Trump targets Amazon: What’s Donald Trump’s beef with Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos?
Yesterday, Amazon’s stock fell 4.4%, knocking around $31 billion off the company’s value. The possible reason? An Axios report highlighting President Donald Trump’s continued desire to “go after Amazon,” possibly with anti-trust regulation. The report claims to come from five sources who have discussed the company with him: “he’s obsessed with Amazon,” said one of them. “Obsessed.”
Another added: “He’s wondered aloud if there may be any way to go after Amazon with antitrust or competition law.”
$31 billion off Amazon’s net worth is very little in the greater scheme of things and it will likely bounce back soon, but it’s worth digging into Trump’s continued antipathy towards Amazon and specifically Jeff Bezos.
The article below, originally from August 2017 when Jeff Bezos was only the second richest man in the world, explores Trump’s personal Bezos-based animosity.
But weirdly it’s not about his favourite topics, such as Donald Trump, Donald Trump’s business acumen, the press’s unfairness towards Donald Trump and how Donald Trump has nothing to do with Russia. No, this time the president has taken time out of his busy schedule to moan about Amazon.
He’s not the first person to criticise Amazon for its tax arrangements, nor will he be the last. What’s strange is how he went from this:
…to this, in just four short years:
I have some thoughts.
1. Jeff Bezos owns the Washington Post
Look beyond the attacks on Amazon’s tax policies, and a theme quickly emerges.
…that’s right, it’s Trump’s second-favourite topic (the first, of course, being himself): the press’ unfair obsession with providing scrutiny of a sitting president.
In 2013, Jeff Bezos bought The Washington Post, which has been particularly strong at investigating both Trump the candidate and Trump the president. His first angry tweet seems to coincide with a Washington Post fact-checking piece that roundly debunks Trump’s boast that he predicted Osama bin Laden.
Later he promised that Amazon is “going to have such problems” if he became president.
He’s even tried to get a hashtag going in one grammatical war crime of a tweet:
(Aside from the fact that “internet taxes aren’t a thing”, that tweet was published hours after a Washington Post investigation revealed that Trump has a fake copy of Time magazine with his face on the cover on display at one of his golf courses. So, confusingly, Trump’s tweet was fake news about real news about fake news.)
Trump’s assertion that Amazon owns the Washington Post is misleading, for what it’s worth. It’s owned by an investment firm that Bezos controls, so losses at the paper don’t help Amazon’s tax bill. Although it may benefit Bezos’ personal tax arrangements, of course.
Bezos responded to Trump’s first attack by offering him a one-way trip to space.
But he struck a more civil tone when Trump was elected.
He was even invited to Trump’s tech powwow shortly after the election. As you’ll see from the tweets above, though, it didn’t make them friends for life. In part perhaps because…
2. Jeff Bezos has criticised Trump in the past
Of course, there may be a simpler reason for animus. Jeff Bezos has publicly criticised Trump before, saying that the then Republican candidate’s attacks on rival Hillary Clinton and his apparent refusal to accept defeat if he lost the public vote “erodes our democracy around the edges”.
Okay, as criticism goes, that more a gentle caress than a smackdown, but if there’s one thing Trump hates, it’s criticism. Especially if it’s from someone with more money than him.
3. Jeff Bezos is considerably richer than Donald Trump
Jeff Bezos is the second-richest man in the world. For a few hours earlier this year, he was the richest. Still, he’s worth around $84 billion – a figure not to be sneezed at, even if he isn’t quite number one yet.
Trump, by contrast, is worth around $3.5 billion. Combine the fact that unlike Bezos, Trump inherited a lot of money, and the knowledge that Trump would be worth around $10 billion more today if he’d just invested his money rather than playing the businessman, and you’d see why the notoriously thin-skinned president might be somewhat jealous of Bezos’ achievements in business.
4. It’s politically expedient to attack Amazon
Finally, there may be another reason. Donald Trump is nothing if not politically expedient, prepared to flip-flop on his views and deny he ever held them. There are two reasons why attacking Amazon is politically quite a smart move for Trump, aside from the fake news angle he’s successfully co-opted.
The first is that his supporter base loves this kind of stuff. He made it through the primaries and the election telling supporters that the world was rigged against them. Amazon is a good example of this – a company so powerful that it can negatively impact the share price of its rivals just by registering a trademark. It’s also a handy scapegoat for why conditions haven’t demonstrably improved on his watch.
The second is that Trump is currently fighting multiple fires, and his Twitter account is a handy way of distracting the world from the criticism he’s facing elsewhere, be it on alleged collusion with Russia, his failure to pass healthcare reform, his war of words with North Korea or his failure to join the widely held 72-year global consensus that Nazis are bad eggs.
But look over there! Amazon! Fake news! Etc. It’s a trick that’s worked quite well in the past, and you can’t really blame the president for trying it again.
Still, ultimately Trump may find that attempts to bully the second-richest man in the world backfire. Especially if he finds himself running against the world’s fifth-richest man in 2020.
Image: Jeff Mattis used under Creative Commons