Robert Reich: Has Trump no decency?

Story highlights

  • Robert Reich: Trump's tweets on union boss, Boeing, show unwillingness to take criticism; this poses danger to democracy
  • Reich: Democracy requires freedom to criticize those in power without fear of retribution. Fascists, dictators traffic in such fear

Robert Reich served as secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. He is a professor of public policy at the University of California, Berkeley, and the author of "Saving Capitalism: For the Many, Not the Few." A version of this piece appeared on his website. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN)On the evening of December 7, minutes after a local Indiana union leader, Chuck Jones, criticized 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. Muilenburg noted that trade is essential to the US 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!"
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.
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, 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.
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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 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 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 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 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 decency?