The Tamarisk or “salt cedar” is a species of invasive tree that has found incredible success in the Southwestern United States. Originally imported from the steppes of Russia as a means of stabilizing hillsides that were eroding away due to mining, nowadays one would be hard-pressed to find a riverbank between Central Oregon and Southern Arizona that isn’t choked out by this spindly, gnarled, half-pine-half-mesquite-tree-looking shrub. In 2014, the National Park Service alone spent $1.7 million on invasive species control in the National Parks, and tamarisk was cited as the top concern for needing to spend that much money.

The reason that the tree is so successful is because it has developed an ingenious and very insidious survival strategy that ensures its propagation at the expense of the native species of a given area. The shallow roots of the tamarisk spread rapidly in a wide radius around the trunk, and these roots then concentrate the salt in the soil to around the base of the tree, making the soil highly alkaline, which the tree can tolerate (hence the common name “salt-cedar”), but other plants cannot. This strategy is what is responsible for the hundreds of miles of Colorado River winding through the Grand Canyon where practically the only vegetation that can be found is tamarisk. Not coincidentally, the tree’s wide, fast-spreading roots were also why settlers of the Southwest found the tree so useful for erosion control.

There is another invasive species of a completely different kind that employs a similar strategy that affects us much closer to home: the big-box store (and their Frankenstein-esque offspring, Amazon). A 2008 study completed by the University of California Irvine found that for every job that a Walmart created when it moved into a new community, 1.4 retail jobs were lost at local businesses in that community. Not only were more jobs lost than created, but the jobs that were created were significantly lower-paying, had fewer benefits, and poorer long-term development potential than the jobs that were lost at the shuttered local businesses. Walmart deprives communities of their means while supplying them with cheap subsidized ends.

Walmart has been so successful because it has been able to undermine competition with much cheaper prices to consumers, largely because of its influence with the government to get itself tax breaks — such as the distribution center in Lewiston that received a whopping $17 million in state and local subsidies when it opened in 2002 — and at a higher level, to write the international trade agreements that end up being favorable to these giant corporations.

Hillary Clinton was on the company’s board of directors until her husband took office in 1992, and when the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was ratified two years later under his tutelage, it was a major boon for giant corporations like Walmart who were able to import goods cheaply and undermine well-paid American union labor. The results of these trade agreements — coupled with the rise of automation and the internet — are all too well known: shuttered factories, abandoned mills, crumbling bridges, and the generalized hopelessness, despair and malaise that have gripped so much of America.

Trump was able to seize on these grievances and use red herrings and racial tropes to get rust-belt America to buy into Steve Bannon’s mumbo-jumbo about “economic nationalism,” such as when he sold West Virginians on the delusion of bringing back coal as a major industry. Completely absent from Trump’s barely-half-true analysis was a discussion about how major corporations have been able to dominate local markets and destroy competition, resulting in the loss of vibrant local communities and economies. Trump’s ties, suits and golf accessories are all made overseas, after all.

So as the Walmarts enter communities, they succeed by depriving people in these communities of their economic means, while simultaneously providing them with artificially low-cost material ends. It is the same dynamic apparent in the relationship between a drug dealer and an addict, or in an abusive relationship where one partner dominates the other: a dependence is fostered and the person becomes a hostage as their means for leaving the situation are removed. After a while, the relationship is not voluntary, it is mandatory, and there are repercussions for the dependent party if the dynamic is broken — withdrawals, violence, and economic devastation.

As the Walmarts move in, so do the other subsidized big-box stores which all swap members on their boards of directors. Next to come are the Lowe’s, the Home Depots, the Family Dollars, and the other neon-sign-boasting aluminum and plastic constructions that characterize every strip mall in the country. The mom-and-pop shops of all types close, the downtowns get boarded up, and the people who formerly worked in or even owned those establishments are forced to go to work for the competition for much less than they were making before. That’s the real power dynamic that’s ailing America today.

Amazon threatens to eclipse all of these brick-and-mortar retailers, only they can’t replace the jobs they are destroying. In 20 years I may be lamenting the loss of big-box stores to online retail, along with lamenting the loss of having food to eat as robots fill every niche in the economy and the government fails to implement a social safety net.

In Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1944 State of the Union Address, he spoke of a “second bill of rights,” one of which was “The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad.” FDR’s vision of economic justice carried America through the Great Depression and resulted in the greatest creation of wealth the world has ever known.

It is obvious that Trump doesn’t share these same concerns or visions for an America in which people can live and work with dignity. Big-box retailers and Amazon are all too happy to capitalize on an America in which the government enables these companies to subjugate communities with their exploitative business practices. If Americans want an economy that works for everybody, we’re going to have to fight for it, and that includes not shopping at Walmart or Amazon for Christmas presents for loved ones (particularly if they are unemployed).

The Tamarisk would be proud to know that its strategies have been adopted to great effect by invasive species in the human economy, and to know that it isn’t the only Russian plant that is having unprecedented success here ,as well.