There’s no doubt that President-elect Donald Trump’s attack on United Steelworkers Local 1999 President Chuck Jones is disturbing for several reasons. It shows his still-scarily thin skin: Hillary Clinton may have lost, but “a man you can bait with a tweet is not a man we can trust with nuclear weapons” remains as true as ever. It shows he still loves to bully critics, no matter how powerless they are, and he will continue to do so in a hair-trigger fashion when he has the powers of the federal government at his disposal. And it shows he will double down when confronted with his own lies.
But we knew all of these problems already. What’s new in Trump’s latest Twitter tirade is not his actions, but the target. Unlike Trump, who forgot he promised to help the Carrier workers USW Local 1999 represents, Jones has actually worked to save the plant’s jobs. Unlike Trump, who has shipped thousands of jobs overseas, Jones has fought to keep jobs in the United States. In Jones, Trump attacked someone who represents working America more authentically than Donald Trump ever has or ever will.
But there were many voters who felt nevertheless that the plutocrat would fight for workers and create jobs. During the summer, Clinton’s campaign had some success against this with ads from small-business owners and others who had been stiffed by Trump, but they never committed to the attack like Obama did against Mitt Romney in 2012. The now-president-elect was able to convince some voters that he actually cared about middle America. The fight with Jones is perhaps the most concrete example so far that, like virtually everything Donald Trump says, this is a lie.
The punching-down at Jones is only the first post-election example of Trump’s real attitude toward working Americans, and there will be many more to come. On Thursday, he picked fast-food executive Andrew Puzder to run the Labor Department. Puzder, the latest millionaire to join Trump’s cabinet, fanatically opposes raising the minimum wage, claims workers prefer “stature” to overtime pay and speaks longingly of replacing human workers with robots. The examples will continue to pile up; it’s up to Democrats to capitalize on this by following the advice of people such as Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and emphasizing major reforms aimed at helping the poor and the middle class.
One way to do so? Well, the value for Democratic politicians and liberal activists of getting on cable news, while always important, has now skyrocketed. Firing back on TV at Trump is all that it takes to get his attention and get days of free media coverage for ideas that actually help working Americans. He’ll hurt himself with the voters, but he won’t be able to stop himself.