Trump is going to dominate Davos – even though he won’t be there

President Donald Trump and his cabinet are skipping out on Davos this week, but he’ll still be the biggest presence at the annual gathering of the world’s richest and most powerful people.

Whether it’s the U.S.-China trade dispute, Trump’s reported wish to withdraw from NATO, or the government shutdown threatening the world’s biggest economy, it’ll be hard to avoid discussing Trump at the World Economic Forum’s meeting in the Swiss ski town of Davos.

“Donald Trump will be a predominant voice at Davos regardless of whether he’s there,” Tom Nides, a Morgan Stanley vice chairman and former deputy secretary of State, said in an interview.

“The most important thing people are worried about globally is the U.S.-China trade relationship and the health of the global economy,” Nides said. “The reality is, the U.S. is a massive player in all conversations around Davos, and because Donald Trump has decided to be relatively controversial, that increases the likelihood that the conversations in the hallways are about Donald Trump.”

As 2019 begins, uncertainty is the only certainty. Trump, in the midpoint of his term, is grappling with showdowns at home and abroad, and repercussions are being felt around the world. His games of brinkmanship top the list of potential risks, along with Brexit, that could cripple economic growth.

Anxiety about the end of the old world order is sure to be on the minds of the Davos set – a list of attendees including billionaires Bill Gates, Ray Dalio and George Soros – a group who have been huge beneficiaries of the stability of the previous era.

“The American order is over, and we don’t know what the next order will be yet,” said Ian Bremmer, founder of consultancy Eurasia Group. “It’s a much more dangerous, chaotic period we are entering, and what people attending Davos need to think about is how to ensure resilience given the coming shocks.”

When Trump attended Davos last year to articulate his “America First” worldview and boast about the virility of the U.S. economy, he had a surging stock market and recent corporate tax cut to crow about. “America is open for business, and we are competitive once again,” he told the Davos crowd in 2018.

Now, with swaths of the U.S. government literally closed and 800,000 federal employees going without pay, economists are increasingly alarmed at the fallout, saying that if it persists, the longest shutdown in history could wipe out economic growth.