President Donald Trump has declared war on Amazon, the nation’s second most valuable company. Amazon is creating more jobs than all but a handful of entire states. And nearly every major city in the country is vying to land the second headquarters of this global retailer and the 50,000 high-paying positions it promises to bring.
It is perhaps the biggest job engine in the United States, and Trump is using the power of his office to hurt it. And he’s doing this while going out of his way to help Chinese jobs, those at the rogue telecom giant ZTE.
“Too many jobs in China lost,” Trump tweeted. He said that in the midst of a dubious round of deal-making that resulted in a promise from him to help the foreign phone company and coincided with a pledge from China of a $500 million loan to a Trump-linked property. That deal looks very much like a bribe, as my colleague Paul Krugman noted.
But let’s back up and take a look at the Amazon assaults. For added perspective, just substitute “Obama” for Trump and consider how it would look.
Amazon is no saint, certainly, with low wages at some warehouses and a business strategy that has hurt many small retailers while helping others. All the major tech companies could use a clamp of regulation to restrain their intrusions into daily life and commerce. But Trump isn’t the least bit concerned about any of that. Those issues are too complex for him.
He sees the world as a brute with power sees it. Everything goes through a love-me/hate-me prism. Sycophants are rewarded. Dissidents are crushed. Diplomacy, as he just showed with his laughable, incoherent dance with North Korea, is much harder.
Trump hates Jeff Bezos, the founder and chairman of Amazon. It’s possible he hates him for his success; Bezos transformed a mailbox bookseller into the world’s largest online retailer. There are far more Amazon Prime members in this country than people who voted for Trump. As a businessman, Trump stumbled through multiple bankruptcies, defrauded students at a phony “university” and even ran a casino into the ground.
But the more likely reason Trump hates Bezos is that he owns The Washington Post, which has a much different way of covering the president than Fox News, where Trump gets most of his misinformation.
The Post is protected by the First Amendment, as is the neighborhood blog, the fact-deficient world of talk radio and random opinions of every citizen. So, instead of going after the newspaper, Trump is going after its owner – who has nothing to do with the news operation, as Post editor Martin Baron has said.
Trump reportedly pushed Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rates that the Postal Service charges Amazon for shipping – even though those rates are bound by contract and are beneficial to the struggling agency. A case can even be made that if it weren’t for Amazon, the Postal Service might be out of business.
“He’s off the hook on this,” Vanity Fair quoted one insider as saying. “It’s war.”
This is what unrestrained strongmen do: Use the state to punish – or silence – their enemies. It’s the same thing Trump is doing by demanding that the Justice Department investigate the people who are investigating him.
Trump couldn’t be more clear on this point. The free press, he says, is the “enemy of the people.” His aim, he told Lesley Stahl of “60 Minutes,” is “to discredit you all and demean you all so when you write negative stories about me no one will believe you.”
A newspaper to Trump’s liking is The National Enquirer, whose publisher, David Pecker, is a Trump lackey, doing dirty work to protect the president from the embarrassment of his personal behavior.
Autocrats reward friends. In Trump’s promising to lift restrictions on ZTE – which was punished for doing business with North Korea and Iran – the United States got completely rolled by China. But in turn, China put money on the table that would help the Trump family business. Country last, Trump first.
When Trump was just a no-class developer who used his private fixers to go after his enemies and lied five ways before breakfast, it was of no consequence to the rest of us. No more.
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a path to relinquishing our freedom.”
So said former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. It was too little, too late. But better than the complicity-by-silence of Republicans in Congress. Paul Ryan, your spine is calling you. Mitch McConnell, your past words are here for pickup and in need of some defense.
Anyone who thought autocracy would arrive with backroom deals or sleight-of-hand machinations at midnight should think again. Trump crosses a new line every week, in plain sight. Democracy dies in sunlight.