President Trump’s feud with the shopping giant Amazon is both welcome and overdue. Welcome, because Amazon’s ambitions extend well beyond the monopoly power that Trump has presciently warned about in recent months. Overdue, because while Trump has been complaining about the company since August, his complaints only lately reached the level of alarm that is actually warranted by the rise of the online shopping giant.
And make no mistake, Amazon’s rise warrants both political and economic alarm. The protestations of partisan fact checkers notwithstanding, a few things are obvious about Amazon and its founder, Jeff Bezos. First, as even the fact checkers admit, Amazon does not pay taxes on roughly half the sales that go through it—namely, the sales that take place through third-party sellers.
Second, Amazon gets a special rate from the U.S. Postal Service compared to other companies—an implicit form of favoritism that most definitely advantages the company, seeing as they send about 40 percent of their sales through the mail.
Third, retailers that do not compete with Amazon have had a better time of it economically than competitors that do. Granted, this last point can be chalked up to more than just competition with Amazon, but taken with the other facts, it most definitely lends credence to the argument that Amazon is beginning to become dangerously overpowered in today’s market. Nor does it help Amazon’s case that Bezos is indisputably, and by a wide margin, the richest man on earth.
Further, Trump’s political arguments against Amazon and Bezos carry a particular sting. No other tech billionaire owns a major paper of record with the pedigree of the Washington Post. The closest equivalent is Chris Hughes, who though he once owned The New Republic, sold it in 2016. But even if he still owned it, The New Republic carries a well-known partisan slant and always had a specialized audience. The Post broke the Watergate story. The two aren’t remotely comparable in terms of reputation or influence upon the popular imagination.
So, naturally, Trump’s decision to attack the Post as a “lobbyist” for Bezos has drawn blood, as it should. All the indignation of the paper’s editors aside, It is hard to imagine how the Post could scrutinize Bezos at all, what with it being his money that sustains them. For any paper to have its hands tied in dealing with the richest man on earth is cause for concern, but when their motto is “Democracy Dies in Darkness,” well, it looks even worse.
Nor is it only the Post that Bezos aspires to use to control the flow of information. Indeed, there is one way that President Trump could easily cut off Amazon’s rapidly rising power at the knees, and prevent it from acquiring even more. He could direct Defense Secretary James Mattis not to migrate all the Defense Department’s data to the Amazon Cloud.
The plan to get the Pentagon to migrate its data is something Mattis’s department has been attempting to execute for the past few months, often at the bidding of former Amazon employees. It would probably be the single biggest coup that the shopping giant could pull off, both economically and politically. Economically, it would land Amazon an actual (if also, technically, virtual) monopoly on cloud services, effectively ending the quest for innovation in that sphere. Politically, it would hand them control of all the Defense Department’s top secret data: not exactly a reassuring state of affairs, should Amazon ever decide it wants to punish President Trump or weaken his government. Say, because of a few tweets that tanked their stocks?
So yes, Trump is right to be worried about Amazon, not least of all because the company and its leaders are trying to buy his government out from under him, and to hound him out of that government in the pages of D.C.’s major paper of record. Trump owes it to his convictions and his constituencies to stop the entrenchment of Amazon as the de facto owners not just of online retail, but of the swamp itself.
After all, a swamp controlled by Amazon is a swamp that no one, except Jeff Bezos, will ever have the right to drain. Least of all the American people.
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