Donald Trump came, saw but did not conquer at the 48th meeting of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos. His presence overshadowed whatever agenda the WEF’s founder and boss Klaus Schwab might have had. Indeed, Trump’s personality overshadows most attempts at serious discussions whether on the situation within the United States or on global politics. The president of the United States has become more than just the president. Already a central figure on the world stage, he has become a planetary superstar who appears in all the media from serious journals to vulgar pop rags.
The fascination with Trump was evident at Davos. And I am fascinated by this fascination. Swiss politicians desperately sought meetings with him. How could Federal Department of Economic Affairs Minister Johan Schneider Amman in an interview at Davos brag about his meeting with Ivanka Trump in the White House? Was she really the best person he could meet in the interest of Swiss-US economic relations? What about a Geneva politician lunging to take a photo of Trump as he majestically walked by waving to his fawning admirers? There were some boos during Trump’s speech, and an American professor did wear a t-shirt saying, “You’re not my president.” But the general mood was star gazing.
The star gazing at Davos reflects something that not only fascinates but also puzzles. When I lived in Villars, locals were serenaded by outside proposals for outlandish developments: the first Sheraton hotel in the mountains, the largest discotheque in the region, the biggest tennis center, etc. Often when an outsider presented a master plan, there would be acquiescence. (A giant hole was dug, but here is no Sheraton; the discotheque closed; the tennis center went bankrupt and was taken over by the commune. For the record, I refused to attend the opening of the center.)
In Geneva, unfortunately, similar star gazing has occurred. Noteworthy would be some of the promises made for the Stade de Genève or the recent catastrophes involving FC Servette or the hockey club, Genève-Servette. What was there that led people to believe that a Majid Pishyar, Marc Roger, Hugh Quennec or some Canadian millionaires would introduce the kind of stability for the local sports teams that Geneva and its traditional bankers are known for. If local banks advertise their expertise and historic reputations, why would far-flung proposals by non-locals be so appealing?
While Switzerland has a reputation for seriousness and dependability, the type of headline proclaiming “The Swiss President Among the World’s Greats,” may be an indication of Lombard Odier’s new motto “rethink everything.” Instead of a tradition of excellence, star gazing can be ephemeral; shooting stars come and go. Do you really want a selfie with Trump? How many supporters did Pishyar, Roger and Quennec have in the beginning? Where are they now?
The Forum’s motto is “Committed to improving the state of the world.” Trump’s presentation, soberly read off the teleprompter, was a chamber of commerce invitation to do business in the United States. “Taxes have been cut, regulations have been reduced, the stock market is booming, the economy is improving, the US is the place to be,” he advertised. What about improving the state of the world? The New York real estate salesman was incapable of going beyond his business-only agenda.
You will respond that what’s good for business is good for the country and the world. After all, “What’s good for General Motors is good for America,” a former CEO of GM was reported to have said. Really? It’s not necessary to cite statistics about global inequality or massive unequal distributions of wealth. Klaus Schwab and many of the people at Davos understand this. Perhaps Schwab was both proud and disquieted by Trump’s presence and message. (Schwab was hissed when he praised Trump in his introduction.) The Forum’s aim has been to bring together business and political leaders. Its motto reflects more than just arranging a platform for income-generating deals.
Trump was only able to propose simple business. His appearance, after many of the world’s political leaders had left, reflects his inability to go beyond a real estate broker’s mentality. But more than that, while he may remain in his narcissistic bubble, there is no reason for people of reason to be swept up in a star gazing hysteria.
There are different kinds of stars, just as there are history books which go back to illuminate the past rather than news flashes that shine for an instant. Those who live in the moment and are fascinated by shooting stars may rise and fall with them. Those who are fascinated by the Majid Pishyar, Marc Roger and Hugh Quennecs of this world may also be the ones falsely fascinated by Donald Trump. Trump is fascinating to be studied, but not fascinating enough to be photographed with.