We’ve already seen, repeatedly, that when Donald Trump wants to attack women the first go-to is that they’re either stupid or crazy and likely both. In this he is hardly unique. But in today’s attack on Mika Brzezinski what stood out was his insistence that he refused to meet with her at Mar-a-Lago because “she was bleeding badly from a face-lift.”
There wouldn’t be anything out of the ordinary about Brzezinski having some minor plastic surgery or experiencing some post-operative complications. I have no idea whether she had plastic surgery. (It is worth noting that CNN’s Brian Stelter published a picture from the day in question which seems to show that Trump’s claim is demonstrably false, even in the narrowest sense.) Obviously part of this jab is an attack on Brzezinski’s looks and age. But the big thing is the reference to blood, the line everyone has I think rightly fixed upon.
Trump’s attack on Brzezinski immediately recalls his earlier outburst at Megyn Kelly for having “blood coming out of her wherever.” When Trump is filled with rage at a woman the imagery of profuse bleeding is apparently irresistible. What is that about? Certainly with Kelly it was at some level a reference to menstruation, a bodily function that Trump finds shameful. References to intimate bodily functions, especially women’s, are all shameful to Trump. Remember in December 2015, Hillary Clinton was a few moments late coming back from a commercial bathroom break during a Democratic debate. At a campaign rally days later Trump described the moment like this. “I know where she went — it’s disgusting, I don’t want to talk about it. No, it’s too disgusting. Don’t say it, it’s disgusting.”
The references to blood stand out, partly as an emblem of the shame of the female body but I think even more because blood and injury, deep in the human psyche, are symbols of humiliation and even shame. There’s a reason why we treat the privacy of the gravely wounded or dying as something almost akin to the privacy we afford to unclothed bodies. Injury is not only weakness and shame but a searing intimacy and vulnerability. It doesn’t match with our reasoned sensibilities that injury or bleeding is tied to weakness or shame or humiliation. But any tour of millennia of art and literature and even religion – perhaps especially religion – will tell you that this connection is deeply embedded in our culture and even our psyches. Look at the mutilation of the body reserved for the most subversive political crimes in centuries past. Read Paul’s letters in the New Testament. Jesus’s crucifixion and death are not just suffering. They are shame and a humiliation. That is the essence of Pauline christology.
Whether it is the ‘disgusting-ness’ of the intimate acts of women’s bodies – menstruation, a woman urinating – or this more general shame and humiliation of being seen bleeding or injured it comes back to the same thing: Trump’s focus on humiliation, the shame of being among the dominated as opposed to those doing the dominating. For Trump, the entire economy of human relations is reduced to this dichotomy. It is a snapshot of the brutal and abusive whirlwind the whole country is caught up in.