On the evening of Dec. 7, minutes after a local Indiana union leader, Chuck Jones, criticized Donald Trump on CNN for falsely claiming that he had kept 1,100 Carrier jobs in the United States, Trump tweeted, “Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!”
Since that tweet went out, some news organizations have reported that Jones has received death threats.
A few days before, Boeing CEO Dennis Muilenburg was quoted in the Chicago Tribune gently chiding Trump for being against trade.
Soon after, Trump tweeted: “Boeing is building a brand new 747 Air Force One for future presidents, but costs are out of control, more than $4 billion. Cancel order!” Later, he added, “We want Boeing to make a lot of money but not that much money.”
Boeing shares immediately took a hit. As it turns out, Boeing does not even have a $4 billion order to make Air Force One planes.
This has been Trump’s pattern. In October 2015, 18-year-old college student Lauren Batchelder stood up at a political forum in New Hampshire and told Trump that she didn’t think he was “a friend to women.”
The next morning, Trump fired back on Twitter. He called Batchelder an “arrogant young woman” and accused her of being a “plant” from a rival campaign.
Almost immediately, Batchelder began receiving threatening messages on her phone. “I didn’t really know what anyone was going to do,” Batchelder told the Washington Post. “He was only going to tweet about it and that was it, but I didn’t really know what his supporters were going to do, and that to me was the scariest part.”
Trump doesn’t take kindly to anyone criticizing him — not journalists (whom he refers to as “dishonest,” “disgusting” and “scum” when they take him on), not corporate executives, not entertainers who satirize him, not local labor leaders, not college students, no one.
The president-elect’s tendency to go after people who criticize him by sending false and provocative statements to his 17 million Twitter followers not only imperils those people and their organizations, it also poses a clear and present danger to our democracy.
Democracy depends on the freedom to criticize those in power without fear of retribution. Presidents and president-elects throughout history have refrained from publicly condemning individual citizens for criticizing them. That sort of thing occurs in two-bit dictatorships with leaders intent on stamping out dissent.
No president or president-elect has ever before bypassed the media and spoken directly to large numbers of his followers to disparage individual citizens who criticize him. That occurred in the fascist rallies of the 1930s.
America came closest to this in the 1950s, when Sen. Joseph McCarthy wrecked the lives of thousands of American citizens whom he arbitrarily and carelessly claimed were communists.
McCarthy’s reign of terror ended when a single man, U.S. Army counsel Joseph Welch, asked him publicly, during the televised hearings McCarthy was conducting, “Have you no sense of decency, sir?” In that moment, Americans began to see McCarthy for the tyrant he was.
Not incidentally, McCarthy’s assistant was Roy Cohn, an attorney who perfected the art of character assassination. Cohn was also one of Donald Trump’s mentors.
Trump’s capricious use of power to denigrate and even endanger his critics must end. He is not yet our president. When he becomes so, and has far greater power, our freedom and our democracy could be gravely jeopardized.
We must join together to condemn these acts. We must ask: Has Trump no sense of decency?
Former US Secretary of Labor Robert B. Reich is a professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “Aftershock: The Next Economy and America’s Future.” He blogs at www.robertreich.org. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.