The president of the US is America’s commander-in-chief. In Davos, the world saw an American president take on a new role: salesman-in-chief. Donald Trump’s speech at the World Economic Forum was a blunt appeal to business to come and invest in the US.
In his effort to persuade the corporate bosses in the audience to spend money in the US, Mr Trump used the tactics and language of a real estate salesman trying to sell a posh apartment. This was a unique opportunity: “There has never been a better time to invest in America.”
The president highlighted the sharp cut in corporation tax rates from 35 per cent to 21 per cent.
He boasted that the stock market was breaking records, that business and consumer confidence were at record highs, that unemployment was at record lows and that “American workers are the best in the world”.
“America is the place to do business,” Mr Trump insisted, without quite adding: “Buy now, while stocks last.”
To be fair to Mr Trump, it is something of a tradition for world leaders to appeal for investment when they come to Davos. President Emmanuel Macron of France did something similar in his speech on Wednesday.
But what was striking about Mr Trump’s speech was that, unlike Mr Macron’s, it contained no wider vision.
A US president speaking before a global audience would usually be expected to try to rally the world around America’s position on a range of global issues. But other than a perfunctory appeal to “denuke” the Korean peninsula and a mention of terrorism, Mr Trump made no effort to demonstrate US leadership.
Nonetheless, the Davos speech may mark a significant moment in the “normalisation” of Mr Trump
Over the course of the week at the forum, it became evident that many international businesspeople are genuinely impressed by the tax cuts and deregulation being pushed through by the Trump administration.
The president’s bombastic and occasionally offensive rhetoric has become familiar — and many businesspeople have begun to discount it.
The president’s entourage in Davos was also dominated by the “globalists” in his administration, including Gary Cohn, his economic adviser; Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary; HR McMaster, his national security adviser; and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law. More nationalist figures, such as Steve Bannon, have either been sacked or were left at home.
Mr Trump’s speech was part of an effort to seal the deal with international business. At times, it teetered on the edge of going badly wrong. There was a ripple of booing in the audience when the president denounced the media. But, overall, his reception in the hall was polite, if chilly.
There will also have been some relief that the president toned down his protectionist rhetoric. He insisted that the world trading system must become “fairer” and more beneficial to the US.
But he avoided the talk of “trade wars”, which had been used at Davos by Wilbur Ross, his commerce secretary.
In a brief question-and-answer session after this speech, Mr Trump even suggested that the US might be interested in one day rejoining the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that he withdrew from on his very first day in office.
This suggestion was made subject to a vague request that the TPP should be renegotiated. The details were left vague, but the intent was clear. Mr Trump was attempting to show the Davos audience that he is not as bad as all that: tough, but not unreasonable.
The phrase that US officials have been using in Davos all week is “America First, does not mean America alone”. Mr Trump duly trotted it out in his own speech.
Mr Trump’s insistence that his policies are intended to benefit “forgotten people” may have been intended as a mild rebuke to the global elite. But it was, in fact, standard stuff at the World Economic Forum.
The “forgotten people” were arguably the most remembered people in Davos this year, which will doubtless be a great source of reassurance to them.