German writer Thomas Mann came to Davos in 1912 to visit his wife who was suffering from lung complications. At that time, Davos was known for its sanatoriums. His visit became the basis of his classic novel, The Magic Mountain. Davos later became a famous ski area and home to the annual meeting of those “committed to improving the state of the world,” the World Economic Forum (WEF).
More than 100 years after Thomas Mann visited his wife, President Donald Trump is traveling to Davos as the major attraction of the 48th meeting of the WEF. While Trump is certainly not coming to Davos to visit his wife, or any person in whatever sanatoriums are left in the chic Alpine resort, one can easily question what the President of the United States and several members of his cabinet are doing in a tiny village in eastern Switzerland while wars rage in Syria and Yemen, major legislation on immigration remains in question, the inquiry into Russian collusion with his campaign and his potential obstruction of justice continues, the nuclear treaty with Iran needs clarification, revelations in Fire and Fury have questioned his capacity to govern and his vulgar comments about Haitian and African immigrants have shocked the world.
Watch out Switzerland: Here comes The Donald, “shithouse” and all, headlining WEF founder Klaus Schwab’s 48th party. While Trump is the President of the United States, with all the prestige and power that office embraces, there is an enormous disconnect between the personality of Donald Trump and the participants at Davos.
The WEF is not a New York City real estate convention or a Las Vegas get together of rich gamblers. Christine Lagarde, head of the IMF and omnipresent at Davos is not Celine Dion playing to a packed house in her Vegas theatre. Lawrence Summers, former president of Harvard, former U.S. Treasury Secretary and annual eminent grise of the WEF is not famed middle-class realtor Sam Lefrak from Queens. Selling the U.S. at the WEF is not negotiating a Trump Tower in Macau with Chinese casino king Stanley Ho.
Quite simply: What the hell is Donald Trump doing at Davos?
The obvious answer would be that he is purposefully getting away from the aforementioned problems. Nothing better than a short foreign visit to take attention away from thorny domestic politics. Even away from home, Trump is more welcome in an isolated Swiss village that he would be in downtown London clashing with its mayor. Although there will certainly be protests in Davos and throughout Switzerland – they already started on January 13 in Bern - Trump is obviously safer among the world’s political and financial elite than he would be in Port-au-Prince.
And he can always trumpet the visit as part of his program of promoting America First. Nothing better than hobnobbing with the world’s makers and shakers in the interest of his country. After all, he promised more jobs for the American workers, and what could be better for the average American than selling his agenda to the captains of finance and industry. The self-declared ultimate deal maker will be meeting with the world’s financial, economic and political leaders. For someone who prides himself as synonymous with the art of the deal, what could be more tempting than to perform on the world’s biggest media stage in front of the highest rollers?
On the other hand, Donald Trump is also supposed to represent the average Joe. While Barack Obama never went to Davos because of its elitist, capitalist reputation, and Bill Clinton was heavily criticized for schmoozing with Davos Men, Trump’s base is the anathema of those attending the WEF. “Joe Six-Pack,” as the average American is affectionately called, abhors the world of canapés and white wine. Trump won the presidency because he vilified Hillary Clinton as a spoiled, rich girl from Wellesley College and Yale Law School. Trump, although rich by inheritance, rode the wagon of the great American self-made man that the average middle and lower class person associated with. His vulgarity was the perfect antidote to the Obama/Clinton erudition.
The smug globalists at Davos are exactly the types Trump and his former strategist Steve Bannon campaigned against in 2016. The rejection of Hillary Clinton by the voters had as much to do with her educational and cultural sophistication as with her politics.
Trump may have been successful in one arena with one set of rules, but the shift from New York realtor to global political leader has shown his limitations. Now that he is on the world stage, those limitations are becoming more and more obvious. It’s bad enough when he tweets or speaks within the U.S; on the world stage, he has become the reincarnation of the ugly American, able to play in The Apprentice, but poorly cast as the actual Commander-in-Chief.
Mann’s novel is complex and nuanced. The least we can anticipate about Trump’s sojourn to the Magic Mountain is that it will be neither complex nor nuanced. Watch out Davos: Here comes The Donald.