Donald Trump, the supposed voice for the forgotten man who descended from his gold-encrusted New York City shrine to speak to the American voter who had been left behind, bullied a union boss by name on Wednesday night.
“Chuck Jones, who is President of United Steelworkers 1999, has done a terrible job representing workers. No wonder companies flee country!” his tiny fingers tapped out to millions at 7:41 p.m.
What seems to have set Trump off at this particular moment was a segment on CNN where Jones said that in all the noise about the president-elect’s triumphant deal with the air conditioner manufacturer Carrier, “What nobody’s mentioning is 550 people are losing their jobs.”
Jones was simply expounding on an earlier point that he made which was that when Trump traveled to the Indianapolis plant last week, triumphantly flouting his deal-making prowess, he wasn’t telling the whole story.
The discrepancy at play here is the number of jobs Trump claimed he would be saving the company in exchange for a total of $7 million in tax credits from Indiana. He said he’d reach a deal with United Technologies, Carrier’s parent company, to keep 1,100 jobs from leaving the state and going to Mexico. Jones was told that only 730 of the production jobs would stick around and 550 members of his union would end up losing theirs.
For daring to tell the truth, Trump decided to treat Jones like any one of his political opponents throughout the election, turning his supporters on him when Trump didn’t like what Jones had to say. When the Carrier deal seemed beneficial to Trump, he acted as if he had single-handedly been a savior. Yet when Jones dared challenge the simple facts at play, the disappearing jobs were no longer Trump’s responsibility. It was all Jones’s fault.
The tweet resulted in threats and concerns from Jones for the safety of his children. “I’m getting threats and everything else from some of his supporters,” he told NBC News on Wednesday night. “I’m getting them all day long—now they’re kicked up a notch.”
Jones, who didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Daily Beast, has taken it in stride and emphasized that he simply doesn’t want to be lied to.
But on Thursday, a number of unions throughout the country, who had kept close watch on the situation, expressed disappointment and anger with a future leader of the free world using his position to bash one of their own. After all, Trump put up the best numbers in union households since Ronald Reagan won his second term in 1984.
“The attacks on Chuck Jones, president of United Steelworkers Local 1999, must stop immediately,” Elaine Kim, of 32BJ SEIU, the largest building service workers union in the country, said in a statement to The Daily Beast.
“Jones was doing his job defending working men and women and the families that depend on them by speaking out and sharing the facts about the deal with Carrier. To attack Jones and his family is not only beyond the pale but anti-worker and un-American. To speak the truth is a freedom generations of Americans died for, and worth defending today and forever. We call on those who cherish that freedom, including those in positions of influence, to join us in standing with Chuck Jones, loudly and publicly.”
The message of solidarity was apparently heard loud and clear.
“We stand in solidarity with the Steelworkers,” Bethany Khan of Nevada’s Culinary Workers Union Local 226, told The Daily Beast. With their statement came a warning for their own cause.
“Donald Trump should stop attacking workers and negotiate with his own employees at the Trump Hotel Las Vegas who voted last December to unionize. The President-elect is legally required to negotiate and he is breaking federal labor law.”
Beyond the sheer disgust of witnessing a powerful figure personally demonize a private citizen, there is a sense that Trump is letting down the very people who put stock in his populist economic message. The man who campaigned on saving jobs was criticizing the jobs of the very people who were supposed to be saved.
“What do I have to say about a person with their finger on the nuclear button going after someone who has a flip phone,” RoseAnn DeMoro, executive director of National Nurses United, laughingly said in a phone interview. “It’s just too crazy. It’s sort of surreal really.” (Jones has said that he has a flip phone and didn’t even see the tweet when it happened.)
DeMoro, who is also vice president of the AFL-CIO, was and remains very critical of both parties and endorsed Bernie Sanders in the Democratic primary. In her eyes, Trump is the result of a co-opted populist message for which the Democrats did not have a real answer.
“He essentially ripped off Bernie’s campaign after the Democrats did Bernie in,” DeMoro said. “He saw that populist message and he ran on that. The problem is that Bernie actually knew what he was talking about.
“The disproportionality of power is just stunning. I just wish it was me,” she said seemingly willing to fight with the president-elect.
Beyond this individual incident, DeMoro sees an overwhelming political crisis: that Trump used a message which he has since abandoned to build a cabinet stocked with billionaires and that, Sanders aside, Democrats may not have any real answer.
“What you see is David Brock and the corporate Democrats try to circle the wagon,” DeMoro said of early efforts to oppose Trump. “Everyone knows they’re not the alternative.”
For now though, some unions are emphasizing that they must stand for themselves in a climate where anyone among them could be a target.
“Chuck Jones is a man of passion, conviction and integrity who would do anything for his union brothers and sisters,” AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka said in a statement. “An attack on him is an attack on all working people.”
And in the age of Trump, solidarity might be the best defense.