DAVOS, SWITZERLAND — Staring down a Senate impeachment trial, President Trump absconded to Switzerland on Tuesday to address the World Economic Forum in Davos, the remote ski town where the world’s elite congregate annually to discuss the issues plaguing the global community. No issue is of more pressing concern at the 2020 edition of the forum than the climate crisis, but not only did Trump fail to address it seriously, he also bashed climate activists as “perennial prophets of doom” and “heirs of yesterday’s foolish fortune tellers.”
“They predicted an overpopulation crisis in the 1960s, mass starvation in the Seventies, and an end of oil in the 1990s,” he added. “These alarmists always demand the same thing: absolute power to dominate, transform, and control every aspect of our lives. We will never let radical socialists destroy our economy, wreck our country, or eradicate our liberty.”
The attacks came shortly after Trump argued his administration is “committed to conserving the majesty of God’s creation.” It was the closest he came to addressing the climate crisis outside of announcing the U.S. will be joining the WEF’s One Trillion Trees Initiative. It was the only applause line of the 30-minute-long address.
Though he didn’t address climate activists by name during his speech, earlier on Tuesday he was asked about fellow Davos speaker Greta Thunberg, the 17-year-old Swedish climate activist he has bullied on Twitter. “I’m a big believer in the environment,” he managed. “The environment, to me, is very important.”
Trump made clear in his speech that he believes Thunberg and other activists simply do not understand the power of American ingenuity. In a bizarre, ham-fisted attempt to relate to the global community that this spirit can overcome anything, even science, Trump spent minutes praising the iconic Duomo cathedral in Milan, implying that if the tradesmen who constructed it had the same “pessimistic” attitude of climate activists and others standing in the way of his administration, it would never have been constructed. He then moved on to Notre-Dame, expressing his belief that this same can-do spirit will lead to its rejuvenation, its bells ringing once again to inspire “wonder and awe” in the people of Paris. Inspiring stuff.
Though Trump was greeted warily when he attended the WEF in 2018 (he didn’t come to Davos in 2017 or 2019), as Andrew Ross Sorkin wrote Monday in The New York Times, Trump “will be accepted, if not embraced” this year. This is largely due to the booming American economy, as well as the reality that Trump could very well win a second term in the White House. It also speaks to what actually drives the World Economic Forum: money. For all of the noble attendees who travel to Switzerland to push sustainability, diversity, economic equality, and any of the other issues the WEF brands itself under, at its core Davos is a place for rich people and corporations to congregate and hatch plans for world domination — or at least to become even richer than they already are.
There’s literally zero panic in #Davos at prospect of Trump winning a second term (informal poll last night, typical delegate thinks he’ll win, but it’s close).
This is very far from US political twitter. pic.twitter.com/vncg17mIqi
— ian bremmer (@ianbremmer) January 21, 2020
Trump understands this, and on Tuesday he delighted in touting the U.S. economy’s health to introduce a week that will feature more than 100 billionaires and the C-suites of just about every multinational corporation under the sun, which reflects pretty nicely off the pristine alpine snow many of them will be carving up on Friday, when attendees are known to ditch out of the WEF to hit the slopes. “The United States is in the midst of an economic boom the likes of which the world has never seen before,” Trump said, repeating variations of this sentiment ad nauseam for the bulk of the address.
He also took sole credit for the health of the economy, falsely claiming it was in a “dismal state” prior to his taking office. Such attacks on the Obama administration were peppered throughout his speech, as were grandiose claims about how his success was “unthinkable,” how his administration’s accomplishments are “historic,” and how the two trade deals it recently brokered — the USMCA and the “Phase 1” deal with China — were the “biggest ever made.”
Though the address featured an array of mischaracterizations of the U.S. economy (to put it mildly); a professed commitment to slashing regulations to increase the production of “traditional fuels”; and a categorical dismissal of climate activism, WEF CEO Klaus Martin Schwab praised the president’s progress in the United States, even commending him for creating policies that lead to “inclusivity.”
It was yet another indication that for all its hype around fostering said inclusivity — as well as sustainability, climate activism, and other worthy causes — when viewed up close the World Economic Forum is more nearly aligned with the interests of Trump and the other global elites who flew in on helicopters.