The New York Times very politely and without judgment points out that a sitting president of the United States attacking individual American companies by name, as he is currently doing with Amazon, is not normal. Or it wasn’t until the great orange garbage conflagration conflagrated onto the scene.
Before and after he became president, Mr. Trump attacked tech firms, military contractors, carmakers, cellphone companies, financial firms, drug companies, air-conditioner makers, sports leagues, Wall Street giants — and many, many media companies, which he has labeled “shameful,” “dishonest,” “true garbage,” “really dumb,” “phony,” “failing” and, broadly, “the enemy of the American people.”
Lately, Mr. Trump’s antibusiness rants have become particularly menacing and caused the stocks of some companies to plunge.
The word “lately” is off; Trump’s attacks on individual companies have been doing them marketplace damage since the first days of his “presidency.” Before Trump was even sworn in, he was already publicly attacking Boeing, threatening to cancel a government deal with the company over Air Force One. That fight, too, featured Trump making up numbers and making spurious attacks for no apparent logical reason; that fight, too, resulted in Boeing shares plummeting. In another famous first-month Trump spats, he bashed the Nordstrom department store chain for ceasing sales of his daughter Ivanka’s branded clothing line, which is one of the least “presidential” public attacks on a company one could imagine.
By that same February, in fact, Wall Street companies were scrambling to monetize Trump’s tweets bashing or praising individual companies; his thumb-based attacks on American businesses had become so predictable as to require constant monitoring, inside the financial sector. Eventually, every company whose name the president might theoretically stumble across found the need to consider contingency plans, lest the short-fingered vulgarian’s ire be aimed in their direction.
“This is an unprecedented situation for companies. The president’s tweets can cause significant reputational harm,” said Dean C. Garfield, the president of the Information Technology Industry Council, which represents big technology companies like Amazon, Dell, Facebook, Google and IBM. “We are now at a place where about 90 percent of the companies we represent now have a presidential Twitter strategy in place.”
The Times only hints at Trump’s motives, so let’s make it a bit more plain: The man attacks companies primarily as a grift. He used his attacks on Boeing to bend the company to being a more loyal voice for his policies and as a public show of “toughness” that needed to make an example of somebody; after the first troubled months, the company became reliable suck-ups. His attacks on the NFL were a show for his white nativist base, to be sure—but are also the result of a longtime enmity after his own dreams of being a football titan went nowhere.
His attacks on Amazon are very specifically aimed at the Amazon head’s ownership of the Washington Post, an outlet that has broken a great many stories about his administration’s incompetence, corruption, and especially tidbits from the investigation into Trump team ties to Russian espionage. He has not tried to hide it; the man does not know the meaning of the word subtle. And he is, above all, petty; nearly every attack he has mounted during his presidency has been on a company, usually a news company, that he believes has Done Him Wrong.
The man has little notion of what the “presidency” actually is. He still considers it primarily a platform for his own personal grudges; even summits with the heads of other nations are, to him, opportunities to plug his own private clubs. He watches television, looking for news about himself, and lashes out when the news about himself is not sufficiently flattering.
The man can’t do the job he has been given, but lashing out at his enemies? Now that’s something he knows. Using his public platform to punish those enemies, or to profit himself? Those are the only things he has, in the last decade, been good at. So that’s what he’ll be doing in lieu of governing.