Liz Peek: Trump challenges world's elites at Davos -- Do they want to start winning, too?

President Trump made the world’s elites squirm Friday in Davos, but not for the reasons many expected. Unlike his combative and dark inaugural address, the speech the president delivered at the World Economic Forum was measured and upbeat; he invited the world to invest in America, citing the tax cuts and regulatory roll-back that make “Now the perfect time to bring business, jobs and investment to the U.S.”

As he articulated the policies and successes that have shaped his first year in office, the business titans and political leaders in the audience must have felt a chill. Not because Trump was challenging or upsetting the global order, but because he was winning in the midst of it. People around the world listening to his common sense remarks must have thought: what about us? Why isn’t my president doing the same?

As Trump boasted of the stock market and job gains of the past year, the rising confidence, accelerating growth and lower unemployment, he reiterated his pledge that “as president I will always put America first…” Adding, “just like we expect the leaders of other countries should put their country first also.” Audiences thought, is my leader putting me first?

He didn’t, as some expected, threaten a trade war, but rather reiterated his stance that the U.S. welcomes trade deals that are fair and reciprocal. He indicated a willingness to enter into bilateral agreements, and also to perhaps join the TPP group, as long as it is in “the interests of all.” Why not? Trade pacts like the TPP that mostly benefit other countries are not well constructed; a World Bank study showed that while Vietnam and Malaysia would see substantial benefits from the 12-nation Asian treaty, the U.S. would see almost no gain at all – the least of all 12 countries. This is the trade deal that Obama apologists mourn.

Trump has recently called out rivals like China for unfair trade practices. He has accused them of stealing our intellectual property, dumping excess products like solar panels in an effort to drive competitors out of business and protecting domestic industries through tariffs and other barriers. He has exposed practices that have gone unchecked for too long by those in power. Beijing’s success has been enabled in part by the complicity of American corporations eager to access China’s growing market and their cheap labor; our government has played along.

As Trump vows to “protect the interests of our country, our companies and our workers,” people around the world hope their leaders will, too. 

On immigration, a thorny and contentious issue not only in the U.S. but across the globe, Trump argued for policies that benefit the U.S. Yes, our doors are open, but we want immigrants that will “contribute to our economy, support themselves financially and to strengthen our country.”  Germans watching Trump’s speech, and people in France and the U.K. and other countries struggling with surging immigrant populations, must have nodded in agreement. Isn’t it wise to invite people into your country who have the talents to make your nation stronger?  Doesn’t a merit-based approach like that in Australia make sense?

Trump touted his administration’s encouragement of domestic energy production, which puts him in the crosshairs of environmentalists.  As he noted, rising oil and natural gas output is not just an economic boon to the U.S., but also promotes “energy security for our friends around the world.” As he pointed out, “No country should be held hostage to a single provider of energy.”  

Germans listening to Trump might agree. That country’s dependence on Russian oil is a security and political problem. At the same time, excessive environmental regulations have led to record-high power costs that are twice those in the U.S. Some must wonder if the country’s ban on fracking, which keeps substantial natural gas reserves out of reach, are in the nation’s best interests. 

In addition to touting job creation, Trump also promoted efforts to develop the workforce of the U.S., concluding that “the best anti-poverty program is a very simple and very beautiful paycheck.” Residents of developed countries, nearly all of which are struggling to support their ever-expanding social safety net would doubtless be sympathetic; what could be more important than putting people to work?

Countering the narrative that the Trump White House wants to go it alone, the president referenced his administration’s effective partnership with the UN in tightening sanctions on North Korea, the success of the coalition to defeat ISIS and the emerging cooperation in confronting Iran’s illegal missile adventures. As he is accused of withdrawing from the world stage, Trump noted his attendance at the G-7, the U.N. General Assembly and APEC. And there he was at Davos, the first president since Bill Clinton to attend the World Economic Forum.

Trump wasn’t quite the skunk at the picnic that some in Davos expected, but his “simple message” put the world’s elites on notice: “There has never been a better time to hire, to build, to invest and to grow in the United States.” Will citizens of other countries demand they follow suit? Do they want to start winning too? We shall see.

Liz Peek is a writer who contributes frequently to She is a financial columnist who also writes for The Fiscal Times. For more visit Follow her on Twitter @LizPeek.