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President Trump is going to Davos

Populist President Trump is headed to Davos, one of the most elite gatherings in the world.

President Donald Trump.
President Donald Trump.
Isaac Brekken/Getty
Emily Stewart covered business and economics for Vox and wrote the newsletter The Big Squeeze, examining the ways ordinary people are being squeezed under capitalism. Before joining Vox, she worked for TheStreet.

President Donald Trump is headed to Davos.

The president is expected to attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, an annual summit of world leaders and business executives, in the coming weeks, the White House said on Tuesday.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement first reported by the New York Times that Trump “welcomes opportunities to advance his America First agenda with world leaders” and plans to promote his policies to “strengthen American businesses, American industries, and American workers.”

This is quite an establishment embrace from a man who has hinged much of his political rise on casting himself as a populist, anti-establishment figure.

In attending Davos days before his first State of the Union address, Trump is taking a page out of President Bill Clinton’s playbook. Clinton became the first sitting US president to appear at Davos in 2000. Presidents George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama never attended the summit. President Ronald Reagan did, but via video link.

Trump and those around him largely shunned Davos in 2017. A senior member of Trump’s transition team told Bloomberg at the time that Trump thought sending an official representative or attending the event himself would betray his populist movement, and that the gathering represented the “power structure that fueled the populist anger” that propelled him to the White House in the first place.

This time last year, Trump was singing a very different tune

The World Economic Forum’s annual meeting at Davos is one of the most elite gatherings in the world. Held in the Swiss Alps, it has come to symbolize modern globalization and exclusivity at its peak. Last year, although Trump didn’t attend, he was a looming presence, according to multiple reports.

At Davos in 2017, Alibaba’s Jack Ma openly worried about a potential US-China trade war and said he believed observers should give then-President-elect Trump “some time.”

Former Secretary of State John Kerry said he hoped Trump wouldn’t reverse his achievements. “Take Iran: I bet you that our friends and allies will get together and that Russia, China, Germany, France, and Britain will say, you know what, this is a good deal, we’re going to keep it,” he said.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise CEO Meg Whitman acknowledged that the election “didn’t go the way I wanted” but said she hoped to give Trump “the benefit of the doubt.” Actor Forest Whitaker was similarly cautiously optimistic in a talk there. “I hope he’ll be a president who, in the end, represents all people,” he said.

Igor Shuvalov, first deputy prime minister of Russia, weighed in on what was then the impending Trump presidency as well:

Trump is a leading businessman; you can’t survive in business if you’re not dying for victory. He’ll have to get results; it’s part of his personality. I hope Trump — a superb professional entrepreneur — will become a professional president and achieve results for global security. I hope he’ll agree with Putin on how to solve Ukraine. But for results, you need to negotiate with Russia and not put Russia in a corner.

Meanwhile, Trump and his team largely stayed away. Gary Cohn, now director of the National Economic Council under Trump, skipped the 2017 gathering after being a regular attendee in the past, and other Trump appointees opted out as well.

The exception was Anthony Scaramucci, who would go on to serve a 10-day stint as White House communications director the following summer. The former hedge funder said he found himself “jammed up” with meeting requests at the summit and appeared on several panels, billing himself as a sort of Trump whisperer, close to the incoming president’s ear.

“If you guys get a little bit upset about the tweeting or some of the things that he’s saying, I want to put your mind at ease,” Scaramucci said during last year’s event, according to a report from the Wall Street Journal. “Directionally, this is a super-compassionate man.”

What a difference a year makes — and then it doesn’t. Trump’s off-the-wall tweeting continues. But this time around, instead of Scaramucci making excuses for him, the president will be at Davos to speak for himself.

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