In battle, blood is weakness. Blood is loss. Blood is a visual symbol that, while one may have fought valiantly, one was also—at least for a moment—bested by another. In battle, the one who bleeds is the Loser (Sad!); the one who does not is the Winner.
Donald Trump, it’s often said, sees the world—and human life in general—as a roiling battlefield, and the people within it, consequently, as a collection of Victors and Vanquished who can be easily sorted as such. So it was both shocking and deeply unsurprising—a situation that is becoming less and less paradoxical as this unorthodox presidency goes on—to read the tweets that President Trump sent out on Thursday morning: about Joe Scarborough, a little, but mostly about his Morning Joe co-host, Mika Brzezinski. They were tweets mocking weakness. They were tweets mocking vanity. They were tweets about blood.
I heard poorly rated @Morning_Joe speaks badly of me (don't watch anymore). Then how come low I.Q. Crazy Mika, along with Psycho Joe, came..— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
...to Mar-a-Lago 3 nights in a row around New Year's Eve, and insisted on joining me. She was bleeding badly from a face-lift. I said no!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 29, 2017
The tweets, on the one hand, were simply another volley in the administration’s ever-ramping battle against the American press—tweets in line with the accusation the deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders made, earlier this week, about the media somehow being, as an institution, “fake news.” They featured typical Trumpian insults that were in line, despite their pettiness, with what increasingly seems to be the grander rhetorical project of this presidency, which is to delegitimize the mediating role of the media, and, consequently, to destabilize the notion of communal truth.
So, fine. Shocking, unsurprising, etc. But then there was the blood thing. The thing that aimed to delegitimize Brzezinski not merely according to her job performance—not even, as is Trump’s wont, according to her appearance—but according to her ability to bleed. To bleed, his implication went, in the name of vanity. Scarborough, here, was merely “Psycho”; Brzezinski, however, was “low I.Q.” [sic] and also “Crazy” and, also, “bleeding”—“badly,” no less—from her “face-lift.”
The accusation, first of all, seems to be another case of “fake news”: This, as CNN’s Brian Stelter noted, was Brzezinski on the evening in question:
But the insult also calls to mind, of course, the president’s dismissal, in 2015, of Brzezinski’s fellow woman-on-television, Megyn Kelly, as having “blood coming out of her wherever.” And, in that, the accusation calls to mind the long cultural history of delegitimizing women as people because of their biological associations with blood. Blood, again, as weakness. Blood as dirtiness. “Bloody” as an insult, largely because it suggests unruly femininity. Here was Donald Trump, basically, in the blithe-yet-knowing manner that is so common in his rhetoric, tapping into all that history with an impressive economy of words. Here was the White House, meeting the Red Tent.
What’s especially striking about the American president’s blood-feuding, here, is that American pop culture has, in recent years, made explicit efforts to remove the regressive associations between women and blood. Artists and creators, women and men, have gone out of their way to normalize that most obvious connection between blood and femininity: the period. Broad City devoted an especially brilliant episode to Ilana’s search, on an international plane flight, for a tampon. The Daily Show’s Michelle Wolf, for the evening filling the role of “senior period correspondent,” offered viewers a long, explanatory segment about menses. Key & Peele aired a “seminar” that attempted, to hilarious effect, to explain periods to clueless dudes. The “Menzies” episode of New Girl found Jess’s male roommates suffering sympathy periods and putting, yes, the “men” in “menstruation.” The Handmaid’s Tale has reworked a story that is fundamentally about the dark consequences of understanding women primarily according to their ability to bleed.
But that’s American pop culture. The American president seems to prefer a different approach. The American president, it seems, looks at a woman and sees, first and foremost, a body. One that is susceptible to the weakness that any body will be, in the end. But one that also, in Donald Trump’s grand battlefield, is a little bit weaker, a little bit less, than the others. Earlier this week, as Trump conducted a phone call with the new Irish prime minister, he interrupted the conversation with his fellow head of state to compliment a reporter’s “nice smile.” The reporter, it will come as a shock and as no surprise at all, was a woman.