March 19, 2024 | Reading Time: 5 minutes

With ‘bloodbath,’ Trump is undermining the election’s outcome in advance to prime followers for violence

He’s done this all before, writes Stephen Robinson.

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Editor’s note: The following essay first appeared in The Play Typer Guy, Stephen’s newsletter about politics and the arts. –JS

Donald Trump threatened political violence again at his hate rally in Ohio this weekend. He’s a known rapist, so this is very much in character, but he’s also the Republican nominee for president with a bizarre cult-like following. That’s dangerous.

“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,” Trump said. “It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country. That will be the least of it.”

Trump’s defenders insist we process this quote in its larger context. See, Trump was actually talking about the trade war he wants to escalate with China over auto manufacturing. Trump totally has policies that aren’t just violent intimidation and revenge! His defenders apparently think we’re very stupid.

Everyone MAGA loathes is beneath the very laws that Trump and the January 6 insurrectionists openly defy.

“If you’re listening, President Xi — and you and I are friends — but he understands the way I deal,” he blustered. “Those big monster car manufacturing plants that you’re building in Mexico right now … you’re going to not hire Americans and you’re going to sell the cars to us, no. We’re going to put a 100 percent tariff on every single car that comes across the line, and you’re not going to be able to sell those cars if I get elected.”

Trump warned that if he doesn’t win the upcoming election, “I’m not sure that you’ll ever have another election in this country.” His hyperbole is especially unwarranted since he’s allowed to run for president again after having attempted a coup the last time.

Karoline Leavitt, Trump’s willing campaign spokesperson, told NBC News, “Biden’s policies will create an economic bloodbath for the auto industry and autoworkers.”

This is untrue even in the traditional political sense, but it’s an obvious lie that Trump was only talking about the auto industry. Trump is campaigning for president while out on bail for serious felonies. He should reasonably avoid violent rhetoric, but he also shouldn’t have a reasonable shot at reclaiming the White House. This is a weird country.

The Biden campaign immediately denounced Trump’s “bloodbath” remarks. Spokesperson James Singer called Trump “a loser who gets beat by over 7 million votes and then instead of appealing to a wider mainstream audience doubles down on his threats of political violence.”

“He wants another January 6, but the American people are going to give him another electoral defeat this November because they continue to reject his extremism, his affection for violence, and his thirst for revenge,” Singer added.

The “American people” will not overwhelmingly reject Trump, though. A decisive majority is only impressive when the sizable minority accepts the results and doesn’t resort to violence. That didn’t happen in 2020, and there’s legitimate reason to fear it won’t happen this year, either. It’s concerning when Democrats act as if winning the election will prevent the “bloodbath” Trump threatens.

Taking Trump literally and seriously
Back in 2016, Anthony Scaramucci — then a member of Trump’s presidential transition executive committee — told MSNBC, “No, no, no, no, don’t take him literally, take him symbolically … See, it’s different.”

But Trump is not a complex Nathaniel Hawthorne novel. He’s a vicious screed written on a dirty cocktail napkin. There is no deeper meaning to his words. He’s barely shallow. Everything he says is exactly as awful as you might think, usually worse.

Trump’s Ohio rally was ostensibly a get-out-the-vote effort for Republican Senate candidate Bernie Moreno, a wealthy Cleveland businessman who once repudiated Trump, referring to him as a “lunatic” and a “maniac.” He once said listening to Trump speak was like “watching a car accident that makes you sick, but you can stop looking.” He apparently couldn’t stop looking and surrendered his self-respect for Trump’s support in Tuesday’s primary. Moreno now considers Trump a “great American” and he called out the Republicans who were ever critical of the mad MAGA king.

“I am so sick and tired of Republicans that say, ‘I support President Trump’s policies but I don’t like the man,’” he said Saturday with no trace of dignity.

Of course, Trump predictably made the rally all about himself. When he took the stage, he saluted as the loudspeakers blared “Justice For All,” the MAGA hymn from the “J6 Choir” — inmates awaiting trial for their part in the January 6 Capitol attack. This is symbolism that we should take seriously. He’s clearly communicated that he believes himself and his droogs above the law. He’s vowed to pardon those already convicted of January 6 offenses, which includes seditious conspiracy and assaulting law enforcement.

“My first acts as your next President will be to Close the Border, DRILL, BABY, DRILL, and Free the January 6 Hostages being wrongfully imprisoned!” Trump posted last week on his jacklegged social media site.

Casting insurrectionists as political prisoners makes them feel like martyrs for a noble cause and not just easily manipulated violent thugs. Trump’s also preemptively granting cover for any future violence they commit in his name.

Trump talks like a mobster
No one seriously believes Trump’s “bloodbath” remarks were strictly about the auto industry, but even his more ardent defenders appreciate the plausible deniability Trump provides. When Trump echoed Hitler last December and said immigrants were “poisoning the blood” of the country, Sen. J.D. Vance from Ohio claimed that “if you watch the speech in context and look at what’s going on, it’s obvious that he was talking about the very clear fact that the blood of Americans is being poisoned by a drug epidemic.”

That’s ridiculous, and Trump further escalated his dehumanizing attacks against undocumented immigrants at Saturday’s rally.

“I don’t know if you call them people,” he said. “In some cases they’re not people, in my opinion. But I’m not allowed to say that because the radical Left says that’s a terrible thing to say.”

He’s not just mocking the “radical Left” but the pathetic hacks who contort themselves into obscene positions defending his twisted words. Henry Farrell at the Washington Post has gone into detail about how Trump communicates like a mob boss. His former “fixer” Michael Cohen said that Trump “doesn’t give orders. He speaks in code. And I understand that code.” Trump’s enablers have claimed he’s only “joking” when he made a threatening comment or asked someone to commit a crime. Trump notoriously lacks an actual sense of humor. The only “joke” is that people still fall for this flimsy excuse.

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“They say ‘you have to vote against him because did you hear what he said about … humanity?’” Trump ranted further. “I’ve seen the humanity and these humanity — these are baaaaad — these are animals, ok? And we have to stop it.”

The Republican nominee for president is a rapist and a criminal defendant in multiple trials. It might seem hypocritical that such a man would dare define anyone’s humanity based on their legal status, but that’s the core of the authoritarian appeal: Everyone MAGA loathes is beneath the very laws that Trump and the January 6 insurrectionists openly defy.

Of course, Trump doesn’t bother appealing to “wider mainstream audience” because he still enjoys the support of a majority of white voters, as the recent Republican primary demonstrated. That is America’s shame. He’s not campaigning like someone who believes he’d win an election legitimately. He’s undermining the results in advance and priming his supporters for violence. What’s happening is no longer unprecedented. He’s done this all before. What’s galling is how free he is to do it again.

Stephen Robinson is the publisher of The Play Typer Guy, a newsletter and podcast about politics and the arts. Follow him @SER1897.

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