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer are all already attending the Davos summit. What message could Trump’s additional presence possibly convey?
John Raines, head of political risk with global intelligence firm and analytics firm IHS Markit, told CNBC that the decision to attend is consistent with Trump’s personality.
“Here it is: He gets to shindig — have this big shindig with the corporate elite, and also gets to point to some of his economic and policy successes. So we see the stock market hitting new highs on a daily basis, and then on top of that, we see U.S. growth rates continuing to pick up,” said Raines. “So I think he gets to go there, defend his policies and gets to hog-wild [sic] with the people he likes.”
While President Trump might be within his comfort zone with some attendees, many who will be at the event have been known to disparage him in the past.
At last year’s event, as Trump was being inaugurated, John Kerry joked that the Trump administration wouldn’t last more than two years. Billionaire George Soros also called Trump “conman, an imposter, and a would-be dictator.” At the 2016 summit, Soros took aim at then-candidate Trump’s anti-immigration stance, telling Bloomberg that Trump was “doing the work of ISIS.”
This year’s Davos summit will take place between January 23 and 26. Attendees will attend endless talks and panels, but the real action, reports the New York Times, takes place at the “galaxy of events hosted by corporations.”
If it seems like the world’s most powerful people might be out of touch with those whose fates they are determining — at an event often derided as the “Burning Man for Billionaires” — organizers have included what the Times describes as “a simulation of a refugee’s experience, where Davos attendees crawl on their hands and knees and pretend to flee from advancing armies.”