Login ID:
Partner Login
Contact Us : 7066511911

As Trump Heads to Davos, the Question Is Which Trump Will It Be? -- WSJ

23 Jan 2018 7:32 am
By Gerard Baker 

This article is being republished as part of our daily reproduction of WSJ.com articles that also appeared in the U.S. print edition of The Wall Street Journal (January 23, 2018).

"If the mountain will not come to Muhammad, then Muhammad must go to the mountain."

It takes a mighty effort of the imagination to see Donald Trump in the role of the prophet from Francis Bacon's famous proverbial retelling of an ancient story. But as an exercise in the execution of something quite improbable, the trip of the president of the United States to Davos this week is right up there, as it were, with any historical precedent.

Mr. Trump, political agent-provocateur, scourge of the global elite, blunt-speaking polite-society gate-crasher, tribune of the deplorables, will indeed ascend the famous Swiss mountain and address the well-heeled, bien-pensant, self-appointed leaders of the globalist establishment -- right in the inner sanctum of their most sacred temple: the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum. As with most things Trump, no one quite knows what to expect, what he will tell the assembled political leaders, bankers, chief executives, NGO leaders and cultural celebrities when he speaks on Friday. Or, having delivered his speech, and perhaps more important, what tweeted invective will come forth from his fingers before and afterward. But as a spectacle and perhaps a symbol of the defining dialectic of our political age, it can hardly be bettered: "America First" meets "We Are the World."

It will be the first time a U.S. president has attended Davos since Bill Clinton in 2000, and Mr. Trump may have with him the highest-profile U.S. delegation perhaps ever: cabinet members and top White House advisers. Back then President Clinton was in his final year in office and there was a kind of rock-star farewell-tour quality to the exercise; the ultimate American globalist coming back for one last rousing encore with his fellow-travelers, safe in the embrace of a widening international consensus about the way things should be ordered. But Mr. Trump's presidency is in its infancy, and the fire and fury of his rhetoric has already torched many of the institutions and nostrums that the Davos crowd hold dearest. The question this time is: Where do the twain meet? Will Davos get a little Trumpian? Or does the Trump administration take on a Davosian quality?

Mr. Trump was elected on a platform that might almost define opposition to the globalization that has driven the international system for the past 30 years. That system rested on several largely unchallenged principles: free trade and frictionless international capital markets; open borders; aggressive but collaborative measures to tackle climate change; a multilateral approach to the world's security challenges that emphasized cooperative diplomacy over martial rhetoric and threats.

Pivotal moment

But "Davos Man" has been under siege for the past few years -- and not just in the hollowed-out communities of Pennsylvania, Wisconsin or Michigan. The populist-nationalist backlash that began with Brexit and continued with Donald Trump didn't sweep, as some thought it would, across Europe last year. The rising tide stopped some way short of the Élysée and the Bundeskanzleramt. But even in France and Germany, countries that have been in the vanguard of the globalists' march, with their steady push toward an ever-closer European Union, the rise of a nativist, anti-globalism current laps at the eroding political consensus. Elsewhere in Europe, especially in the east -- Poland, Hungary, Austria, the Czech Republic -- the institutions of democratic government have already been breached by populists. And even world-wide, nationalist sentiment vies with a powerful anti-Trump backlash for political advantage.

It feels like a pivotal moment in history: Will the current turbulence really topple the system the world has embraced for the past few decades, or will the forces of global economic and political integration eventually prevail?

It's possible that the nationalist-globalist dialectic may resolve itself into a synthesis. This certainly seems to be the hope of the leaders of some of the international institutions that sit, somewhat uneasily, atop the snowy peaks of the global system.

Achieving some kind of new consensus certainly seems to be the motive behind the invitation to Mr. Trump to attend his first Davos. Klaus Schwab, founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum, has invested time in trying to broker a dialogue with some the leaders of populist-nationalist movements. In an interview with the Journal, excerpts from which we publish with this special report, Prof. Schwab expresses optimism that a new kind of "equitable globalization" may emerge from the current political stress.

How Mr. Trump chooses to respond to this olive branch isn't clear. Some will point out that his populist tweeted bark is often worse than his more conventional policy bite. And with the arch-nationalist Steve Bannon, who provided an intellectual framework for Mr. Trump's instincts, now officially out in the cold, some of the more confrontational rhetoric may be set aside. But with big decisions looming on some of the more contentious trade issues -- China, Japan, Nafta -- and given his self-acclaimed negotiating skills, the president is unlikely to be in an overly generous mood.

Beyond the conference

Mr. Trump and his consequences may loom large over this year's gathering, but of course there will be much else for the thousands of delegates and others to ponder. The usual procession of political leaders will unfold -- most prominently, Narendra Modi, the Indian prime minister; Emmanuel Macron, the French president; Theresa May, the British prime minister; and the chief executives of some of the biggest companies in the world. Much business-as-usual gets done away from the conference halls and set-piece events, and this year will be no different.

But it will surely be the big geopolitical picture that will figure largest in the deliberations in Davos and, more important, beyond in 2018. The official theme of this year's meeting is "creating shared values in a fractured world." It's an ambitious idea in the current climate. The fissures that have appeared in the global system in the past few years seem to be deepening, and the very idea of a global community is under challenge.

These fissures have raised fundamental questions about global political leadership and America's role. Last year's gathering coincided with Mr. Trump's inauguration, and in the absence of a significant American presence, Xi Jinping, China's president, stepped into the literal and figurative void, claiming for his country the mantle of global leadership, sweet-talking the nervous delegates with soothing bromides about the importance of maintaining an open and integrated international system.

That speech, and the one Mr. Trump will deliver this week, offer vital clues to the resolution of the global tensions that have arisen in the past few years. We can expect the contest -- of ideas, for leadership -- to intensify.

Mr. Baker is editor in chief of The Wall Street Journal.

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 23, 2018 02:32 ET (07:32 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.
Top 5 Special Reports
Canada's 2020-21 Pea Production May Rise Rise Marginall...
USD/INR (Jan. 20) Testing Short-term Resistance near...
USD/INR (Jan. 20) Testing a Resistance Zone Near 71....
Urad Spot(Chennai INR): Bullish Breakout from a Base/ P...
Urad Spot(Burma USD): Appears Poised for More Strength/...