Opinion

The authoritarian impulse

President Trump's use of state power to punish Amazon and The Washington Post should trouble everyone

This is the editor’s letter in the current issue of The Week magazine.

President Trump has a long enemies list, but Jeff Bezos has now shot up to number two, right behind Robert Mueller. Over the past week, the president unleashed a Twitter rant against Bezos and his company, Amazon, and threatened to use the federal government to punish him — thereby causing the company's stock to plunge 8 percent and lose $75 billion in market value. Trump, aides say, is "obsessed" with Amazon and Bezos — largely because Bezos also owns The Washington Post, which has covered this administration aggressively. "How can I f--- with him?" the president has asked aides, sources tell Vanity Fair. The options under discussion include an anti-trust action, raising postal rates, and the cancellation of Amazon's multibillion-dollar Pentagon contract. "It's war," White House sources warn.

Say this about President Trump: He doesn't hide his cards. His Twitter feed is a running MRI of his mind, revealing his obsessions, personal vendettas, and motives. The same week he was hurling threats at Amazon, he was tweeting lavish praise of the Sinclair Broadcast Group, whose owners have ordered its 173 stations to run pro-Trump commentary and attack "fake" news from other media, such as CNN. Sinclair, as it happens, is seeking both Justice Department and FCC waivers to acquire another 42 stations. Does anyone doubt Sinclair will get a green light? Meanwhile, the Justice Department is blocking a merger of CNN's parent company, Time Warner, with AT&T. Is that because Trump despises CNN? Other presidents have criticized individual companies and complained about press bias, but Trump's blatant use of state power to punish specific TV networks, newspapers, and private companies who don't kowtow to his will has no precedent — except in autocracies like Russia, Turkey, and Venezuela, where it was the first step in the erosion of freedom. That couldn't happen here, of course. Trump's own party wouldn't stand for it. Would it?

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