It’s that time again, time for Davos, time for the World Economic Forum at that absurdly exclusive and obscenely expensive ski resort in Switzerland. That’s where the political leaders of the world meet with the heads of the largest banks and corporations in the world, and with the most pompous of the big-gun economists, and with assorted celebrities of the right sort, and where the riff-raff is kept away. These people run the world, and yes, last year they found Donald Trump simply too boorish and stupid to be taken seriously. Let him scream about AMERICA FIRST and the evil of all trade agreements he didn’t make himself. This year they won’t have to pretend he’s making sense. He’s staying home and he told everyone else from his administration to stay home too. It’s the shutdown. Or this is spite – they didn’t take him seriously and he’s rich, really rich, so to hell with them. But the shutdown will do. He needs to be over here to take care of that, and Theresa May is staying home too. She has to make Brexit work, now. That can’t be done, but someone has to be there when everything falls apart this month or next. She’s busy.
That’s okay. The news from Davos was dismal:
Fears are rising about the state of the world’s biggest economies, with China posting its worst annual growth in decades and the United States injecting more uncertainty with tariffs and a lengthy government shutdown.
China reported Monday that its economy expanded by 6.6 percent last year – a figure that would be good for many countries but represents the slowest growth for China in 28 years. Meanwhile, the International Monetary Fund downgraded its expectations for the global economy, highlighting sharp declines in Europe and warning that the risks of a major slowdown have increased…
In contrast to a year ago – when President Trump and other world leaders talked about global prosperity – this year attendees expressed worry that the United States was undermining its own economy, and the rest of the world’s, via a trade war and the longest partial government shutdown in U.S. history.
That is, Trump turned out to be more than a boor and a fool. He turned out to be dangerous. He’s ruining the world’s two largest economies, but mostly his own:
In the United States, the shutdown has already cut into growth, according to numerous economists. Even U.S. consumers, who have remained resilient for months, have been shaken. Early this month, consumer confidence slumped to the lowest level of Trump’s presidency, according to the University of Michigan’s consumer sentiment survey.
But it’s more than that:
While few see a recession as imminent, the high-level officials and executives at Davos catalogue a growing number of risks, including the trade war, the potential of Britain leaving the European Union without a final agreement with the EU, rising interest rates, high global debt levels, and more polarized politics around the world.
So it’s not all Trump, but it’s all Trump kinds of things, and it’s all trouble:
The IMF is the latest institution to scale back its growth forecasts, following downward revisions by the Federal Reserve and many banks. The IMF predicts 3.5 percent global growth in 2019 and 3.6 percent in 2020, down from 3.7 percent forecasts for both years in the fall. But IMF economists warned that they had already downgraded growth in China and the United States in the autumn because of the trade war and that they only see greater risks of a slide from here.
And there’s this:
In the United States, there is no end in sight to the government shutdown, and Trump has not removed any of the tariffs he put in place. Twelve percent of U.S. imports still have new levies on them, and Trump has threatened to impose more.
This seems stupid, perhaps because it is stupid:
Trump has argued that any short-term pain will be worth the long-term benefit – border security in the case of the government shutdown, and more beneficial trade deals in the case of the tariffs.
“China posts slowest economic numbers since 1990 due to U.S. trade tensions and new policies. Makes so much sense for China to finally do a Real Deal, and stop playing around!” Trump tweeted Monday evening.
But in Davos, others argued the United States was relinquishing its historic role in the global economy.
“If you want to be a superpower in the world – and the U.S. still is – you have to engage with people,” said Hans-Paul Bürkner, chair of the Boston Consulting Group.
Perhaps so, but Donald Trump always had a different way of seeing that. He engaged with angry Americans – and he engaged with them against the world – and because he did they would always say that he was right – and they would always vote for him – so none of this other stuff mattered. He could do anything he wanted, but now, as the Washington Post’s Matt Viser reports from Michigan, Trump is losing these people:
Two years ago, Jeff Daudert was fed up with politics. He wanted to shake up the status quo. He didn’t mind sending a message to the establishment – and, frankly, he liked the idea of a disruptive president.
But the 49-year-old retired Navy reservist has had some second thoughts.
