There was a hashtag going around the Twitter last week, or maybe two weeks ago (as time, never particularly stable in the Twitterverse, has also lost all meaning elsewhere), that was something along the lines of #AdultInFourWords. I didn’t follow it, but saw it in some people’s feeds. It was stuff like “Taxes are already done” or “Made my own breakfast” or whatever. My favorite one I saw was “I voted for Hillary”.
But, a few weeks late, I would like to offer another one, that isn’t just a hashtag, but perhaps (not to exaggerate) nothing less than a strict moral code and philosophical compass point for these woozy, uncertain times. You ready?
Fuck Trump AND Bezos.
It’s hard, as our petty idiot of a President has decided to attack Jeff Bezos, entirely because the Bezos-owned Washington Post is doing actual journalism, to know where to stand. After all, when the President tweets out stuff like this:
…you have mixed feelings. Because you know why this is happening: he’s trying to intimidate Bezos into forcing the Post to give him better coverage. He’s using the awesome powers of the Presidency to enact revenge against a corporation in order to bend the press to his desire. It’s really scary, authoritarian stuff.
The best-case scenario, which relies on the idea that Trump is just a spoiled, mean-spirited child and not actually a petty strongman, is that he just wants to needle someone who is annoying him, and is willing to corrupt and pervert his office in order to make it happen. This is not entirely comforting.
On the other hand, some of his criticisms of Amazon are accurate. The Post Office one is absurd, of course: most studies show that Amazon is keeping the Post Office afloat, which anecdotally, I would have to agree with. But it is true that Amazon has been death to many small stores. It’s true that they are ruthless capitalists.
Although Trump hasn’t mentioned this, it’s also true that Bezos has become the richest man in history based on abusing his employees. His warehouse employees work in 19th-century sawmill conditions, risking being fired for sitting down. They are barely-paid, and constantly threatened with robotic replacement, forced to accept worse and worse conditions to hang on to meager scraps of a job. Amazon might not be a coal mine, but it ain’t that far off.
And he’s right about taxes. Yes, we pay taxes on what we purchase from Amazon, but we’re also undergoing the hideous spectacle of cities opening their coffers to get HQ2. It’s embarrassing. Mayors and town councils are practicing ludicrous contortions to induce Amazon to move to their city, so that it can not pay taxes and can drive up housing costs across a region.
Yes, there are benefits, but it is horrible to see cities struggling with pensions and closing schools and unable to provide a decent life for many of its citizens smile sycophantic rictus grins to provide even more money for the wealthiest man in human history. Stand up to him, goddammit. Don’t just give the rich everything they want.
Because of this, you can see an inkling of a coalition here, or at least the appeal of Trumpism. If he were to attack Amazon on some of these grounds (and he might, since he has no real ideology), it would be tempting to side with him. There is an obvious populist case against Amazon, and a real pitchfork-and-torches case against Bezos, personally.
But, obviously, Trump doesn’t actually care about this. He has no interest in the lives of workers, nor in underfunded pension plans for municipal employees, nor (certainly not) in the lives of inner city minorities, nor even in the Post Office. For him, it is all about the Post.
Matt Yglesies easily puts paid to any notion of a coalition.
And so we’re left with nothing but circus, two sparring rich men (one authentically so, the other uncertainly so, which certainly fuels some of this fire) arguing about a bill while the people starve. We’re left with defending Amazon, so naked is Trump’s assault on democracy and our basic norms. We’re left sneering that Amazon is actually good for the Post Office, when “fuck Amazon” should be our daily cry.
Bezos, to his credit, has seemingly stayed above the fray, probably because as Yglesies points out he’s not really going to get hurt. And to his credit, he actually does let the Post do good and important work. That’s his library program, I guess, hoping that if it kept Carnegie out of Hell it might work for him.
This has led to the unedifying spectacle of leftists like me reflexively defending Amazon against Trump’s assaults. We point out that maybe Amazon not only makes the Post Office money, but it might actually keep it afloat. This shifts the conversation toward the amount of good that Amazon does, rather than point out that the Post Office, which is still a crucial institution, especially in poorer and more rural areas, maybe shouldn’t be left to the uncertain largesse and conditional loyalties of powerful corporations.
But that’s natural, now. We’re ground up in the twin pillars of the moment: ravening blood-and-soil nationalism, and the corporate techno-tyranny that Bezos represents. Our conversations, our ideas of self, our commercialized “individuality” and our desire to escape this form of anonymity through firey groupthink, are all bent to those not-entirely-opposite poles.
This is the fundamental perverting nature of Amazon, and the fundamentally perverting reality of Trump. Trump is a small and petty and stupid man, but the sheer floodtide force of his bile, his rage, his insecurity, his racism, his pinched idiocy, at this time and in this climate, is changing the world. It’s pulling us all into his slouching gravity.
We’re in his time, and we’re in Amazon’s time. With two clicks on my phone I can get everything I need and want, without thinking about how each click helps make the wealthiest king the world has even known even wealthier, and helps him crush worker rights and bend cities to his will. I get everything, including the anhedonia of late-stage capitalism, and all I have to do is betray every sense of class-consciousness. It’s nearly-anonymous anomie.
Mercifully, maybe, clash leaves us with the same option as always: keep fighting for more democracy, for a country not controlled by capitalism, not in hock to the rich, and not ready to sell to the highest bidder. Keep it out of the hands of charlatans and thieves, whether they come to us with Ted Talking points or the fake machismo of reality shows. Make sure the government is protecting the common good.
So at the end, it is important to not let Trump blackmail companies into perverting the press. That’s the first order of business. That has to be resisted at all costs, which means in this battle, Bezos is on the side of angels. But then we have to realize that when our democracy comes down to a billionaire weighing his bottom line, we have problems far bigger than Trump.