President Trump may have earnest reasons for his onslaught against Amazon, which he renewed Thursday morning on Twitter. But it’s the latest case where Trump’s previous statements suggest he has more personal, and dangerous, motives than he claims.
A day after Axios reported that Trump is “obsessed” with the huge retailer, he confirmed the story in a tweet:
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) March 29, 2018
That’s a high-density mix of fact, accusation, and possible ulterior motive that demands dissection. The upshot is this: Trump is taking a position that is somewhat populist—a rare actual occurrence, even though the label is often applied to him. But because of his selective outrage, and his history of negative comments about Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos and The Washington Post, the newspaper Bezos owns, Trump’s lashing out now reads as conflicted at best and bad faith at worst.
Let’s pick apart the tweet. The idea that Amazon poses a challenge to smaller retailers is generally accepted. On taxes, Amazon has historically paid little state-and-local tax, and lobbied against being forced to pay it. But the company lost that fight, and now pays taxes in every state with a statewide sales tax. It has also supported a federal law to standardize state-tax collection on online retailers, arguing a consistent system would allow for easier conduct of business. (The latest frontier is taxation of third-party merchants who sell goods through Amazon.)