Donald Trump boasts about US economy at Davos, ignoring impeachment trial

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President Donald Trump delivers the opening remarks at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Picture: Evan Vucci/AP

Davos, Switzerland – President Donald Trump trumpeted what he called “America’s extraordinary prosperity” on his watch, taking credit for a soaring stock market, low unemployment and a “blue collar boom” in jobs and income, in a presidential turn on the world stage also meant to make impeachment proceedings in Washington look small.

Trump ran through economic statistics with a salesman’s delivery, crowing about growth during his three years in office that he said bested his predecessors and defied his skeptics.

“America is thriving; America is flourishing and yes, America is winning again like never before,” Trump told an audience of billionaires, world leaders and figures from academia, media and the kind of international organizations and think tanks for whom Trump’s “America First” nationalism is anathema.

Trump is making his second visit to the World Economic Forum, which for its 50th anniversary this year is focusing on climate change and sustainability. A sign at the entrance to the press center notes that paint for this year’s installation was made from seaweed, and carpets from recycled fishing nets.

Trump, who has called climate change a hoax, did not directly address the theme during his 30-minute address here, though he did call for rejecting “the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse” and later called himself a big believer in the environment.

He also made no mention of impeachment or US politics, though he took a swipe at “radical socialism,” his term for Democratic ideas about health care, education and other issues. The Senate impeachment trial was set to open hours after Trump spoke.

In response to questions from reporters after his speech, he called the impeachment trial a “hoax” and a “witchunt” that has been “going on for years.”

Forum founder and chairman Klaus Schwab thanked Trump “for injecting optimism” into the discussion.

“We have many problems in the world but we need dreams,” he said.

Trump got a polite but not enthusiastic reception in the hall, though a few in the audience slipped out well before he wrapped up.

Even as he faces impeachment, Trump’s trip to Davos offers him an opportunity focus on his economic message. The U.S. economy has continued to notch solid growth and maintain low unemployment and the stock market has reached record highs in recent days. Trump signed a partial trade deal with China last week, easing global tensions over his use of tariffs.

But the president faces continued questions about his approach to foreign affairs. His decision to order a strike killing Iranian military commander Qasem Soleimani earlier this month – and his threat to impose a 25 percent tariff on European cars over a foreign policy dispute – have created more tumult in the Middle East and in the transatlantic relationship between the U.S. and its closest allies.

Trump was billed as the keynote speaker for the annual business-themed confab in this Alpine ski town, but the main attraction was 17-year-old climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has sparred with Trump on Twitter.

Last year, Thunberg blamed world leaders at the forum for not doing more to combat climate change. She has since echoed that message while rallying teenagers around the world to skip school and pressure global leaders to take stronger action to address climate change.

In December, Trump insulted the teen and Time Magazine “Person of the Year” as “so ridiculous,” and suggested she “work on her anger management problem.”

Thunberg was quick to respond, updating her Twitter biography to describe herself as “A teenager working on her anger management problem.”

Trump had not yet arrived in Davos when Thunberg gave her first address Tuesday morning, saying “without treating this as a real crisis, then we cannot solve it.” He was expected to skip her main speech later in the day.

He is an outlier at the forum for his views on climate change. The president has publicly criticized global efforts to combat warming temperatures and has made ridiculing energy efficient products a key part of his reelection stump speech.

Ahead of Trump’s address, Schwab told the gathering that “the world is in a state of emergency,” and that the window to address climate change is closing. Speaking ahead of Trump, he also reminded the audience that “every voice” heard at the forum deserved respect.

Trump was accompanied here by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow and a delegation including advisers Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner. Also here: adviser and speechwriter Stephen Miller, whose hardline stance limiting immigration and denunciations of “globalism” infused Trump’s address to the United Nations in September.

“This is the wreckage I was elected to clean up,” he said of the “bleak” economic landscape he inherited.

Trump praised himself repeatedly, saying that his actions saved the global economy from the brink of recession, rescued the American manufacturing industry and reshaped the rules of international trade to reflect a fairer system.

He occasionally strayed from the facts as he tried to paint the picture of an economy in shambles before he took office.

He described the 4.7 percent unemployment rate before he took office as “reasonably high,” even though it is well below the average unemployment rate in the U.S. over the past 70 years. He also took credit for additional funding that has been approved for historically black colleges and universities, saying inaccurately that the funding “saved” the schools from ruin.

He took a swipe at the Federal Reserve for its interest rate policies, saying his economic achievements came despite the rate-setting body. Although his attacks on the Fed have become commonplace, the once-taboo practice seemed to startle some in the audience here.

Trump is using his day and a half visit to lobby corporate chieftains for greater U.S. investment and to meet with leaders including Pakistani Prime minister Imran Khan, Iraqi President Barham Salih and Kurdish leader Nechirvan Barzani.

Although climate change and environmental stewardship lead the agenda here, a survey of CEOs released Monday shows they do not count climate change as among the top 10 threats to business growth.

The financial services group PwC said climate change and environmental issues are ranked as the 11th biggest threat to their companies’ growth prospects, the Associated Press reported. Trade conflicts and lack of skilled workers ranked higher.

The survey also found that 53 percent of CEOs predict a decline in the rate of growth this year, nearly double the percentage who said the same last year and a mark of how the trade conflict between the United States and China has soured business confidence.

Trump, however, drew a sunny picture Tuesday, and invited global investment in the United States. He suggested that other nations would benefit from his approach to deregulation, but said “you have to run your countries the way you want.”

He said he had confronted “predatory” Chinese trade practices and said his tariffs, denounced by many of the CEOs and economists in the audience, had worked exactly as intended.

“No one did anything about it except allowing it to keep getting worse and worse and worse,” before he took office, Trump said.

The US relationship with China has never been better, and his personal bond with Chinese President Xi Jinping is a big reason, Trump said.

“He’s for China, I’m for the US, but other than that we love each other,” Trump said to chuckles.

He got louder applause for announcing that the United States will join an initiative launched here to add a trillion trees worldwide.

Trump’s 2018 visit to the World Economic forum came just days after he signed a bill lowering the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent – a move that saved businesses billions of dollars.

He largely steered clear of discussing domestic political issues during his speech to the forum in 2018, instead using his remarks to tout his accomplishments and encourage business leaders to invest in the United States. He did take a brief swipe at “the opposing party,” pointing out that “some of the people in the room” supported Democrats over him in 2016. He also drew a smattering of boos when he attacked the press as “fake.”

This year, two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., have sparked growing alarm among the global elite with calls for a major restructuring of the economic system that they say has been skewed to benefit the wealthy.

Trump, who has made attacking “socialism” part of his reelection message, could find a receptive audience as he seeks to defend capitalism and tout his economic record to a group of business leaders. The president has regularly credited his administration with boosting the bottom lines of the country’s largest companies, occasionally bragging to top executives that he had made them very rich. More than 100 billionaires are on the official attendee list for the World Economic Forum, and Trump plans to meet with the heads of several multinational companies during his brief stay in Davos.

The Washington Post

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