It’s not often that we’re treated to the spectacle of two worlds colliding, but U.S. President Donald Trump’s planned visit to Davos for the annual World Economic Forum this week promises to be just that. As if to add to the drama, a string of obstacles has sprung up complicating Trump’s trip. The U.S. government shutdown briefly threatened to derail it. Now a winter storm has dumped six feet of snow on the Swiss mountain retreat, making access difficult and raising the risk of an avalanche.
If Trump’s visit does come off as planned, it will set the stage for an epic confrontation. After all, Davos represents the transnational elite that Trump regularly targets with his populist rhetoric. For the Davos crowd, national borders are either logistical annoyances to be minimized, when it comes to tariffs; tactical opportunities to be arbitraged, when it comes to production costs; or strategic advantages to be exploited, when it comes to tax rates.
Trump hitched his political fortunes to the populist backlash against the globalized world built according to Davos specifications. In so doing, he has managed the near impossible: provoking sympathy for the often-reviled Davos elite.