He has a problem with Amazon’s owner, who happens to own a newspaper that investigates him aggressively and covers him unflatteringly. Does anyone think that Trump would be grousing about Amazon if the tone of the Washington Post’s Trump coverage was more like Fox News’s and less like CNN’s?
Not every political position held by POTUS is driven by personal feelings. His view on trade, for instance, seems to be objective, however poorly informed. But when he has it in for a company, particularly a company or the owner of a company with some sort of connection to mass media, you can never discount the possibility of a vendetta.
This latest go-round with Jeff Bezos’s main gig started with Axios, which reported on Monday that Trump is “obsessed” with Amazon:
Trump’s deep-seated antipathy toward Amazon surfaces when discussing tax policy and antitrust cases. The president would love to clip CEO Jeff Bezos’ wings. But he doesn’t have a plan to make that happen.
Behind the president’s thinking: Trump’s wealthy friends tell him Amazon is destroying their businesses. His real estate buddies tell him — and he agrees — that Amazon is killing shopping malls and brick-and-mortar retailers.
Trump tells people Amazon has gotten a free ride from taxpayers and cushy treatment from the U.S. Postal Service.
“The whole post office thing, that’s very much a perception he has,” another source said. “It’s been explained to him in multiple meetings that his perception is inaccurate and that the post office actually makes a ton of money from Amazon.”
The funny thing is, he had a golden opportunity to target Amazon for antitrust action last year when it acquired Whole Foods. Instead the deal sailed through. For all of his hot rhetoric about Amazon, POTUS wasn’t willing to carry his rhetorical vendetta over into the realm of government action, to his credit. As for Facebook and the current media freakout over privacy, he reportedly isn’t worried about that: “Trump told Axios last year he doesn’t mind Facebook because it helps him reach his audience.” The political isn’t always personal with him. But sometimes it is.
I digress, though. He was back attacking Amazon this morning:
I have stated my concerns with Amazon long before the Election. Unlike others, they pay little or no taxes to state & local governments, use our Postal System as their Delivery Boy (causing tremendous loss to the U.S.), and are putting many thousands of retailers out of business!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 29, 2018
Let’s unpack that. It’s 100 percent true that he expressed “concerns” about Amazon before the election, but that’s not the issue. The issue is, did he ever attack Amazon before the Bezos-owned Washington Post started scrutinizing him as a presidential candidate? All of the things he mentions in his tweet have been longstanding criticisms of the company. (The tax issue was more salient years ago than it is now, in fact.) Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale looked at his Twitter archive, though, and can find nothing that suggests any Trump skepticism about Amazon — until this:
Trump had only tweeted neutrally about Amazon, promoting his books and such, until December, 7, 2015, when, the day he announced his proposal for a Muslim ban, when he posted a series of tweets linking Amazon and the Washington Post. pic.twitter.com/TL8spAgqve
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) March 29, 2018
Trump explicitly linked his alleged concerns about Amazon to his hatred of the Washington Post on the campaign trail in 2016. And those concerns, for the most part, are an inch deep. It used to be that Amazon didn’t pay state tax but that hasn’t been true for years. On the contrary, the company’s become a fan of state taxes on e-commerce because it’s a leviathan that can manage the compliance costs while its fledgling competitors have more difficulty. Taxes are a useful barrier to entry for the little guy from Bezos’s perspective. The idea that Amazon’s getting a sweetheart deal from the Postal Service is also misleading. It’s true that the USPS could afford to charge the company more, but they’d be playing with fire by doing so. Amazon delivery is actually a yuuuuge windfall for the Postal Service; the package-delivery side of the agency is doing well thanks to e-commerce compared to the dying mail-delivery side. If Trump succeeds in making it more expensive for Amazon to use the Postal Service, guess what’s going to happen. And then guess what’s going to happen to the USPS after that.
There’s no denying Trump’s last point, that Amazon’s a major problem for brick-and-mortar and mom-and-pop. But that’s complicated too:
I would say half the stuff I get off of Amazon is from 3rd party sellers. Including my last pair of Brooks shoes (shipped and stored by Amazon).
— Marcus (@HawkinsUSA) March 29, 2018
And no, Amazon isn’t “killing” retailers. Shoppers are. Local retailers (especially mom/pops) simply can’t offer the selection and variety of everything people demand. And if they weren’t on Amazon, they’d just go to https://t.co/7M7gyaM38r or EBay or anywhere else online.
— Marcus (@HawkinsUSA) March 29, 2018
The last point is especially true. It’d be wacky to break up Amazon in the name of protecting small businesses while leaving Walmart and Target to fill the vacuum. Walmart has taken more heat over the years from lefty populists than Amazon has, in fact, partly because of what Hawkins says about smaller businesses being able to use Amazon’s platform. Where are the angry tweets about POTUS obsessing over Walmart and Target? If this isn’t really about Bezos and the Washington Post, I mean.
Exit question: Did Trump post that tweet this morning in the hope/expectation that Amazon’s stock would take a hit because of it? Nothing banana-republic-y about that.