Politicians are usually static throughout their careers, those far on the left will usually stay there, pragmatists will stay pragmatists, demagogues usually won’t change their stripes. It’s the landscape that changes, the norms and atmosphere, and while the context may change, personalities and ingrained ideologies seldom do.
The first Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez appeared in the limelight, her tropes were clear: identity politics, social media obsession, and demagoguery. Leaving aside her ideology, her presentation, her tactics, should be repulsive to anyone who thinks deeply about politics. Initially, her attention seeking, her inability to compromise, these were what appeared worth despising, but it took a lot longer to nail down why she drives down American politics to the lowest common denominator.
She, like some of the other gang of four, their primary aim to remain vocal and grandstand on every hot issue they can, in a self-serving media frenzy, while ignoring the interests of their constituents or the US as a whole. This trend, composed of a group of representatives, most of whom have less political or life experience than the average congressional staffer, thrust into the limelight against the the Speaker of the House, their faces shown more on CNN than Pelosi herself. Attention seeking is one thing, but they sought Democratic support while they challenged the basis of the Democratic party itself, and they took people, representatives who had served under the party longer than they had been alive, as their political enemies, in an ultra-radical litmus testing. This is jarring. The number of followers in their twitter-spheres had them convinced they were in the right, when really, they were a fringe minority, in a minority party in government, who combined had about as much political leverage as Steve Bannon.
The party needs reform, period. However, it appears from the outside that they don’t actually care about the party, and in fact, they may not have cared much about their core issues either, as could be seen how they jumped from topic to topic depending on what was in the news that week and focus only on a small niche of topics. Their main purpose seemed to be self-promotion. They were readying up the followers, a power base, from which they would be politically important for years to come. This will likely be important to them in the future, after their two year terms end, and their calls to primary democratic candidates everywhere earn them retaliation from the much more politically savvy leaders whom they had managed to piss off.
AOC could be labelled as the left’s version of Trump. Another example of an attention seeking politician, masquerading as an outsider, and then exploiting the office for personal fame and ego. Riling up the most extreme in their party, making inane promises, inevitably failing to deliver, and then blaming saboteurs and “weak” members of their own party. Most of all though, she resembles Trump for her complete lack of willingness to be pragmatic, to compromise, to not realize in their youthful naïveté that political movements come and go, mandates happen, parties’ fates’ change, but to accomplish anything real, to win anything in Washington D. C., it takes more than a strong ego. It takes coalition building not party destruction. They have built a small social media following, but when it comes time to vote on key issues, the four of them have only four votes. They have made far more enemies than friends, and that is the road to accomplishing just about nothing – for a lonely quartet of freshman members, in the minority party in government, serving two year terms, in the lower house of Congress.
Raising the profile of important issues would have been admirable, and this members of the left wing, who are skeptical about the Democratic party, justify their behavior as if there is no alternative, or as if they stayed focused on any single issue long enough to do anything. However, there is more than one way to raise the profile of important issues, and throwing your party into an uncivil war is not a recipe for dialogue, it is a recipe for division, and potential losses in 2020. If they want to make the Democratic party more progressive, more power to them. Instead, they use their voices to stir internal divisions, cause infighting, and hurt Democratic chances to improve their standing in 2020 by threatening primary challenges, publicly challenging party bills when there are no alternatives, and implying that they are being discriminated against by their own speaker because of the way they look. They put themselves over the good of the country, their own party, and their constituents when they try to buck the system without any chance of success, hurting the viability of the Democratic party in 2020 when their singular focus on identity politics comes back to haunt them.
When AOC referring to culling divisions within the party as suppressing “singling out… women of color,” she loses her credibility, and she managed to sabotage her own moral high ground before the group made the same claim about Trump’s tweeting later this week.
The Democratic party is the one that stood up for civil rights. African-American civil rights leaders found a home in the party, and the party together fought to the death for racial equality in the 1960s, causing the biggest party switch in American history and then losing the American South for decades. This took place decades before any of these congresswomen were born. Making every single issue in American politics, including the divisions in the party, an aspect of identity politics, agism, sexism, and racism, this is a fraud. Those claims damage AOC’s credibility labeling her clashes with Pelosi a consequence of this.
This is a surefire way to lose the American heartland. People in the rural Midwest, in the South, they do not think constantly in terms of identity, and when the news from Democratic constantly beckons to identity politics, this repulses the vast majority of Americans in the states which Democrats need for the Senate and electoral college.
Only the following week after calling out one of the heads of her own party for “picking on” her, the group then attempted to lead that same party to call out Trump’s tweets that they construed to be a racist dog-whistle. Apparently, this singular veiled twitter rant was too far for them.
Nearly three years of breaking down institutions, defecating on the constitution, conspiring to commit and conceal crimes in office, and blurring the distinction between private in public in a more flagrant and obscene fashion than has been seen in a hundred years was not their breaking point, a tweet was.
People who do truly love America should be weeping at this, that the latest idiotic tweet in a souring discourse was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and not the litany of institutional bulldozing and constitutional breakdown that has been perpetrated over the last nearly three years.
AOC finds herself, as usual at the center of this storm. The perpetual victim/hero. She has epitomized herself as the female, left-wing, mirror image of Donald Trump, willing to say anything, even patent falsehoods, to deny responsibility for her own political missteps and crude misunderstanding of the complexity of both US and international politics.
Her worst crime of all, though, is she has attempted to take American politics, and fraudulently dichotomize it into right and wrong, and of course, she is on the right. Sound familiar?
Left and Right, urban rural, religious secular, as much as we all know that there is a gradient to all these categorizations, to every set of beliefs, demagogues would have us believe that there is only one right answer, but this is not true. Many of these issues, and many of the people who passionately believe in them, find their reasons based more on values than on realistic policy ideals, and this needs to be recognized in order to change minds or make any kind of compromise. Name calling and spewing vitriol closes the ears of political opponents. Without being able, and willing, to understand the perspectives of the other political side, instead of instinctively slurring and othering them, nothing will get done. Donald Trump’s impotence at every real legislative effort he has made exemplifies this. In order to solve this problems, she is right, we need to have a discussion about these topics, to think deeply, but that doesn’t mean a barrage of grandstanding. It means critical deconstruction of these issues, most crucially separating the issues so that compromise can be made by granting concessions on less important issues. That is how bills get passed.
Unless the constitution is amended, it is mathematical fantasy to think that the Democratic party will have a supermajority in the Senate at any time for the next several decades. The uncompromising, radical wings of the tea party, the freedom caucus, McConnell’s Senate earned nearly nothing for themselves in the nearly decade long period of power. This will continue to be the case for both parties, regardless of who is in power in 2020. Real progress will require compromise.
Giving credence to extremism, not of ideology, but extremism of tactics, is harmful to our democracy, regardless of what side it falls on. The best thing to be done, for those who are true believers in the left, is not to censor, and not to grandstand and call it out, since polarization has made this a nearly useless tool. It is for the masses to ignore extremism, because what it seeks is attention. Without oxygen, a flame will suffocate.
Staff writer: Ari B