By Robert Reich
On the evening of December 7, minutes after a local Indiana union leader, Chuck Jones, criticized Trump on CNN for falsely promising to keep Carrier jobs in the U.S., 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, Chuck Jones says “I’m getting threats and everything else from some of his supporters.”
A few days before, Boeing’s CEO Dennis Muilenberg was quoted in the Chicago Tribune gently chiding Trump for being against trade. Muilenberg noted that trade is essential to the U.S. economy, as reflected in the “large and growing percentage of our business” coming from international sales, including commercial jet orders from China.
Moments later, 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!”
Boeing shares immediately took a hit. As it turns out, Boeing doesn’t even have a $4 billion order to make Air Force One planes.
This has been Trump’s pattern. About a year ago, 18-year-old college student Lauren Batchelder stood up at a political forum in New Hampshire and told Donald Trump that she didn’t think he was “a friend to women.”
Almost immediately, Batchelder’s phone began receiving threatening messages. “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.”
This is what happens when Trump targets a private citizen who publicly challenges him.
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 a college student, 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 (he had 5 million when he went after Lauren Batchelder) not only imperils these individuals.
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.
No President or President-elect in history has ever before publicly condemned individual citizens for criticizing him. That occurs in two-bit dictatorships 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 in order 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 Senator 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 asked him publicly, during the televised hearings McCarthy was conducting, “have you no decency, sir?” In that moment, Americans began to see McCarthy for the tyrant he was.
McCarthy’s assistant was Roy Cohn, an attorney who perfected the art of character assassination. Roy Cohn was also one of Donald J. 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, he will have far greater power. Our freedom and our democracy could be gravely jeopardized.
We must join together to condemn these acts. Has Trump no decency?