Chuck Jones is a union guy. He represents Carrier workers, some of whose jobs Donald Trump recently moved to save. In a television interview last week, Jones said the president-elect got the number wrong during his triumphal visit to an Indianapolis plant, that it was actually 800 jobs saved, not 1,100.
Twenty minutes later, Trump tweeted that Jones “has done a terrible job representing workers.” And 30 minutes after that, the calls to Jones’ flip phone started.
We know what kind of car you drive. Keep an eye on your kids. We’re coming for you.
This would be bad even if it was an isolated event. But it wasn’t.
Last fall, 18-year-old St. Anselm College student Lauren Batchelder stood up at a campaign event in New Hampshire and told Trump that, “I don’t think you’re a friend to women.”
An exchange ensued. The next morning Trump tweeted that she was an “arrogant young woman.”
Batchelder thought that would be the end of the affair. She was wrong. “I didn’t really know what his supporters were going to do,” she told The Washington Post.
They unleashed a flood of hostile voicemail, email and Facebook messages, including threats of rape and violence. When her address was circulated on social media, she fled home. The abuse continued. Five days before the election, an obscene Facebook message expressed the writer’s desire to “punch you in the face,” “stomp your head on the curb,” and “urinate in your bloodied mouth.”
Fox News host Megyn Kelly received death threats and slews of vulgar tweets after battling with Trump. NBC reporter Katy Tur, a regular target of Trump’s insults, got a tweet that said she should be first among journalists who “NEED TO BE WHACKED.”
Before you dismiss all this as just talk, remember the North Carolina man arrested last week in Washington after he allegedly fired an assault weapon inside a pizza place. He was drawn there by fake news at its worst, online stories falsely identifying it as the center of a child sex slave ring ridiculously linked to Hillary Clinton.
Words sometimes do become actions, and we’ve now arrived at a truly scary place.
Trump seems to understand his potency. Kelly says he once called her to say, “I almost unleashed my beautiful Twitter account on you, and I still may.”
No, he may not. He must not, not anymore.
Trump soon will be the most powerful person in the world. So he’s always going to be punching down. But it’s one thing to go after world leaders. And it’s another to cause Boeing stock to plummet by tweeting that its $4 billion contract for two presidential jets must be canceled — right after the company’s CEO criticized Trump’s position on international trade.
But it’s far darker and more disturbing to unleash some of the 17 million followers of his weaponized Twitter account on regular folks.
The president cannot be a personal bully. And the leader of our democracy, no matter how thin-skinned, also must lead the way on tolerating dissent. This right is enshrined in the Constitution. His own fans love Trump for speaking his mind. Now he, and they, are attacking others for doing the same.
Trump is still acting like a businessman and reality TV host. Denigrating a vendor or candidate on “The Apprentice” might have produced lower prices on hotel towels or higher TV ratings. But now he’s president-elect, and it has to stop.
Trump promised to be different. That’s part of his appeal. But not like this. Using Twitter to announce policies, events and hires is fine. But no president, on Twitter or otherwise, has ever singled out people like this, nor should he. Someone is going to get hurt.
Donald Trump always wanted to be a big shot. Now that he’s the biggest of them all, it’s time he started acting big.
Michael Dobie is a member of Newsday’s editorial board.