Words matter

Donald Trump speaks at an Ohio rally on March 16. Screenshot from C-SPAN video

Kurt Meyer writes a weekly column for the Nora Springs – Rockford Register and the Substack newsletter Showing Up, where this essay first appeared. He serves as chair of the executive committee (the equivalent of board chair) of Americans for Democratic Action, America’s most experienced liberal organization.

“Words matter.” It’s a simple message, one I’ve cited before, short enough to be printed on a lapel button. I know this, thinking back a dozen years, to when I worked for the National Council of Churches (NCC), a national Christian organization. There were indeed buttons circulating around NCC offices with these two words on display. 

The “words matter” message was in support of more inclusive, less male dominant language… in church documents, in congregations, in outreach conversations, and most certainly, in our thinking. Memories of this button surfaced after reading reports and seeing video clips of the former president speaking at an Ohio rally prior to that state’s primary. One word he used that day was “bloodbath” (the New York Times spells it as two words). It’s an unusually powerful term—like massacre, genocide, holocaust—meaning usage requires considerable care and caution.

Quoting the former president: “Now, if I don’t get elected, it’s going to be a bloodbath, for the whole—that’s going to be the least of it. It’s going to be a bloodbath for the country.” Spokespersons, supporters, and the former president all contend he was speaking specifically about the automobile industry. Maybe; maybe not.

Analysis about context and intent is mixed. Is this a threat? A prediction? A rallying cry? Perhaps a precise meaning isn’t significant here; interpretation depends solely on what people hear, where their minds go. With ambiguity, it may be all the above, plus a not-so-subtle call to arms.

Let me be crystal clear about my thoughts after several days of rumination. This language is extremely dangerous in our country at this time, especially the word bloodbath. It’s playing with matches amid very dry tinder. We’re 40 months removed from a violent attack on our Capitol by our own citizens, an effort to physically stop Congress from carrying out its sworn duties. 

Two people with roots in my rural community traveled to D.C. to participate in this insurrection. (They either are serving or have served time.) Within 36 hours of the violence on January 6, five people died and 174 police officers were injured. Four more officers on duty that day took their own lives within seven months. Is that literally a “bloodbath”? I’m not sure. But I do know those deaths and injuries should have never happened. 

I share a desire for context, not just for the Ohio rally comment mentioned above, but for remarks before and after as well. The event opened with this announcement: “Ladies and gentlemen, please rise for the horribly and unfairly treated January 6 hostages.” The national anthem then played, as recorded by the “J6 Prison Choir.” The former president referred to January 6 defendants as “hostages” and “amazing people.”

Referring to migrants at the same rally, the former president said, “In some cases, they’re not people, in my opinion.” Without supporting evidence, he claimed other countries were freeing their prisons of “young people” and sending them across the border. He referred to them later as “animals.” Zachary Basu reported for Axios noted that comments included “insults, obscenities and dehumanizing rhetoric about immigrants.” (Mercifully, they’re not included here.) 

It’s worth noting, most migrants who cross the border are vulnerable family members fleeing violence and poverty. Ironically, the former president was in Ohio to campaign for Bernie Moreno, himself an immigrant, born in Colombia. Three days after the rally, Moreno won the Senate nomination in Ohio.

Several concluding thoughts: For the sake of our country and for our future as a democracy, we should expect political candidates across the spectrum to conduct themselves with civility, honesty, and respect for the office sought. Language credibly labeled as insulting, obscene, and dehumanizing is inexcusable and totally unacceptable. Opinions can differ about definitions, but the American public must ultimately “just say no,” as Nancy Reagan once said. 

The public must both expect and require more from those seeking public office. How? By not voting for those who fail to meet even the most modest standards of conduct. So, does any particular candidate come to mind?

About the Author(s)

Kurt Meyer

  • Here we go again

    The “bloodbath” criticism of Trump has been widely debunked, he was referring to imports of cheaper foreign cars. Ironically, the author of this misleading piece worked for churches that claim drinking blood from human sacrifice.

    That said, the way Trump speaks of immigrants is shameful. And so is the current lawless open border scheme. Poor people are neither animals nor tools to increase Democrat representation in US Congress. They are human beings, they deserve to be treated fairly and according to our laws.

  • better to focus on his actions and the plans he & his ilk are promising to enact in the future

    like Molly does here: