How to be presidential: A case study

Our President-elect has settled into a sort of nightly ritual. After a long day, he unwinds by getting on Twitter and criticizing people.

Sometimes it’s a corporation, like Boeing, on December 6.

Sometimes it’s an entire segment of society, like “the press,” on December 5.

Sometimes it’s a specific person in politics, like Jill Stein, on December 4.

Sometimes it’s a specific person in entertainment, like Alec Baldwin, on December 3.

Sometimes it’s a specific person in journalism, like Jeff Zeleny, on November 28.

The list goes on … and on. You get the idea. We’re all pretty used to this by now. And yes, it’s incredibly petty for a President-elect to spend his time taking potshots at whoever happens to be in his cross-hairs that day.

But at least so far, all his targets (as far as I know) have had something in common: They’ve all been public figures, more or less.

Yes, it’s childish and un-American for him to call CNN’s Jeff Zeleny a “part time wannabe journalist” and say “Shame! Bad reporter.” Yes, it’s silly for him to go after a Saturday Night Live actor for doing what SNL has done for forty years — make fun of politicians. Yes, it’s disturbing to see a President-elect condemn a fellow presidential candidate as a scammer without offering evidence. And yes, it was truly pathetic when, back in August, he went after Khizr Khan, the father of Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in Baghdad in 2004.

But Zeleny is a reporter, part of the public discourse. Baldwin is deliberately wading into the fray. Jill Stein, by running for President, invites criticism from every angle. Even Mr. Khan made himself a public figure by standing on a stage at the Democratic National Convention.

That doesn’t make it wise or even okay to attack these people, but at least they are all, as I said, more or less public figures.

And then, last night, we had this:

t1

Followed by this:

t2

Why is our soon-to-be Commander-in-Chief yelling at a guy named Chuck Jones?

You may recall that Trump and Pence recently announced a deal with Carrier Corporation (which makes air conditioners) to prevent hundreds of jobs at a plant in Indiana from being moved to Mexico. This fulfilled a campaign promise he had made.

Afterward, Chuck Jones — the president of the local union, which represents employees at the plant and elsewhere — was interviewed on the news. He said Trump lied about the deal, claiming that 1,100 jobs had been saved, when in fact the real number (as confirmed by Carrier itself) was about 800, and hundreds more employees would lose their jobs after all.

Trump is getting the inflated number by counting an additional 300 positions that were never at risk of being moved. Jones, who was not involved in the deal negotiations, said, “He’s lying his ass off. That’s not just my feeling. The numbers prove he’s lying his ass off. It’s a damn shame when you come in and make a false statement like that.”

He added: “I’m extremely grateful for what he did. There’s 800 people who have jobs … It’s not all one-sided. I just wished it had been handled in more of a professional manner.”

For the moment, it doesn’t matter whether the Carrier deal was a good idea, or whether Jones was correct in his criticism (although it appears he was). Opinions about political parties or workers’ unions aren’t relevant either.

What matters is that Chuck Jones is a private citizen.

Yes, he is president of a local union group, which represents himself and his fellow workers. Yes, such groups are partly political in nature. But he is still a private citizen voicing his opinion about a deal that affected him directly and personally. Not a politician, not a journalist, not a celebrity. A guy in Indiana.

He gave his honest opinion of his President-elect: praise where he felt it was due, criticism where he felt it was due. And the President-elect insulted him for it, personally, by name, in front of a nationwide audience.

This is really, really not okay. It wouldn’t be okay for a governor or a mayor. If I worked at a company where my boss did that, I’d be thinking, Wow, that guy’s a dick. And this is the guy who’s going to be President.

What happened next? According to the Washington Post:

Half an hour after Trump tweeted about Jones on Wednesday, the union leader’s phone began to ring and kept ringing, he said. One voice asked: What kind of car do you drive? Another said: We’re coming for you.

He wasn’t sure how these people found his number.

“Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, you better keep your eye on your kids,” Jones said later on MSNBC. “We know what car you drive. Things along those lines.”

“I’ve been doing this job for 30 years, and I’ve heard everything from people who want to burn my house down or shoot me,” he added. “So I take it with a grain of salt and I don’t put a lot of faith in that, and I’m not concerned about it and I’m not getting anybody involved. I can deal with people that make stupid statements and move on.”

Something to keep in mind if you get too vocal about criticizing your government. Perhaps Mr. Trump will inform the entire nation that you, too, should spend “less time talking.”

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2 responses to “How to be presidential: A case study

  1. Trump: “Hey media, stop ‘slandering’ me so I have more time to focus on slandering you and others!”

    logic.

    on a side note, from my point of view, we are all public figures since we (at least the majority of us) spend a good deal of our lives in public spaces. it’s just that some are more visible and, thus, easily targeted. We all have the potential to be publicly outed for our actions, whether they are ‘good’ or ‘bad’. that being said, Trumps tweets are setting a terrible example of how to communicate publicly.

    • Yeah, public vs. private is more of a spectrum than a binary, I would say. I think Trump’s comments here are a good example of “right” vs. “the right.” He does have the right to say those things, but it’s not the right thing to do. Which I think is more or less what you were saying.

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