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Trump’s Capricious Use of Power to Denigrate and Even Endanger His Critics Must End

Gage Skidmore / CC BY-SA 2.0

By Robert Reich / RobertReich.org

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.”

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’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?

Robert Reich
Contributor
Robert B. Reich is Chancellor's Professor of Public Policy at the University of California at Berkeley and Senior Fellow at the Blum Center for Developing Economies. He served as Secretary of Labor in the…
Robert Reich

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