At a panel, Energy Secretary Rick Perry furrowed brows when he equated the export of oil to the export of "freedom." In the afternoon, Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) of the hard-right Freedom Caucus waited patiently in line for a session where he was not guaranteed access. Trump's son-in-law, Jared Kushner, appeared somewhat lost amid the larger entourages of world leaders and high-flying business executives.
There is no bigger story at the World Economic Forum than the first appearance of an American leader since 2000. Trump is expected to talk once more about the glories of his "America First" domestic and foreign policy, touting the supposed roaring success of the U.S. economy under his watch and reaffirming the nativist tenets that underline his worldview. He is also expected to extend a hand to a probably wary audience, pitching America as open for business and investment.
“This is about an America First agenda. But America First does mean working with the rest of the world,”said Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin at a morning press conference. “It just means that President Trump is looking out for American workers and American interests no different than he expects other leaders would look out for their own.”
Mnuchin's counterpart at the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, was more hawkish, gesturing to China's supposedly unfair trade practices. “Trade wars are fought every single day,” Ross said when asked about the Trump administration's apparent protectionism. “A trade war has been in place for quite a while. The difference is, the U.S. troops are now coming to the ramparts.”
But at Davos, it's not just the United States that's manning the barricades. On Wednesday, both French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel launched thinly veiled attacks on Trump's agenda and used their platforms to hail the potential emergence of a more independent and more integrated Europe.
"We need to take more responsibility; we need to take our destiny into our own hands," Merkel said, issuing what's now become a familiar refrain in the age of Trump. She also said "protectionism was not the answer" and lamented the "poison" of right-wing populism, which, among other things, threatens her own hold on power as Germany struggles to form a new government.
"We think that shutting ourselves off, isolating ourselves, will not lead us into a good future," Merkel said, echoing what a number of other world leaders have already voiced in Davos. Like them, she argued that collaboration, cooperation and multilateral solutions — instead of, say, the unilateral bluster of Trump — are what's needed.
That was a call explicitly made by Macron, as well. His remarks would be familiar to anyone who has listened to his earlier major speeches, bullish on France's role at the "core" of the European Union and rife with calls for "innovation" and huge investments in education and research to revitalize the French economy. He also used the occasion to mock Trump's climate denial.
"With this snow, it's hard to believe in global warming," Macron joked, referring to the walls of ice and slush built up around the forum's venues. "Obviously and thankfully, you didn’t invite anyone skeptical about global warming this year."
Jokes aside, the attendees at Davos are genuinely curious about what Trump might say. There's nothing unusual about a nation prioritizing its own interests — indeed, that's how every nation-state functions. The "main difference" with Trump, suggested Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, is that of "rhetoric," not necessarily policy. He pointed out that former president Barack Obama employed none of the racially charged anti-immigration tactics of the Trump administration, yet huge numbers of deportations still took place under Obama's watch.
"The real question is, do America First policies really put America First?" said Keyu Jin, a professor at the London School of Economics, speaking at the same event. "We blame a lot on globalization and trade, where in fact job losses are known to be much more associated with technology."
Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), who clashed with Trump a few times over the course of 2017, urged the president to make "a very positive statement about America's role in the world" and offer "an explanation of America First in a way that doesn't make it look that it’s about America being alone."
Despite the entreaties of administration officials, though, "America alone" is the conclusion drawn by many analysts of Trump's foreign policy. Trump, through his tweeted attacks on allies and oft-muddled messaging, has "burnt some goodwill that built up over many years" overseas, argued Corker, "and it’s going to take some time rebuild that."
Others are simply looking for a real plan. Ghassan Hasbani, the deputy prime minister of Lebanon, applauded Trump's willingness to engage the Middle East. But he failed to see how Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital — without extracting any concessions on behalf of the Palestinians — played into an "America First" narrative. And as the Islamic State is in retreat in Syria and Iraq, he said, "the post-ISIS period needs a clear strategy" — one that includes a substantive commitment to building peace in the region and not just prosecuting war.
Ultimately, despite the skepticism, Trump may find in Davos a global community that would prefer to be his friend.
"It’s great that the American president is coming here and facing people who might differ with his views," said Erna Solberg, the prime minister of Norway and a co-chair of the forum, to Today's WorldView. "I don’t think there’s a place to hide in this world. Global problems are also American problems."