Trump the calm globalist is just as dangerous, if not more so, than Trump the raging populist.
As a candidate, Donald Trump enjoyed pillorying the globalists. “We will no longer surrender this country, or its people, to the false song of globalism,” he said in his first major speech on foreign policy in April 2016. By globalists, he first of all meant rival Hillary Clinton, who represented the face of American internationalism as a jet-setting secretary of state and an it-takes-a village multiculturalist. But he was also including in this catchall category all free traders, diplomats, UN officials and individuals who didn’t put America First (or put Trump First).
His perorations, which sampled the paranoid utterances of shock jock Alex Jones, had a tinge of conspiracy to them, as if a group of the world’s most powerful people actually got together in one place to plot the trajectory of the world. Well, actually, that does happen. It’s called the World Economic Forum, and it takes place every year in Davos, Switzerland. Mostly the participants party rather than plot, but they are nevertheless an exclusive bunch of people.
And this year, Donald Trump was there, along with his entourage of seven cabinet members. Given his populist positions, you’d think that the president would go in swinging, and all the world’s globalists would be primed to get in their retaliatory licks.
But that’s not how it went last week. Instead, with only a few sour notes sounded on both sides, Daniel went into the lion’s den and emerged without a scratch. After all, like Daniel, Trump remained true to his god, and that’s why the lions of Davos purred at his feet. Trump’s god, of course, is money — and he prayed to that god at Davos as fervently as he did during the State of the Union speech this week. Forget Jesus Christ and the national anthem. Trump worships at only one altar, and he has lots of fellow believers.
Trump’s Message to the World
The idea that Donald Trump is, was, or ever would be a populist has been laughable from the very start. He has always acted like a grasping member of the nouveau riche. True, he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he’s been trying to cram the whole silverware set in his maw ever since (along with one or both of his feet). He likes flash and conspicuous wealth, and he has always delighted in stiffing his underlings (in more ways than one).
Populism was a ladder Trump used to ascend to the presidency and which he immediately kicked away once he achieved his perch. He has surrounded himself with wealthy advisors, developed an economic plan slanted to the 1% and blurred the distinction between public policy and his own private riches with all the panache of a Russian oligarch.
Before, when he inveighed against globalists, he simply had in mind all the political and economic gatekeepers who kept him out of their clubs because they considered him a vulgar upstart. But there’s nothing like concentrated political power to change the minds of those gatekeepers. Trump’s tale of riches to presidential rants could be a comedy of manners by novelist Henry James if it weren’t unfolding like a dystopian tale of sound and fury told by an idiot.
Of course, were Trump a sympathetic protagonist, his speech at Davos would be the triumphant culmination of the drama. He didn’t have to do much at the World Economic Forum. Like a kid in a third-grade play, he wowed the audience just by showing up, reading his lines and not throwing a tantrum. Consider the reaction of one of his critics, foreign-policy columnist Fareed Zakaria, in The Washington Post: “On Friday at the World Economic Forum, Trump gave a good speech that was forthright, intelligent, and conciliatory, embracing the world rather than condemning it. The address was extremely well received here at the World Economic Forum by both American business leaders and even non-American attendees, who are overwhelmingly skeptical of Trump overall.”
Admittedly, Zakaria was establishing a rather low bar for success: that Trump simply act like a “normal president” rather than the petulant infant that he’s been channeling for much of the last year. But there is a much more obvious reason why Trump and the global elites at Davos got along so well. Trump spoke and acted like the rich, greedy man that he is. As such, he fit right in at the World Economic Forum, which operates on the principle that everyone in the world is rich and greedy (or aspires to be).
Zakaria and others were reassured that Trump acted like a ordinary, ruthless Republican out of central casting rather than a madman out to destroy the world. Subtract the boilerplate blather about lifting up the poor and middle class and you can get the essence of Trump’s speech in these three points: We lowered our corporate tax rate from 35% all the way down to 21%; we have undertaken the most extensively regulatory reduction ever conceived; we are lifting self-imposed restrictions on energy production to provide affordable power to our citizens and businesses and to promote energy security for our friend all around the world.
That’s it in a nutshell: reduce taxes for the wealthy, slash regulations that protect people and the environment, and drill, baby, drill — themes he reiterated in his State of the Union address on Tuesday.
