Edward Luce warns today in the Financial Times that Donald Trump’s fusillades at Amazon and its proprietor Jeff Bezos are more than simply addled bluster. They represent, we are told, a coherent strategy to undermine independent media. “Trump,” Luce writes, “has already tilted the playing field towards his media allies.”
Pshaw! Trump isn’t hurting Bezos. He’s helping him. Trump, of all people, should know the value of free publicity. No one has done more to rehabilitate the media than Trump. As Jack Shafer astutely observes in Politico, “Every denunciation of the Post, the New York Times, NBC News, CBS News, CNN and other outlets serves to boost those outlets’ audiences and their corresponding revenues. Newsrooms glow with appreciation whenever he pounces on them, and the reporters singled out for abuse preen.” To receive a nasty tweet from Trump about an essay or article amounts to a badge of honour. To borrow from Harold Macmillan, the media have never had it so good.
As for Trump’s depression of Amazon’s stock value, what’s the big deal? He’s simply creating a good buying opportunity for the rest of us. Trump, as they say in Texas, is all hat and no cattle. There isn’t really much he can do to hurt Amazon apart from periodically venting his ire about stories in the Bezos-owned Washington Post that he dislikes. If anything, I bet Trump is sulking because he doesn’t possess his own newspaper or television network. Bezos, who seems to be worth about a hundred times whatever Trump has accumulated over the years, can afford to have a flutter on the Post.
Far from being a calculating despot, Trump is a bumbler. His fulgurations about the media are an index to his own mental turmoil. And there is a lot for him to be worried about. For one thing, he has no less than three cabinet nominees, including his personal physician Ronny Jackson, who is supposed to head the Veterans Administration, to shepherd through Senate confirmation. Jackson may well be spurned by the Senate if Republicans want to make a token show of independence from Trump. Senator Rand Paul is balking at both Mike Pompeo for Secretary of State and Gina Hapsel to head the CIA. And Environmental Protection head Scott Pruitt, who has a sweetheart deal for his lodgings in Washington, may be the next Trump official to be ousted from office, which would make for four cabinet confirmations.
Perhaps Trump’s greatest area of peril, however, is the economy. He inherited an economy that had largely recovered from the 2008 crash. Now he is willfully injuring it. His tweets and comments reveal, more than ever, that he is hopelessly out of his depth, clinging to an antediluvian conception of trade that could imperil his hold on office. An all-out trade war could easily wipe out many farmers in the Midwest and crash the stock market, potentially triggering a global recession, if not depression. This morning, Trump tweeted, “When you’re already $500 Billion DOWN, you can’t lose!” Yes, you can.