“What the [expletive] were we thinking?” he asked the other night inside a Walmart here, in an area of blue-collar suburban Detroit that helped deliver the presidency to Trump.
That’s a good question:
The shutdown fight, as it has played out over the past month, is further eroding the president’s support among voters who like the idea of beefing up border security – but not enough to close the government.
Many here, even those who still support Trump, say they hold him most responsible. They recite his comment from the Oval Office that he would be “proud to shut down the government.” When he said it, they listened.
“It’s silly. It’s destructive,” Daudert said, adding that all he knows about 2020 is that he won’t be supporting Trump. “I was certainly for the anti-status quo… I’ll be more status quo next time.”
And he is not alone:
Recent polling indicates that the government shutdown has caused skittishness among parts of Trump’s base, which has been one of the most enduring strengths of his presidency. An NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist survey, conducted Jan. 10 to Jan. 13, found that his net approval rating had dropped seven points since December.
One of the biggest declines came among suburban men, whose approval rating of Trump fell a net 18 percentage points, while support from evangelicals and Republicans dipped by smaller margins. Among men without a college degree, the downward change was seven points.
That’s the data, and there are the anecdotes:
As Jeremiah Wilburn, a 45-year-old operating engineer, browsed the aisles at Walmart for a new pair of coveralls, he reflected on some of those shifts. Like many voters here, after siding with Barack Obama in two elections, he decided to gamble with Trump in 2016. And for most of the past two years, he was pleased. The economy was humming, jobs were flowing, and wages seemed stable.
“I was doing fine with him up until this government shutdown,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. You’re not getting the wall built for $5 billion. And Mexico is not paying for it. We all know that, too. Meanwhile, it’s starting to turn people like me away.”
In fact, there is change in the air:
Macomb County, in the suburbs north of Detroit, has been a perennial political battleground and a place where the broad sweeps of American politics can be seen. It was the most Democratic suburb in the country when John F. Kennedy was elected president in 1960, and then it helped usher in the phrase “Reagan Democrats” when Ronald Reagan won the White House two decades later.
Obama won the county twice, and then Trump defeated Hillary Clinton here by 12 points. The county is filled with the kind of white working-class voters whose flip to Trump has been the most heralded part of his coalition. Trump came here during his campaign and again in the final days before the 2016 election. He returned last year for a rally meant to pointedly spurn the White House Correspondents’ Association dinner that same night. It’s an area he has continued to nurture.
But in the midterm elections, some of those voters started to peel away.
There may be a rout coming, perhaps because something odd is happening:
Rudolph W. Giuliani, President Trump’s personal attorney, attempted Monday to clean up comments he made over the weekend asserting that discussions about a potential Trump Tower in Moscow stretched as late as November 2016.
In a statement Monday, Giuliani said his comments were purely hypothetical and not based on any conversations with the president. His statement Sunday, made on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” that Trump associates had continued negotiations about the real estate project deep into the 2016 campaign had again raised scrutiny into then-candidate Trump’s posture toward Moscow, including his call in July of that year for Russia to hack into Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s emails.
“My recent statements about discussions during the 2016 campaign between Michael Cohen and then-candidate Donald Trump about a potential Trump Moscow ‘project’ were hypothetical and not based on conversations I had with the President,” Giuliani said Monday. “My comments did not represent the actual timing or circumstances of any such discussions.”
Who cares? All this talk about the big new wall, and now shutting down the government to get it, was for the rubes. Trump was working on a real estate deal in Moscow:
In his plea deal, Cohen admitted to lying to Congress when he said the Moscow project discussions ended in January 2016, when the negotiations continued through June of that year – a period during which Trump was campaigning vigorously and on his way to securing the GOP nomination.
During the campaign, Trump asserted multiple times that he had no business interests in Russia. Cohen had made his false statements to Congress, according to prosecutors, to minimize ties between Trump and the real estate project.
This is a big deal:
After Giuliani made his comments Sunday, Sen. Mark R. Warner (Va.), the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, reacted to the shifting timeline, saying it was “news to me” and adding: “That is big news.”
“I would think most voters, Democrat, Republican, independent, you name it, that knowing that the Republican nominee was actively trying to do business in Moscow, that the Republican nominee, at least at one point, had offered, if he built this building, Vladimir Putin, a three-penthouse apartment, and if those negotiations were ongoing while – up ’til the election, I think that’s a relevant fact for voters to know,” Warner said. “And I think it’s remarkable that we’re two years after the fact and just discovering it today.”
