It’s pretty simple, though President Obama hasn’t figured it out in in eight years:
The President of the United States must not attack or criticize private citizens or negatively characterize their actions, nor should he interfere with local matters, criminal justice, the courts, the news media, or private businesses, unless it is absolutely necessary, which it almost never is. This applies to his treatment of journalists, celebrities, athletes, local officials, accused criminals, military personnel, lawyers, other professionals…
…and union representatives.
Chuck Jones, the president of the local chapter of the United Steelworkers union that represents Carrier employees in Indianapolis, told The Post on Tuesday that the Trump exaggerated the number of jobs he claims to have saved, since 550 of the union’s members will lose their jobs anyway. Trump immediately sent the tweet above, directly attacking Jones by name. Shortly after the tweet, Jones says, he began getting threatening phone calls. “Nothing that says they’re gonna kill me, but, you know, ‘You better keep your eye on your kids. We know what car you drive.’ Things along those lines,” he told the Post.
I’m not surprised, but Trump’s “punching down” would be just as wrong if there was no response at all. This is an abuse of power. It is an abuse of influence. It is an abuse of office, and once he is President, it will be an abuse of the “bully pulpit.” The conduct is bullying, as well as irresponsible, dangerous, and stupid.
I did call it, though! My post in April about Gov. Rick Scott attacking a citizen, in his case a coffee shop critic, in a campaign ad ended with this statement:
It is hard to imagine a more petty, needless, demeaning example of “punching down.” Jennings isn’t running against Scott; she is just a citizen critic, if an especially rude and nasty one. For a governor to focus an attack ad on a mere citizen is an abuse of power and position. It is ethically indefensible.
It is exactly what Donald Trump would do, though.
It is far worse for a President-Elect to punch down, of course; it’s even unethical for a Presidential candidate nobody thinks can win to do it. Trump’s pre-emptively calling Bowe Bergdahl a traitor is now a fair trial problem in the ex-prisoner of war’s court-martial. This is a terrible habit to indulge, and it opens the door to far more harmful misuses of Presidential power.
Back in 2009, President Obama Punched down at a Cambridge, Mass police officer, calling him “stupid.” I noted that this was a multi-faceted ethics foul, encompassing “bias; conflict of interest; abuse of power; irresponsibility; lack of fairness.” Obama never learned the proper boundaries of his office and the “Bully Pulpit.” He condemned a reasonable state law passed by democratic means while misrepresenting its provisions; he attacked Supreme Court decisions that were competently argued and well-reasoned; he presumed the guilt of corporations while investigations were ongoing (this was similar to Trump’s unwitting interference with the military justice system.) He even gave an interview in which he tried to influence which team NBA superstar LeBron James should sign with as a free agent.
Most infamous of all, Obama warped the public perception of the Trayvon Martin shooting by publicly identifying with the victim, and seemed to be accusing George Zimmerman of a race-motivated murder.
Writing about Obama’s various breaches of this principle, I noted that a President who behaves like this raises troubling suspicions that he…
- Doesn’t understand his job,
- Does not comprehend the appropriate use of power,
- Does not recognize the extent of his ability to influence others…
- Believes that the he has been elected is some kind of ultimate arbiter-supervisor-Big Brother-dictator. King, perhaps.
and I added..
There are limits to presidential power, and many of them involve good judgment, humility, and self-control. After almost a year and a half in the job, President Obama shows no signs that he has learned this, and it is worrisome.
We know Donald Trump hasn’t learned it, and he hasn’t had a good role model in his predecessor, either.
He has to stop.