President Trump is mad at Amazon. Again.
Axios reported Wednesday that Trump is “obsessed” with the Internet retailer, often telling people in private that it “has gotten a free ride from taxpayers and cushy treatment from the U.S. Postal Service.” Despite the fact that “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,” Trump seems to believe that unlike other postal customers, Amazon ships its goods for free, or something.
And Thursday he hit the company again:
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)
We all know what’s really going on here. Trump couldn’t care less about whether a corporation is paying appropriate taxes, or about the income of the Postal Service, or the fate of mom-and-pop businesses. His rage at Amazon comes from one place: the company’s founder and chief executive, Jeff Bezos, who also owns The Washington Post, the very newspaper you’re reading right now. That paper has reported extensively on Trump and his White House, reporting that paints a completely accurate and therefore highly unflattering picture of this president and the ongoing goat rodeo over which he presides.
But is Trump actually going to do anything about it? Some are certainly worried; after the Axios story came out Wednesday, Amazon’s stock took a tumble. The truth, however, is that because of the way Trump’s anger manifests itself and the way his administration works, Amazon is probably safe from his wrath.
Trump’s tweet about Amazon is loaded with inaccuracies that he has repeated many times. It’s true that for many years Internet retailers did not collect sales taxes, which worked to their advantage, and no company benefited more than Amazon. However, that’s no longer the case; Amazon now collects sales tax from customers in every state that has one (though it does not mandate that third-party sellers on its platform collect them). In addition, many states have passed what are sometimes called “Amazon laws” that require Internet retailers to collect sales tax whenever they ship to customers in those states.
As for Trump’s claim that the company uses “our Postal System as their Delivery Boy,” that’s a bit like complaining that people are hiring taxis to drive them around, or tricking plumbers into fixing their pipes for money. But Amazon’s shipping is not “causing tremendous loss to the U.S.”; in fact, Amazon has to be one of the Postal Service’s biggest customers. If Trump thinks the USPS should charge more for package delivery, he’s free to say so, but he hasn’t so far.
I should also note that Amazon, like all big corporations, has reason to thank Trump and congressional Republicans: Because of their corporate tax cut, the company got a $789 million windfall last year, helping it reduce its federal tax rate to zero.
All that aside, we don’t have to wonder whether Trump’s complaints about Amazon really stem from his antipathy toward The Post, because he has never made any attempt to hide it. He has linked the two many times in tweets complaining about the paper’s coverage; he even sometimes refers to it as “the Amazon Washington Post.”
If Trump really wanted to go after Amazon, he might be able to try. But he won’t.
We all know that Trump’s is an intensely personal presidency, driven by his impulses, his predilections and whatever happens to catch his attention on that morning’s “Fox & Friends.” There are some areas in which it’s relatively easy for him to translate those impulses into action. He can, for instance, fire his national security adviser and replace him with a guy he saw on Fox, or fire his Veterans Affairs secretary and replace him with his personal doctor. He can even launch a military strike because a foreign leader said something mean about him.
But targeting a corporation would take some time and planning. How would you go about it? In Amazon’s case you could pursue some kind of antitrust case, but then you’d have to involve the Justice Department, which oversees such actions. I’m 99.99 percent sure that if you asked Trump who his assistant attorney general for antitrust is, he wouldn’t be able to tell you.
The bureaucracy of this administration constitutes a kind of conservative deep state (kidding, sort of) whose cooperation would be necessary to implement such an initiative, and it would involve quite a few people and take a long time to carry out. That bureaucracy is extremely skeptical of anything that restricts the prerogatives of big corporations, and since undermining Amazon doesn’t serve any identifiable conservative goal, there would likely be strong pushback. And there was one opportunity to get in Amazon’s way, when it purchased Whole Foods last year. The Federal Trade Commission approved the deal quickly and with no fuss.
This suggests that even for a president as full of corrupt intent as this one, it may be easier to reward your friends — a contract here, an appointment for a buddy there — than it is to punish your enemies, at least in cases where punishing those enemies doesn’t serve the ideological agenda of everyone you’ve had to hire in order to fill out your administration.
Which means that Trump will continue to rail at Amazon on Twitter every time there’s a story in The Post that makes him look foolish, but he won’t really be able to do anything to punish the company. And that will only make him madder.