Martin Longman sees the relevance of this too:
For me, it has never particularly mattered much when or if Trump may have given up on the Moscow Tower idea. What was significant was that he had been pursuing it at all. The significance went far beyond what it could tell us about Trump’s motivations for taking pro-Putin positions. It went beyond what it told us about his honesty. The main problem was that the Russians not only knew that Trump was lying but that they could expose his lies at any time.
In the end, CNN wound up obtaining a copy of the letter of intent Donald Trump personally signed on October 28, 2015. It was an agreement with the Kremlin. Had news of the existence of that agreement come out during the primaries or the general election, it likely would have ended any chances Trump had of winning the presidency.
The Kremlin knew this and so did Trump, so one thing leads to another:
In the third debate, Trump was denying Russia’s role in the hacking and praising Putin’s savvy and intelligence for two reasons. The first was that he did not expect to win the election and was more interested in getting a real estate deal in Moscow which Giuliani has now admitted he was still actively pursuing at the time. The second reason was that Putin had controlled him since at least the moment he signed a letter of intent to build the tower.
It’s the second reason that did not go away when Trump won the presidency. During the campaign, there were people behind the scenes who had read parts of the Steele Dossier and wondered if Putin might have embarrassing sex tapes that explained Trump’s behavior. But Putin didn’t need any sex tapes. He had a letter of intent.
Trump spent the entirety of 2016 subject to Russian blackmail. This vulnerability certainly increased throughout the year, especially after the now infamous Trump Tower meeting where Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner met with Kremlin emissaries offering dirt on Clinton. But Putin held Trump’s fate in his hands from no later than October 2015.
Catherine Rampell carries that a few steps further:
The Grand Old Party has quietly become the pro-Russia party – and not only because the party’s standard-bearer seems peculiarly enamored of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Under Republican leadership, the United States is starting to look an awful lot like the failed Soviet system the party once stood unified against.
She’s not kidding, as there are parallels:
Supposedly middle-class workers – people who have government jobs that are supposed to be stable and secure – are waiting in bread lines. Thanks to government dysfunction and mismanagement, those employed in the private sector may also be going hungry, since 2,500 vendors nationwide are unable to participate in the food stamp program while the government is shuttered and unable to renew licenses for the Electronic Benefit Transfer debit card program.
Why? Because of the whims of a would-be autocrat who cares more about erecting an expensive monument to his own campaign rhetoric than about the pain and suffering of the little people he claims to champion.
And for now, at least, most of those little people are too frightened of the government’s wrath to fight back overtly. Instead, desperate to keep jobs that might someday offer them a paycheck again, and the proletariat protest in more passive ways: by calling in sick in higher numbers.
And there is this:
The would-be autocrat surrounds himself with toadies who spend more time scheming against one another — sometimes to comic effect — than trying to offer their boss sound guidance or thoughtful policy solutions. In his presence, and perhaps especially when the cameras are on, they praise him relentlessly: his brains, his leadership, his “perfect genes.”
Sometimes they appear afraid to stop clapping, echoing stories of forced standing ovations for Joseph Stalin recounted in video footage and Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s “Gulag Archipelago.”
Apparent corruption among these kowtowing aides – including improper use of public funds or private favors for fancy travel and other pampering – remains rampant. Unlike in true socialist states, it seems, our leaders haven’t run out of other people’s money.
Meanwhile, federal law enforcement is publicly directed to pursue the would-be autocrat’s political enemies, as well as the family members of those enemies, such as former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen’s father-in-law. Purges of law enforcement or other members of the “deep state” are also demanded, and sometimes acted upon. Such actions, when taken by thugs abroad, were once denounced by Republicans.
But that is where we are. The masters of the universe in Davos see bad times coming – Trump is ruining the American economy in order to ruin the Chinese economy. And what is left of his base on these shores knows they have been betrayed. They elected him to hurt the people that they knew should be hurt and humiliated – Mexicans and Muslims and uppity black football players and such – but now he is hurting them. That’s not right. That’s not fair. But that is what is. Things are getting a bit Russian now.