Trump will play economic pitchman in Davos. But will he stay on message?

The convention center where the World Economic Forum takes place.
The World Economic Forum will open Tuesday in Davos, Switzerland.
(Markus Schreiber / Associated Press)

President Trump is expected to embrace one of his favorite roles at the annual economic forum here Tuesday, pitchman-in-chief for a robust American economy while he runs for reelection.

Trump’s aides hope his visit to this tony Swiss Alps ski resort will project an image of the president cutting deals for the country, rather than obsessing about his Senate impeachment trial — as his tweets seem to suggest — or hitting the golf course in Florida, his usual retreat from Washington troubles.

Whether he can stay on message during his two days at the World Economic Forum remains to be seen, however.

Climate change will be more of a focus than usual this year at Davos, with the backdrop of devastating wildfires that have burned millions of acres in Australia.

And among those attending is Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish environmental activist who has drawn Trump’s scorn for her outspoken demands for stronger action on climate change. When she was named Time magazine’s most recent person of the year, the president called it “ridiculous” and urged her to “chill.”


When he ran for office in 2016, Trump denounced the kind of globalists who attend the annual Davos event, where tycoons and politicians gather to cut deals and ruminate on the world’s challenges.

But Trump is now making his second trip to Davos — he canceled last year during the 35-day partial government shutdown over his demands for a border wall — and he’ll likely relish the opportunity to rub shoulders with industry titans at a time when his presidency is under attack in Washington.

The House impeached Trump on Dec. 18, accusing him of abusing his power by asking Ukraine to investigate potential Democratic Party presidential nominee Joe Biden and then obstructing Congress by directing administration officials to ignore subpoenas for documents and testimony.

Although the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to acquit Trump and leave him in office, the trial could prove unpredictable and embarrassing to the president.

Staff members circulate at the Davos conference center on Monday before the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
Staff members circulate at the Davos conference center on Monday before the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum.
(Fabrice Coffrini / AFP via Getty Images)

Instead of staying in the White House and watching the proceedings on TV, Trump told reporters on Thursday that he will meet “the biggest business leaders in the world, getting them to come here.”

He’s repeatedly shrugged off concerns about a potential economic slowdown as the stock market continues climbing and unemployment remains low.

Trump’s boastfulness may appear out of place at the summit, which is marking its 50th anniversary in a state of anxiety.

The self-styled masters of the universe who flock here every winter have seen their goals — such as free trade and strong international cooperation — slip with nationalism on the rise.

And although capitalism has fueled profits and rising living standards for millions, it’s also pumped more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, worsening climate change, which is now a top concern here.

“The growing palpability of shared economic, environmental and societal risks signals that the horizon has shortened for preventing — or even mitigating — some of the direst consequences of global risks,” wrote Børge Brende, president of the World Economic Forum, in the Global Risks Report, a publication issued before each summit.

“It is sobering that in the face of this development, when the challenges before us demand immediate collective action, fractures within the global community appear to only be widening.”

Seventeen-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, pictured here at last year's Davos summit, is scheduled to attend again this year.
Seventeen-year-old environmental activist Greta Thunberg, pictured here at last year’s Davos summit, is scheduled to attend again this year.
(Fabrice Coffrini / AFP/Getty Images)

All of this is an awkward fit for Trump, who has exacerbated many of the trends that concern leaders here. The theme of this year’s summit is “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,” and Trump has actively worked against both cohesion and sustainability.

He’s pushed nationalism and self-interest above multilateral partnerships. Although he recently acknowledged the reality of climate change — “nothing’s a hoax about that,” he said at the White House this month — he’s spent more time rolling back environmental regulations.

Trump also mocked New York City for considering a massive sea wall to safeguard the city from storms such as Hurricane Sandy, which flooded the island. Trump tweeted that the idea is costly and foolish. “Sorry, you’ll just have to get your mops & buckets ready!” he added.