Politech Figures

Here’s why the Trump vs Bezos spat could be serious

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Trump has decided to pick a fight with the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos. The president begun tweeting about Amazon, first attacking the online retail giant’s deal with the US Post Office on Tuesday, and continuing Wednesday. Vanity Fair reported that sources inside The White House perceive the fight to be personal, since Bezos owns The Washington Post – which Trump views as the ‘Amazon Washington Post’ – which he harbors a particular dislike of in a biased-liberal-media sort of way.

The whole thing looks rather ridiculous; Trump, the insulted and vindictive medieval king, has decided to pit his not inconsiderable weight against the astute upstart, Bezos. This is the kind of spat Twitter lives for. No injustice has been done, there is no need for the usual hyperactive morality Twitter so loves. And the two are evenly matched in uneven ways. If you want to know whether the executive branch of government or big business is more powerful in the US today then stay tuned because the bell for round 1 just rang.

It might sound a little churlish to couch the situation in these terms, but no other terms seem available. If Trump is to keep up this up, what we have is the equivalent of the playground bully picking a fight with someone in an older year who’s a bit of an unknown quantity in a fight. Bezos looks like he could be up to the challenge, but we just don’t know and right now he is playing for the sensible higher ground, choosing not to get entangled in the name calling and mud slinging.

The wealth available to Bezos if he really wanted to engage is not lost on some:

Another tweet pointed out that Bezos could achieve much of this with the spare change in his pocket.

In more serious terms The Washington Post’s Executive Editor, Martin Baron – of Spotlight fame – has rebuffed Trump’s comments, which suggested that Bezos plays a controlling role in running The Post. Baron told The New York Times “I don’t even know how to describe what goes through my mind… It’s completely made up.” Despite the inaccuracies, and while Bezos may want to exercise his considerable fortune in an effort to fight The Donald off, there are two major reasons why that might be unwise right now.

The first is that Amazon are in the market for a second headquarters, HQ2, so any senators or governors in areas where Bezos is looking who are friendly to Trump could become an irritant to Amazon.

The second pertains to the following tweet:

I don’t doubt this has merit, many have been quick to point out the $10 billion in share price Amazon has lost off the back of Trump’s tweeting. But it seems like an unlikely course of events, if a president gets in legal trouble because of wiretapping, or an extorted NDA – for the sake of argument – that’s one thing. But, to be frank, suing for defamation is too often the purview of those with a bank balance far bigger than the level of self-confidence required to shrug off a few silly comments. I don’t think the American people will quite accept that. Trump might be lots of things but he is currently resident of the Oval Office, which should be above a pissing contest.

At this juncture one might reasonably point out that Trump has already lowered the office to such levels. But that is a liberal framing, this fight looks like it might have legs because Trump is managing to team an anti-liberal media bias message with a protectionist trade policy message, defending the US Post Office and hardworking local retailers from the online behemoth. That’s a potent mix of exactly the kind of sentiment that got him elected.

What’s more is liberals don’t seem to have learned their lesson, the immediate response being to refute Trump’s comments, pointing out how factually inaccurate they are. Which is the same response they gave during the election, and look how that turned out. Trump will be able to gain traction with the electorate if this continues as it is, and if the president starts taking down businesspeople on falsities, or businesspeople start having to sue the president for his market commentary then the US’ ever waning stability will disappear further into the past tense.

No. Bezos is right not to react for the moment. And when he does his actions need to be swift and decisive. He needs to end this quickly and definitively lest the rest of us be forced to watch two gorillas in a cage fight. Except the spectator seats are inside the cage too.

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Ben Allen is a traveller, a millennial and a Brit. He worked in the London startup world for a while but really prefers commenting on it than working in it. He has huge faith in the tech industry and enjoys talking and writing about the social issues inherent in its development. Find him on Twitter @benjijamesallen

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