DAVOS — “America is roaring back and now is the time to invest in the future of America,” preached President Donald Trump at a speech at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Friday. “I’m inviting you to be part of the future we are building together.”
In a measured, 20-minute speech that was pointed towards Europe and the rest of the world rather than the U.S., the president extolled the virtues of America and spoke of U.S. engagement with the global community.
In highlighting the economic prowess of the U.S., Trump was essentially selling America and his policies. The theme of the speech said one White House official, was ‘America is open for business again,’ a line Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin made here earlier this week. (A senior White House official described current economic conditions in the U.S. as “a Renaissance.”)
The president also reiterated his vision and openness to trade and engagement, but only if nations “played by the rules.”
“We can’t have free and open trade if some countries exploit the system at the expense of others,” he said.
Trump also spoke to global security issues such as multilateral cooperation in the fight against ISIS and working to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons. “We are investing in the military and weak, other nations need to contribute their fair share.”
And sounding very much like a populist or even a left-wing politician, he talked about how important working men and women are and he thanked them.
Though there was talk of a walkout during Trump’s speech, and while the response was generally tepid — far from a rousing MAGA speech in the red-state America — the audience seemed content to sit back and hear Trump out. The only time when there were audible boos was when Trump called the media fake news.
He did have a few zingers. Trump noted that the stock market is up 50% since he became president, but that had Hillary Clinton won, “it would have been down 50%.” He also said that at dinner the night before, one CEO pledged to invest $2 billion in the U.S. And Trump said, “I said to myself he’s the cheap one.”
Trump’s happy with the reception he’s had in Davos
Trump’s visit was without incident. The president seemed to enjoy walking around the Congress Center, the main hall here at WEF, where he received the rock star treatment as hundreds tracked his every move, taking pictures and videos. If there was any anti-Trump sentiment in the mostly European crowd, it wasn’t apparent. An administration official said that Trump was “happy with the reception he’s had here.”
Trump’s meeting and press briefing with British Prime Minister Theresa May went off relatively well, and it was suggested that the two mended their relationship after a tiff where Trump retweeted some of the UK far right leader’s anti-Muslim videos. Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu were chummier as the president blasted the Palestinians, threatening to withhold funding after they withdrew from negotiations. By all accounts, the president’s dinner with CEOs here was more of a love-fest with mutual compliments flowing back and forth.
This was the biggest White House delegation ever to make the trip to the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos in its 48-year history, and it was the first visit by a sitting president since President Bill Clinton in 2000. Besides Trump, the group included Secretary of State Tillerson, Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao.
Mnuchin created a bit of a stir here earlier in the week when he said a weak dollar — which is now at a three year low — was good for America. He later had to walk that back, i.e., qualify the statement, as a weak dollar is good for some facets of the economy, but not so good for others. Later an administration official said there was “no daylight” between Mnuchin’s position on the dollar and the president’s.
Snow and optimism
Trump stayed at the Hotel Intercontinental, (a strange, egg-shaped looking hotel) on the outskirts of this tiny Swiss ski town, which is packed to the gills with VIPs including 70 heads of state and numerous CEOs.
This year’s forum was unusual in a number of ways besides the presence of Trump. Heavy snow early in the week made travel almost impossible up to and in the village. The snow and extra security snarled traffic, delaying attendees for hours.
And the mood here — always a big talking point — was unusually upbeat, perhaps not surprising given rising stock markets and economies around the globe. It should be noted that many consider Davos sentiment to be a contrarian indicator, i.e., when the elite attendees here are optimistic, the end is near. Or as BlackRock CEO Larry Fink told me jokingly, “That must mean it’s all going to crash.”
There seemed to be a paucity of high jinks this year as well. In years prior, you’d see Anthony Scaramucci holding court at the piano bar until the wee hours. Not so much this year. Perhaps the difficulty getting around or maybe even Trump’s visit took some levity out of the proceedings.
Overall, the participants at Davos — and the president of the United States — were pretty much bullish across the board. And that could either mean we’re due for more economic growth, or we’ve hit some sort of economic top.
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Andy Serwer is Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief. Follow him on Twitter: @serwer.