Indeed, Mr. Trump ran his populist campaign against the very plutocrats who populate this forum every year. His former chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon, acknowledged as much during the election when he said that the American working class was “tired of being dictated to by what we call the party of Davos.” Mr. Dimon, a longtime Davos attendee, once described the event as a place “where billionaires tell millionaires what the middle class feels.”
The big question is, how will Mr. Trump’s “America First” campaign play here? Will he use the stage as an opportunity to deliver a live version of his Twitter feed and publicly eviscerate — and possibly humiliate — the crowd? He has already shown he can be hostile toward traditional alliances by scolding European nations for not paying their fair share toward NATO.
Or will Mr. Trump use the gathering as a chance to bring leaders together?
Will he talk about protectionism or free trade?
Mr. Trump’s presence has been described as a mixed blessing by many of the participants.
“Trump’s attendance is exciting for attendees inasmuch as it shows them Davos is still the place to be,” said Ian Bremmer, president and founder of Eurasia Group, a political risk consultancy. “The opposite of love is irrelevance, and Trump gets that as much as everyone else attending.”
And while Mr. Trump may alienate much of the intellectual set, many of the chief executives in attendance have become huge beneficiaries of the president’s tax overhaul, which has instantly created bigger profits, higher compensation and a soaring stock market.
“Most attendees like his tax policy, sure,” Mr. Bremmer said.
But Mr. Bremmer said he did not think the president’s tax policy would convert the audience into supporters. “At Davos, they’ll see him primarily through an international lens,” he said. “If he has 5 percent approval among the attendees, I think that’s generous.”
Mr. Trump was never invited to Davos during his career in real estate and entertainment. While he is a businessman and entrepreneur, he never formed part of the circle of the Fortune 500 chief executives who frequent Davos, many of whom considered him something of a carnival barker.
And while the World Economic Forum always invites the president of the United States, it is rare for one to attend. Many of the organizers were shocked that Mr. Trump had accepted the invitation (as were some members of the president’s own staff.) Mr. Trump will be the first American president to travel to Davos since Bill Clinton did in 2000.
“I think it was a very good, perhaps contrarian move,” Martin Sorrell, chief executive of the advertising giant WPP, told me in an email. “Last year, President Xi filled the vacuum left by non-U.S. government attendance, so President Trump has the opportunity to dominate the agenda and the news flow,” he added, referring to the Chinese leader.
Perhaps Mr. Trump will follow in the footsteps of one of his heroes, Ronald Reagan. “When President Reagan addressed the forum in 1982, by satellite video, his presidency was emerging from a bruising period,” Adrian Monck, a member of the World Economic Forum’s managing board, told me. “He had run as an outspoken cold warrior. But his administration was able to reshape America’s standing in the world.”
Mr. Ferguson said that one thing working in Mr. Trump’s favor was the authority of his office. “The W.E.F. reveres power and the president of the United States has that in abundance,” he said.
Mr. Trump has an opportunity to use that power to demonstrate his understanding of how interconnected the global economy is. However, don’t hold your breath.
Late last week, his Treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, who will also attend Davos for the first time, sought to play down the idea that somehow they would be rubbing shoulders among the billionaire class.
“If you look at the list, there’s an awful lot of world leaders, there’s an awful lot of finance chairs, there’s an awful lot of business people,” he said. “This is an important economic agenda.”
With a bit of smile, he said, “I didn’t realize that it was the global elite.”