“Yeah, we all need someone we can bleed on
Yeah, and if you want it, baby, well you can bleed on me.”
– Mick Jagger/Keith Richards
So this blog is about blood, but these days it seems that to talk about blood constantly involves talking about the Donald J. Trump, President of the United States. This at once very obvious and very odd, but I think there is an actual reason that blood keeps coming up these days, and it has to do both with material blood, blood symbolism,the President’s idea of how drugs and the nation relate, and the Rolling Stones.
On the one hand, we already talked at length at length about the relation of Trump’s infamous sexist attack on Megyn Kelly (then with FOX, now with NBC), in which he alluded to male anxieties regarding female reproductive biology and the menstrual cycle and which he later claimed never to have meant that way. So it isn’t surprising that artists leveraged the powerful symbolic protest menstrual painting can have against him. Of course menstrual art is far older than even Mr. Trump and blood art as such has been around far longer than that (in the US at least since New York artist Axel started using blood in 1969).
Nor are all of the reactions to Trump painted in menstrual blood. The most recent in a long series of human blood art criticizing him is a beautiful wall mural by artist Illma Gore, created in January in cooperation with the Indecline collective, called “Rouse up Thy Young Blood”:
The image of a collective of ethnic groups targeted by Trump’s statements and policies refers to a Shakespeare quote,
God in thy good cause make thee prosperous!
Be swift like lightning in the execution;
And let thy blows, doubly redoubled,
Fall like amazing thunder on the casque
Of thy adverse pernicious enemy:
Rouse up thy youthful blood, be valiant and live. (Richard II, I.3.83-7)
So the protest side offers a call to action with an emphasis of embodied identity, the tangible protest of persons who oppose an intimate threat against them. The youthful vigor of their blood urges the protestors to oppose the retrograde ideas of an old man. I’ll get back to this later.
Of course not nearly all Trump blood news is about protest. It’s strange how often blood just pops up as a topic in connection with him. Some of that comes with the office. For example, when some sites obsessed over the new Presidential limousine’s blood storage, I knew it was clickbait. Presidents have long ridden around in limousines with a miniature blood bank just for that one person. The earliest I could find was Clinton’s car, but I am pretty sure the Reagan assassination attempt increased measures taken to have a full medical set on hand.
The truly surprising thing is the number of times the President himself mentions blood, however. I already explored some of Trump’s blood rhetoric, especially in his “Carnage” Inaugural Address. However, in his remarks on February 9, his phrase “destroying the blood of our youth” added another faced to this peculiar fascination with blood. (To be clear, I share the fascination if not the bent, but it is surprising in a President, as I pointed out last time.)
First, I’m directing Department of Justice and Homeland Security to undertake all necessary and lawful action to break the back of the criminal cartels that have spread across our nation and are destroying the blood of our youth and other people, many other people.
His phrase of “destroying the blood of our youth” struck me as peculiar. The only other mention of this phrase I could find comes from a right-wing filmmaker named Merlin Miller, who uses it in an essay about racial purity he wrote for his 2012 candidacy for the white nationalist American Freedom Party (formerly the American Third Position Party or A3P). It seems an odd coincidence to use such a phrase out of nowhere, but do think it is an accident, given the obscurity of the source and that Miller uses it to talk about wars, while Trump echoes his long-standing concern with drug cartels.
There are many things to be bothered about in this passage. I will bracket the equation of the nation’s future and biological offspring for the moment. More obviously, Mr. Trump seems to see blood as what is at stake as far as drugs are concerned, particularly intravenous drugs like heroin. Discussing his views on the drug trade, Politifact quotes his statement from the third Presidential debate: “The single-biggest problem is heroin that pours across our southern borders, just pouring, and destroying their youth and is poisoning the blood of their youth and plenty of other people.” The destruction of the youth’s blood seems to be a rephrasing of this view, that heroin poisons the blood of the youth.
Of course that itself should do nothing to alleviate concerns that Mr. Trump’s policies may unfairly impact specific communities, quite on the contrary. For one, his opinions regarding crime rates, especially regarding what he calls inner city areas, probably a shorthand for African American neighborhoods, are not exactly based on facts. Additionally, in terms of historical precedent, we know that racist sentiments and policies targeting Chinese workers resulted in the Chinese Exclusion Acts, which echo Trump’s policy of “America First.”
Anti-Chinese rhetoric often employed a constant conjunction of persons of Chinese heritage and drugs, especially opium. The racist history of anti-drug policies in connection with the image of a presumably pure blood of youth that the drug sullies and poisons is quite concerning indeed. The Nixon and Reagan administrations created the so-called War on Drugs, knowingly targeting blacks and alternative social groups like the hippies. The narrative of the monster DRUGS provided a cover for deprivation and devastation in communities of color abandoned by their government and often led to private capital take-overs. They can also result in unchecked violence, a possibility that Mr. Trump appears to be ready to accept given his endorsement of the killing campaign of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. These results seems like things Trump would support, and, being a real estate developer in New York City, he surely knew the way the story played out there:
The blatant hypocrisy in which communities of color are threats to public safety and the white victims of this second wave of the opioid epidemic in the US the nation’s lost children is not lost on commentators.
But even though proponents of the War on Drugs certainly engage in some hyperbolic, symbol-laden speech, Trump’s image of the poisoned blood of the youth seems different. Alternate formulations from his stump speech include “poisoning the blood of their youth” and “drugs are poisoning our youth.” Of course he is right in a very banal sense: drugs are neurotoxins. But Trump’s peculiar phrase evokes an image of corruption, of a lost purity, of a devious attack on youthful health and vigor.
This is the echo I find important in light of Trump’s “Carnage” Inaugural. Let’s recall one of the many gloomy images:
Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted out factories, scattered like tombstones across the across the landscape of our nation, an education system flush with cash, but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge, and the crime, and the gangs, and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.
Blooming youth and beauty amid death and gloom, rust, decay, and disorder, haunted by spectral creatures, criminals, gangs. We know these images from the War on Drugs rhetoric, but Trump takes the Gothic aspect to a new level, summing the vision of evil up as “carnage,” a particularly bloody and fleshy image for disorder. As I explained in the last post, Trump emphasizes the idea that patriotism and national identity are most fully expressed through blood and the death of the patriot. The “American carnage” is, however, not part of this image. Dying in these bleak landscapes offers no hope of national unity, but it is wasted potential because it lacks the nationalist justification for the bloodshed.
Blood is only good when it is pure and shed in the name of the nation–a bionationalism idea that for all its vagueness does echo eugenic language. To limit legitimate belonging to a pure, unspoiled blood in one territory brings together the worst of political Romanticism. To Trump, bleeding as such offers no benefit or connection because blood is not human, it is national. So I think that Gore and Idecline are absolutely right to counter this idea by offering material blood as a bridge, a connection that permeates the walls Trump’s words build. Blood is the stuff of life, solidarity, friendship, and love, not a morbid sacrifice to be shed on the altar of this imagined nation.
Trump famously and oddly insisted on using the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” as his campaign song–to the band’s dismay. I have a hunch that he is actually not a big Stones fan, or he might know the other songs on the same album, like the title track “Let it Bleed.” Mick Jagger and Keith Richards once gave us an image of intimacy, erotic and emotional, that culminated in the image of bleeding on the other. The bodily fluid here offers a vision of vulnerability and trust, an ideal bond shared between two partners. It seems the opposite of what blood seems to mean for Trump, a bionationalist apocalypse that to me ultimately seems neither like Shakespeare nor like the Rolling Stones, but more like Frank Miller.