As public postures towards Silicon Valley and Big Tech continue their speedy pivot from admiration to vilification, the current inmate of the White House has sought to lead the chorus. Several a few weeks ago, he launched a tweet-driven crusade against Amazon and CEO Jeff Bezos, accusing the societies of rending off the US Postal Service and harming Americans by not accumulating more sales tax. His Thursday order for its consideration of Post Office’s finances is a clear attempt to undermine one of its largest customers, Amazon.
Zachary Karabell is a WIRED Contributor. Karabell is the president of Global Strategies Envestnet and the president of River Twice Research.
The president’s aggressive–and factually doubtful–attacks have triggered expressed concerns about the fragility of our democracy and possibilities for the powers of the state to be used to quash private business. Former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers said Trump’s criticizes on Amazon echoed Mussolini’s Italy, where the commonwealth cowed private corporations or destroyed them. Sheila Bair, former chair of the FDIC, suggested that Trump is subverting the Bill of Rights by assailing a company based on personal pique at negative coverage in the Bezos-owned Washington Post.
Yet, here as abroad, the reaction to Trump may say more about his ability to kindle strong and often negative infatuations than about how close the US is to a constitutional crisis or an deterioration of fundamental liberties. Trump is scarcely the first chairperson to attack a large fellowship by reputation. He is by no means the first to let his personal animus prescribe his approach , nor the only to entertain employing the significant powers of the conference of presidents to harm or hobble a company or CEO that he detests. While the past is at best prologue, compared against presidents of yore, Trump scarcely stands out as remarkable in his willingness to engage in personal and public brawl with big corporations that pee-pee him off.
Take Teddy Roosevelt. He famously began his tenure in the White House, on the heels of the assassination of William McKinley, with a dedicate to take on the great corporations then referred to as “trusts.” He wrote to Congress at the end of 1901 that “There is a widespread conviction in the mindset of the American parties that the largest corporations known as the cartels are in certain of their the characteristics and bias hurtful to the general welfare.” The only way to safeguard the common good and counter the “crimes of cunning” perpetrated by the business world was to more aggressively use the authority of the recently passed Sherman Antitrust Act.
Roosevelt then proceeded to take over the most significant trust of the day, the Northern Securities Company structured in 1901 by an alliance of banker JP Morgan, railroad tycoons, and oilmen including John D. Rockefeller. The arising holding company limited an excess percentage of the nation’s rail line, with the health risks to grow prices for its own earning at the public’s overhead. So Roosevelt–personally–instructed his attorney general to engage Northern Securities under the Sherman Act. The trust crusaded back, but the State supreme court ultimately backed with national governments and Northern Securities was forced to dissolve.