Politics / March 18, 2024

The True Threat of Donald Trump’s “Bloodbath” Speech

Deplatforming the former president hasn’t worked, so America needs to rediscover his depravity.

Jeet Heer
Former US president Donald Trump stands on stage during a campaign event on January 27, 2024, in Las Vegas, Nev., ahead of the state’s Republican presidential caucuses.(David Becker / Getty Images)

Just a few years ago, Donald Trump’s speeches were national events. Now, they have become strangely muffled affairs that are experienced and debated mostly secondhand via curated snippets on social media or cable news. Trump had long been good for ratings, so in his first presidential run in 2016, he benefited from an unprecedented gift of free media, estimated to be worth more than $4.6 billion in unpaid advertising, as news networks such as CNN, MSNBC, and Fox irresponsibly aired his lengthy rallies at length with minimal editing.

After the aborted coup of January 6, 2021, there was a concerted and largely successful effort to deplatform Trump. His Twitter account was deactivated, and Facebook stopped amplifying his message. Even before January 6, networks such as MSNBC and CNN had already started in 2019 to be more chary of giving Trump lengthy, unedited airtime. In November 2022, Elon Musk restored Trump’s Twitter account—but the former president has, with the exception of one post, stayed away from Twitter in preference of a little-used platform (Truth Social) he has a financial interest in.

To a remarkable degree, Trump’s words are now a markedly smaller part of public discourse than they were in his in his first presidential run. This has created an anomalous state of affairs where Trump is talked about as much as ever but rarely heard from in his own voice. In the current election cycle, the only people watching Trump rallies in full are attendees, journalists, and the few hardcore fans (or truly masochistic haters) dedicated enough to track down the events on C-SPAN or YouTube.

But like all attempts to thwart Trump through nonpolitical means, deplatforming has failed as a strategy. For the third presidential election in a row, Trump has clinched the Republican Party nomination. In polling, he has enjoyed a lead over his Democratic counterpart Joe Biden for more than six months (in contrast to 2016 and 2020 when he only rarely led his Democratic rivals).

Current Issue

Cover of July 2024 Issue

Paradoxically, deplatforming might be helping Trump, since it allows Republican-leaning voters to conjure up a party standard-bearer who shares their politics rather than having to pay attention to the actual Trump, whose posts and speeches are animated by nastiness and recrimination.

On Thursday in Dayton, Ohio, Trump delivered a speech that, going against recent trends, actually gained traction in the news cycle.

“We’re going to put a 100% tariff on every single car that comes across the line, and you’re not going to be able to sell those guys if I get elected,” Trump said.… “Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath for the whole – that’s gonna be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That’ll be the least of it.”

The Biden campaign seized on the remark as evidence of Trump’s violent intent. Republican defenders (and even some Trump critics) insisted that this was overreach, since the remark could be read as merely referring to economic devastation.

Steven Cheung, a Trump’s campaign spokesman, e-mailed The Washington Post, “If you actually watch and listen to the section, [Trump] was talking about the auto industry and tariffs.”

Surprisingly, Republican Senator Bill Cassidy of Louisiana offered a balanced interpretation. Speaking on the NBC program Meet the Press, Cassidy noted, “You could also look at the definition of bloodbath and it could be an economic disaster. And so if he’s speaking about the auto industry, in particular in Ohio, then you can take it a little bit more context.” Then Cassidy offered this important qualification: “The general tone of the speech is why many Americans continue to wonder, ‘Should President Trump be president?’ That kind of rhetoric, it’s always on the edge, maybe doesn’t cross, maybe does—depending upon your perspective.”

Cassidy’s remarks suggest that even among Republican elected officials—a class that has every reason to want to appear as Trump loyalists—the former president’s rhetoric is unsettling.

The Nation Weekly

Fridays. A weekly digest of the best of our coverage.
By signing up, you confirm that you are over the age of 16 and agree to receive occasional promotional offers for programs that support The Nation’s journalism. You may unsubscribe or adjust your preferences at any time. You can read our Privacy Policy here.

There is something a little bit ridiculous in saying that a crude, scattershot, and digressive speaker like Donald Trump has to be treated with exegetical care, with particular attention to nuance and context.

In any case, hermeneutical precision wouldn’t exonerate Trump; rather, it makes clear that he is more depraved than ever.

It’s worth looking at what else was in that Trump speech, apart from the “bloodbath” passage. As Axios reported, it opened with an announcer telling the crowd, “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the horribly and unfairly treated Jan. 6 hostages.” The speakers then played what is now a regular feature of Trump events, an alternative rendition of the national anthem recorded by the so-called J6 Prison choir. Trump referred to the January 6 defendants as “amazing people” and “hostages” whom he will help when elected. Trump has in effect created a patriotic cult around the January 6 coup attempt.

