April 2, 2018

Insiders say Trump spends a lot of time thinking about Amazon — perhaps the only thing we have in common

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Even a stopped clock is right twice a day.

That seems like the most useful theory to apply to the story in which a White House insider told Axios journalist Jonathan Swan that Donald Trump is “obsessed” with Amazon. More specifically, he’s obsessed with curbing the mega-retailer’s runaway growth and strategic tax evasion.

Hey, cool. An American president would be right to be obsessed with a massive corporation overburdening public services like the United States Post Office, without paying taxes to keep them afloat. As the Axios piece summed it up, the insider tips:

What we’re hearing: Trump has talked about changing Amazon’s tax treatment because he’s worried about mom-and-pop retailers being put out of business.

  • A source who’s spoken to POTUS: “He’s wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law.”
  • 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.

So perhaps there is reason to be optimistic that Amazon might be chastened. After all, Trump has given lip service to protecting a robust small business economy and, as Bob Bryan at Business Insider reminds us: “The Supreme Court is already considering a case that could give states more power to collect sales tax on online retailers.”

But before we give ourselves over to reckless optimism, we should appreciate a few mitigating factors.

The first is that many people close to Trump are trying to restart our broken clock of a president by pointing out to him that Amazon actually makes some serious lettuce for the USPS (per Axios: “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”). And if there is one thing the man loves, it’s serious lettuce made at the expense of workers’ health and safety.

We should also take seriously the possibility that targeting Amazon may simply be the opening of a new front in Trump’s war on journalists — Amazon’s Jeff Bezos also owns the Washington Post, which has drawn the president’s ire with its criticism.

Our own co-founder and co-publisher, Dennis Johnson, has weighed in on Twitter as well, making a few important points. For one thing, he notes, “Bezos is all about tax avoidance.” As for the post office, he writes, “there’s no question Amazon’s subsidy constitutes an unfair advantage over other retailers, and hurts other carriers.” The whole thread is highly worth reading.

I ask you, comrades: if Amazon faces government regulation only as a byproduct of Trump’s bile for the idea of a free press — have we won anything? We absolutely have not. Certainly not in a climate where Facebook will not be held responsible by this same president for spreading the misinformation that helped him rise to that office in the first place.

The official word says we will not need to scratch our heads too hard over these questions. As Bryan reports:

In response to the report, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said that the president is not currently pursuing a new policy targeted at Amazon.

“We have no announcements and no specific policies or actions that we’re currently pushing forward or considering taking.”

 

 

Ryan Harrington is an editor at Melville House.

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