Most people would say that 160 days into his presidency, Donald Trump has fallen short of even the low expectations harbored by his campaign’s detractors. But there’s one metric by which Trump has far exceeded expectations: his contempt for women. It’s easy to tell by the way he effortlessly spouts misogyny that, to paraphrase Paul Ryan, he’s not new at this.
This morning’s target was Morning Joe co-host Mika Brzezinski. Apparently enraged by the political talk show’s rough treatment of his administration, the president of the United States tweeted: “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 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!”
It’s not clear what specifically prompted Trump’s tirade; it could have been the panelists’ discussion of Trump’s tumbling poll numbers, how their voices were laced with barely disguised glee. But it’s probably because Mika is a woman, and Trump hates any woman that he can’t claim or use.
There’s plenty to parse in this specific Trumpian insult.
We could talk about how Trump could have been making an interesting point about how members of the media curry favor with politicians in private but trash them in public. He couldn’t resist expressing that in such a sexist way that his point was lost.
Then there’s the fact that to the president, women are either “beautiful” or “disgusting.” But there is a third category he apparently reserves for the worst women: “bloody.” (The implication that, for Trump, blood epitomizes repulsiveness might explain why he eats his steaks well done.)
We can talk about how Megyn Kelly and Brzezinski, two of the most privileged and powerful women in their field, are still not immune to the sort of sexism that affects women across America, that no matter what a woman does, a man can shut her up by reminding her that her body is revolting.
One has to wonder what Ivanka Trump, self-professed champion of women’s empowerment™ in the White House, has to say about her dad dragging a woman for undergoing the same cosmetic procedure some of his female relatives have. Or whether Kellyanne Conway still thinks Donald Trump is a super great guy to work for, As A Woman.
There’s the utter unfairness of a fat old man with a pendulous neck demanding perfection from women and then punishing them when they show they’ve expended any effort to achieve it.
All of these details are compelling, but I worry that in focusing on Trump’s more snackable offenses, we lost track of the larger insult he hurls at women in this country. Trump’s comments about Brzezinski, or any individual woman, are much bigger than quick burning outrage that is all but forgotten within 48 hours. We should take statements like today’s as indications of how the president’s contempt for women is manifest in the way he governs.
Before Trump shared the story (which, given his fraught relationship with the truth, should be taken with a massive grain of salt) about Mika’s bloody New Year’s face, the Morning Joe gang was talking about how little the American people care for the Republicans’ suggested replacement for Obamacare.
One of the reasons Americans care so little for it is that it’s particularly cruel toward women and the poor; it slashes Medicaid and defunds Planned Parenthood in addition to allowing states to exclude maternity care from the essential health benefits that insurance policies must cover.
Trump appointed a Supreme Court justice who previously ruled for Hobby Lobby. When the Supreme Court took up Hobby Lobby’s case, it ruled corporations could use their religious beliefs to decline to cover birth control for employees. Men don’t have to worry about this, but, for women, controlling their reproductive destiny is the single biggest contributor to their economic productivity.
Since becoming president, Trump has slashed funding to the United Nations Population Fund, which provides reproductive health care for women in war-torn countries and works to reduce the number of child marriages. His Department of Education is scaling back investigations into sexual assault. Climate change affects women and children more acutely than it does men, and it was Trump who made a show of pulling us out of the Paris climate agreement.
Statements like today’s embarrassing display needle a raw nerve for many women. Most of us have been dismissed by a man like Trump, told we’re disgusting or fat or worthless by somebody with power, over whom we have no recourse. But Mika Brzezinski will be fine. She’s got a job and will probably enjoy a ratings bump tomorrow morning as people tune in to see how she’ll respond to the president.
The real harm Trump does to women rolls over like a poison fog, quietly suffocating the most vulnerable while we’re all getting mad about a tweet.