Axios also notes that Trump’s speech was full of “insults, obscenities, and dehumanizing rhetoric about immigrants.” About migrants, Trump said, “In some cases, they’re not people, in my opinion.” Along with his earlier comments about immigrants’ “poisoning the blood of our country,” the new remarks can only be interpreted as eliminationist in intent. It is the classic language of fascist bigotry.

The ”bloodbath” comment has to be seen not in isolation but as one more ingredient in a toxic mix. If Trump were a normal politician who didn’t exalt defendants who attacked the Capitol and who didn’t speak of migrants as less than human, then one might be justified in a charitable interpretation that sees “bloodbath” as only a lurid economic metaphor. But in the context of the fascist bile of Trump’s entire speech, the “bloodbath” metaphor takes on a more ominous tone.

But there’s no need to focus on just a few sentences of Trump’s speech. The entire performance is disgustingly authoritarian. The key takeaway is not the debatable meaning of any of Trump’s words but the necessity of making Trump’s threat clear to voters. Deplatforming hasn’t worked, and the best way to defeat Trump might be to encourage voters to spend more time listening to him.

Of course, amplifying Trump’s lurid words is effective only if he is faced by a rival who offers a more attractive alternative. In 2016, Hillary Clinton failed to offer that alternative. Four years later, Joe Biden succeeded—although his Electoral College victory was frighteningly close. For 2024, it remains an open question whether Biden can again present an anti-Trump vision that energizes the electorate.

Thank you for reading The Nation

We hope you enjoyed the story you just read, just one of the many incisive, deeply-reported articles we publish daily. Now more than ever, we need fearless journalism that shifts the needle on important issues, uncovers malfeasance and corruption, and uplifts voices and perspectives that often go unheard in mainstream media.

Throughout this critical election year and a time of media austerity and renewed campus activism and rising labor organizing, independent journalism that gets to the heart of the matter is more critical than ever before. Donate right now and help us hold the powerful accountable, shine a light on issues that would otherwise be swept under the rug, and build a more just and equitable future.

For nearly 160 years, The Nation has stood for truth, justice, and moral clarity. As a reader-supported publication, we are not beholden to the whims of advertisers or a corporate owner. But it does take financial resources to report on stories that may take weeks or months to properly investigate, thoroughly edit and fact-check articles, and get our stories into the hands of readers.

Donate today and stand with us for a better future. Thank you for being a supporter of independent journalism.

Jeet Heer

Jeet Heer is a national affairs correspondent for The Nation and host of the weekly Nation podcast, The Time of Monsters. He also pens the monthly column “Morbid Symptoms.” The author of In Love with Art: Francoise Mouly’s Adventures in Comics with Art Spiegelman (2013) and Sweet Lechery: Reviews, Essays and Profiles (2014), Heer has written for numerous publications, including The New Yorker, The Paris Review, Virginia Quarterly Review, The American Prospect, The GuardianThe New Republic, and The Boston Globe.

More from Jeet Heer Jeet Heer Illustration

Joe Biden delivers a nationally televised address from the Oval Office of the White House on July 14, 2024.

Biden Condemns Political Violence Without Whitewashing Trump Biden Condemns Political Violence Without Whitewashing Trump

The president deftly avoids the trap of surrendering his critique of MAGA lawlessness.

Jeet Heer

Donald Trump is rushed offstage during a rally on July 13, 2024, in Butler, Pennsylvania.

In the Wake of the Trump Shooting, We Need Clarity—and Caution In the Wake of the Trump Shooting, We Need Clarity—and Caution

The best way to fend off conspiracy theories and instability is by emphasizing the need for solid facts.

Jeet Heer

Joe Biden speaks at an event launching the Ukraine Compact at the 2024 NATO Summit on July 11, 2024, in Washington, DC.

Why Aren’t We Talking About the Great News on the Economy and Crime? Why Aren’t We Talking About the Great News on the Economy and Crime?

The Democrats have a winning election message—but do they have the right messenger?

Jeet Heer

Exterior of the US Supreme Court Building the statue is titled “Authority of Law.”

In a Democracy, No Leader Is Indispensable In a Democracy, No Leader Is Indispensable

As Joe Biden flirts with the Samson Option—threatening to bring his party to ruin in November—he needs to realize that the election isn’t just about him.

Jeet Heer

Donald Trump participates in the CNN Presidential Debate at the CNN Studios on June 27, 2024, in Atlanta, Georgia.

Why Aren’t We Talking About Trump’s Fascism? Why Aren’t We Talking About Trump’s Fascism?

Joe Biden has created a distraction from the existential question that should define this election.

Jeet Heer

Saving Candidate Biden

Saving Candidate Biden Saving Candidate Biden

To rescue the president’s faltering campaign, Democrats need to send in their A team.

Comment / Jeet Heer