Donald Trump has reportedly been “obsessed” with Amazon.com for quite a while, apparently because the online retailer is owned by Jeff Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post. It’s like a political bank shot of presidential contempt: the Republican hates the newspaper’s coverage, which leads Trump to hate its owner, which then leads the president to hate its owner’s other businesses.
To that end, Trump has argued, publicly and privately, that Amazon is a tax-dodging company that unfairly exploits the U.S. Postal Service. The Wall Street Journal reported last month that White House officials, eager to help the president understand reality, have put together “PowerPoint presentations and briefing papers they believed debunked his concerns.”
Trump, however, was unmoved by facts and evidence. The president feels he’s right about Amazon, and in this White House, that effectively ends the conversation.
The larger question is what, exactly, the Republican is prepared to do as part of his manufactured feud. The Washington Post reports today on one alarming possibility.
President Trump has personally pushed U.S. Postmaster General Megan Brennan to double the rate the Postal Service charges Amazon.com and other firms to ship packages, according to three people familiar with their conversations, a dramatic move that probably would cost these companies billions of dollars.
Brennan has so far resisted Trump’s demand, explaining in multiple conversations occurring this year and last that these arrangements are bound by contracts and must be reviewed by a regulatory commission, the three people said. She has told the president that the Amazon relationship is beneficial for the Postal Service and gave him a set of slides that showed the variety of companies, in addition to Amazon, that also partner for deliveries.
The Post added Brennan and Trump “have met at the White House about the matter several times,” though none of the meetings appeared on Trump’s public schedule.
I appreciate the fact that Trump is at the center of a great many scandals, but if it’s true that this president used his office to try to punish a company he dislikes personally, that’s an unusually outrageous abuse of power.
Indeed, the closer one looks, the more unsettling the story appears: Trump disapproves of one of the nation’s largest and most important news organizations, and he’s reportedly acted on those frustrations by urging the U.S. Postmaster General to penalize one of his perceived enemies.
Not to put too fine a point on this, but in the United States, a president can’t use his office to retaliate against private businesses whose owners hurt his feelings.
Given Trump’s preoccupation with Watergate, it might interest the Republican president to know that nearly a half-century ago, Richard Nixon, among other things, tried to use the IRS as a political weapon to target his political foes.
That has long been seen as a radical abuse of presidential power. Its echo would be no better.
Postscript: We don’t have to speculate much about the connection between Trump’s opposition to the online retailer and his opposition to the Washington Post. Today’s article added, “Some administration officials say several of Trump’s attacks aimed at Amazon have come in response to articles in The Post that he didn’t like.”
In other words, people in the president’s orbit are effectively confirming our worst suspicions.