He came so close. Donald Trump — self-proclaimed enemy of the globalist elite, leading critic of international trade and “shithole countries” — almost made it through his appearance at Davos without getting booed or hissed.
The president’s prepared remarks presented a kinder, gentler brand of the “America First” nationalism than he’d ridden to the White House. Trump did not scold America’s fake friends for tricking us into bad trade deals and then “laughing” all the way to the bank. He didn’t abruptly withdraw from any trade deals or international treaties, and improvised no threats of thermonuclear war.
He did promise to put America’s interests above all others. But he presented this commitment to nationalism as a kind of state-level, libertarian utopianism: A planet of narrow-minded nationalist governments wouldn’t lead to zero-sum conflict, but rather, to the greatest good for the greatest number.
“As president of the United States, I will always put America first. Just like the leaders of other countries should put their countries first. But America first does not mean America alone,” Trump said. “When the United States grows, so does the world. American prosperity has created countless jobs around the globe, and the drive for excellence, creativity and innovation in the United States has led to important discoveries that help people everywhere live more prosperous and healthier lives.”
The audience at the World Economic Forum did not exactly eat this up. According to the Associated Press, the crowd “kept quiet, with no pockets of clapping that other leaders might receive.” But the president nonetheless “received polite applause when his speech ended.”
And then, the Q&A began, and Trump went off script. The president focused most of his extemporaneous remarks on a hyperbolic account of his tax “reform” law’s glorious effects. But when forum chairman Klaus Schwab asked Trump how his background as a businessman influenced his approach to governing, the mogul replied, “As a businessman I was always treated really well by the press … it wasn’t until I became a politician that I realized how nasty, how mean, how vicious and how fake the press can be.”
Boos and hisses ensued.
Trump’s jab at the press came less than 24 hours after the New York Times revealed that he had attempted to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller last summer — and only reversed course when White House counsel Don McGahn threatened to quit.
Earlier in the day, Trump had dismissed this report in remarks to reporters, saying, “Fake news, folks. Fake news. A typical New York Times fake story.”