The president has singled out the company and its chief executive for attack. It has nothing to do with helping the post office.
Seattleites who want to blame Amazon for every difficulty in this rapidly changing city might be tempted to take some satisfaction in President Trump’s Twitter attacks on the company. Don’t.
This has nothing to do with a big corporation, everything to do with Jeff Bezos’s ownership of the Washington Post. His newspaper is doing the most important and consistent watchdog reporting on this corrupt presidency.
And while it’s clever to talk about a day’s stock drop making the world’s richest man a little less rich, real danger lurks for Seattle, the broader economy and the republic.
If you’ve been taking a healthy break from Twitter, here are a few samples from the president:
On March 31st: “While we are on the subject, it is reported that the U.S. Post Office will lose $1.50 on average for each package it delivers for Amazon. That amounts to Billions of Dollars. The Failing N.Y. Times reports that ‘the size of the company’s lobbying staff has ballooned,’ and that…
“…does not include the Fake Washington Post, which is used as a ‘lobbyist’ and should so REGISTER. If the P.O. ‘increased its parcel rates, Amazon’s shipping costs would rise by $2.6 Billion.’ This Post Office scam must stop. Amazon must pay real costs (and taxes) now!”
On Monday: “Only fools, or worse, are saying that our money losing Post Office makes money with Amazon. THEY LOSE A FORTUNE, and this will be changed. Also, our fully tax paying retailers are closing stores all over the country…not a level playing field!”
The weekend tweetstorm was intense, and market-moving beyond Amazon. Trade worries over Trump’s tariffs also contributed to the slide. But it’s not his first criticism of the company.
Last July, Trump tweeted: “Is Fake News Washington Post being used as a lobbyist weapon against Congress to keep Politicians from looking into Amazon no-tax monopoly?”
As usual, he was not being truthful.
PolitiFact pointed out that Amazon is not a monopoly. Also, the company paid a combined total of $412 million in federal, state, local and foreign taxes in 2016. Amazon collects sales taxes in all states that have them.
To be sure, Amazon takes advantage of tax loopholes and credits like all companies. Thus, an analysis by the Institute on Taxation and Public Policy said it paid no federal taxes last year and gets a one-time $789 million break from the new Republican tax law. Some big corporations have gone years paying no federal taxes.
It takes some chutzpah for Trump, who still hasn’t released his tax returns, to make this a point of attack.
As for the Postal Service, Amazon’s business has been a boon. The USPS’ financial troubles stem from healthcare and pension costs, along with the long-term decline in mail. The situation was made worse by congressional blunders and demands.
But the facts don’t matter to The Donald and his supporters.
Nixon had his enemies list. JFK, after feeling double-crossed by steel executives, said, “My father always told me that all businessmen were (S.O.B.s), but I never believed it until now.”
But I can’t think of an example in American history when the individual once quaintly called the Chief Magistrate singled out a single company or executive for attacks — and lies. Much less a company that employs hundreds of thousands of Americans, or a tirade that causes the stock market to tank.
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According to the rival New York Times, Bezos has been an exemplary owner of the Post: Investing in the newspaper, turning it over to the leadership of distinguished editors — and keeping hands off.
It’s no surprise that the paper has targeted a president mired in scandal and eager to tear down the norms that are vital to self-governance.
Trump has no problem with billionaires — his cabinet is the richest in American history. He campaigned to lower taxes on big corporations. He’s not threatening actions against consolidated industries — he and Republicans want to ease rules on banks, for example. He’s fine with the Amazon-like market power of Walmart.
No, this is personal.
And it’s about his survival as midterm elections loom and the Mueller investigation closes in.
If he can’t directly silence the Post — that pesky First Amendment — he can hurt Amazon and Bezos. The company has benefited from federal cloud computing contracts. He can instruct his Justice Department to pursue an antitrust action. Even if it would be a long shot, such a case could cause great harm.
The attacks also come as 20 finalist localities are working hard to land HQ2.
If Trump succeeds in tightening the screws on Amazon, it won’t make housing in Seattle affordable. Amazon layoffs and cutbacks would spread into the larger economy, hurting incomes far beyond the tech elite. The hit to city coffers would be significant.
I’ve argued that the American economy is being held back by bigness, and some Theodore Roosevelt-style trust busting could be in order. But only through the rule of law, not from the whims of a would-be authoritarian.