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?

More From...

Picture of William FalkWilliam Falk
Read All
Facebook's amoral algorithms
Mark Zuckerberg.
Opinion

Facebook's amoral algorithms

Why Denmark beat COVID and the U.S. didn't
An ambulance.
Opinion

Why Denmark beat COVID and the U.S. didn't

The limits of power
Soldiers.
Opinion

The limits of power

How fiascos happen
President Biden.
Opinion

How fiascos happen

Recommended

The right response to Trump's Jan. 6 lawsuit
President Biden.
Picture of Ryan CooperRyan Cooper

The right response to Trump's Jan. 6 lawsuit

Will Democrats give Mitt Romney a call?
Mitt Romney.
Picture of Noah MillmanNoah Millman

Will Democrats give Mitt Romney a call?

Is Biden taking Black voters for granted?
A Biden voter.
Picture of Michael ArceneauxMichael Arceneaux

Is Biden taking Black voters for granted?

Memento mori, Donald Trump
Donald Trump.
Picture of Jeva LangeJeva Lange

Memento mori, Donald Trump

Most Popular

Colin Powell at his worst — and most human
Colin Powell.
Picture of Damon LinkerDamon Linker

Colin Powell at his worst — and most human

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers
Help wanted sign
Help Wanted

The American 'Great Resignation' by the numbers

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents
Baptism at Vatican
'It's an experiment'

Sicilian Catholic diocese bans godparents