An AT&T store is seen on 5th Avenue in New York on Sept. 23, 2016.
Photo by Kena Betancur/AFP/Getty

Trump not above using his office to target private US companies

Donald Trump is aware of public perceptions that he watches a ridiculous amount of television every day, and occasionally, the president pushes back against the assumptions. “I don’t get to watch much television,” the Republican said a couple of years ago. “Primarily because of documents. I’m reading documents. A lot.”

We’re often reminded why this was among his most audacious falsehoods. Take this morning, for example, when Trump published these items to Twitter:

“Just arrived in the United Kingdom. The only problem is that CNN is the primary source of news available from the U.S. After watching it for a short while, I turned it off. All negative & so much Fake News, very bad for U.S. Big ratings drop. Why doesn’t owner AT&T do something?

“I believe that if people stoped using or subscribing to AT&T, they would be forced to make big changes at CNN, which is dying in the ratings anyway. It is so unfair with such bad, Fake News! Why wouldn’t they act. When the World watches CNN, it gets a false picture of USA. Sad!”

Missives like these raise a variety of questions. For example, why is it that Trump “just arrived” in the U.K. and immediately started watching television again? For that matter, is “stopped” really that hard to spell?

But in this case, I think there’s a little more to this than just pointing and laughing at the Republican’s nonsense.

It’s important, for example, to appreciate how extraordinary it is to see an American president publicly target prominent American businesses. It’s a historical rarity, though Trump has used his office to go after GM, Harley-Davidson, Nordstrom, Amazon.com, and now AT&T.

In the not-too-distant past, the right condemned moves like these as “gangster government.” Where are those same conservatives now?

What’s more, it’s worth appreciating why, exactly, Trump is lashing out wildly at AT&T, suggesting a consumer boycott is in order: to hear the American president tell it, one of the world’s largest news organizations presents coverage he doesn’t like, so the solution is to boycott its corporate parent until he’s satisfied with the network’s reporting.

That’s not how things are supposed to work in this country.

And in case that weren’t quite enough, let’s also not forget that there are some lingering questions about possible White House meddling in regulators’ review of the AT&T/Time Warner merger.

Those questions have lingered for months, but after this morning, they’re likely to get a little louder.