Yes, some of the caustic Trump leaked out during his Davos performance, most notably when he lashed out at the “nasty,” “mean,” and “fake” news media. Otherwise, Trump was in charm mode, and he received a fawning reception. “On behalf of the business leaders here in this room let me particularly congratulate you for the historic tax reform,” the head of the World Economic Forum Karl Schwab said in his introduction. “US tax reform makes it more economic to do business in the United States,” Jeffrey Rosen, deputy chairman of the financial advisory firm Lazard, said.
“Deregulation makes it easier.” Goldman Sachs chief executive Lloyd Blankfein told CNBC, “I’ve really liked what he’s done for the economy, and I think he’s gone out of his way to be very, very supportive of the system.” Well, of course! He’s been very, very supportive of the system — the ridiculously tilted global economy — because the system has been very, very good to him.
The Davos speech — and accompanying Davos response — didn’t just sweep the business community off its feet. Back from Switzerland, Trump critic Bob Corker (R-TN) confessed on the eve of the State of the Union address to having second thoughts (once again) about the president. “The one takeaway was how big a deal the tax reform package was — it was unbelievable to me,” Corker said. “It really caused the audience there, the people there, to be far warmer to the president, because of this package. It was just an amazing thing.”
Actually, Bob, the one takeaway that was unbelievable in the tax reform package was the additional million dollars you personally will make in tax savings from one provision alone on income from real estate investment trusts. So, please, spare us the gushing. For all your pretentions to being a deficit hawk and a skeptical Republican, you’re as fervent a believer in Trump’s religion of greed as the next plutocrat.
Well, there are some exceptions….
Of course the World Economic Forum is not just a gathering of billionaires. In recent years, artists and NGO leaders have diversified the audience, and some of the world’s elected leaders have a genuinely internationalist perspective. So, for instance, Trump came in for some withering criticism at Davos from environmentalists and the leaders of “shithole” countries.
But the person who’s emerged as perhaps the leading anti-Trump figure in the world — because he is challenging not just Trump but Trumpism — has been George Soros. The Hungarian-born billionaire has certainly made his fortune in ways as questionable as Trump (most famously, betting against the British sterling and reaping a windfall as the UK economy tanked). But in other ways, Soros has been a traitor to his class.
“Elitist hypocrite George Soros makes a fool of himself in Davos,” screamed the Fox News headline after Soros lambasted Facebook, Google, and Trump at the World Economic Forum. In the article, Fox News show host Steve Hilton tears into Soros: “Like the rest of the Trump-hating elite, he can’t control his snooty impulses and can’t accept the real, tangible improvements that the Trump presidency is already making in the real lives of working Americans, who have suffered decades of economic insecurity as a direct result of the elitist policies that Soros personally supports.”
So, what did Soros actually say? Aside from comparing Facebook to a controlled substance, the financier philanthropist focused on the threat posed to the world by Trump. “I consider the Trump administration a danger to the world,” Soros said. “Open societies are in crisis, and various forms of dictatorships and mafia states, exemplified by Putin’s Russia, are on the rise. In the United States, President Trump would like to establish a mafia state but he can’t, because the Constitution, other institutions, and a vibrant civil society won’t allow it.”
Soros also criticized the Trump administration for setting a collision course with North Korea that would lead to nuclear war and for attempting to accelerate, with his energy policies, humanity’s demise through climate change — precisely the policies of “exterminism” that I criticized in last week’s column. As importantly, he clearly disavowed the “elitist policies” on the economy that indeed had a devastating effect on working people. In his call for a radical reinvention of the EU, Soros noted that the regional body “used to enjoy the enthusiastic support of the people of my generation, but that changed after the financial crisis of 2008. The EU lost its way because it was governed by outdated treaties and a mistaken belief in austerity policies.”
Of course, you might dismiss what Soros has to say (and what I have to say, particularly since I’ve received funding from his foundation). But it’s critically important at this juncture for members of the super-wealthy to turn against one of their own. After all, Trump the calm globalist is just as dangerous, if not more so, than Trump the raging populist.
*[This article was originally published by Foreign Policy in Focus.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.