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Is AOC the Future of Politics? Is Trump?

Do these two represent the future of politics?
January 16, 2019
Is AOC the Future of Politics? Is Trump?

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Donald Trump could not be more different as people. Old vs. young; glamorous vs. fat; making ends meet vs. ultra-rich; democratic-socialist vs. populist-conservative.

But as political commodities, they share eerily similar styles.

(1) Invincible Ignorance. One of Trump’s super powers is his total imperviousness to facts or shame. Remember that debate where Hugh Hewitt asked Trump about the “nuclear triad” and it was pretty clear that Trump thought he was talking about a Chinese gang? And yet, the man was totally unfazed. Where another politician might have stammered or been chagrined at being exposed for knowing nothing about an important policy issue, Trump plowed right on through it.

You can laugh about invincible ignorance (and its cousin, shamelessness) but it’s a huge asset in politics.

And AOC has it, too.

She knows very little about the federal government. And in fairness to her, why would she? She’s 29! She’s never held elective office! The federal government is really big and complicated and a lot of people who’ve spent their lives trying to reform it still can’t get their arms around its many, many problems.

What’s more, AOC doesn’t need to understand everything about the government in order to be an effective legislator. She can pick and choose where she wants to leverage her value by getting a deep grasp of a subject.

But doing so would mean having a clear understanding of what she doesn’t know. Instead, like Trump, she seems to have very few doubts, about anything.

(2) Attack the home team.  One of the ironies of the Trump age is that while Democrats hate the president with the fire of a thousand suns, the president doesn’t seem to dislike them all that much. He’s much more comfortable bashing Republicans.

Trump’s entire 2016 primary race was an extended attack on the Republican party. During the brief, 12-week sprint from the convention to Election Day, Trump turned his fire on Hillary Clinton. But after that he went back to attacking the GOP: He’d beat up on Paul Ryan, Jeff Flake, Mitt Romney, Bob Corker—really, anyone who wasn’t paying him the fealty he demanded in the moment he demanded it.

And anyone who watched how ineffective Trump was on the 2018 campaign trail could see that he’s much better suited to attacking Republicans than Democrats.

Same for AOC. Ocassio-Cortez says all the usual stuff about Trump—”no question” he’s a racist—and takes frequent potshots at the media whenever she thinks anyone isn’t being perfectly fair to her. (Just like Trump.) But she seems much more at home attacking the Democratic party:

This was not a one-off. Ocasio-Cortez has gone out of her way not to put to bed concerns that she will—as she did last fall—back primary challengers to sitting Democrats across the country.  As a political matter, everything about her suggests that she’s less interested in flipping red seats to blue, than pushing blue seats to the left.

(3) Army of crazed Twitter followers. Say something unflattering about Donald Trump and your mentions get flooded with his army of flying monkeys freaking out that anyone, anywhere, would dare to suggest that the president might be doing or saying something suboptimal. Some of these Twitter accounts even represent real people.

AOC isn’t in Trump’s Twitter weight-class yet. But she’s the only one even close and she, too, commands an army that’s ready to swarm.

(4) The politics of dominance. When you add it all up, Donald Trump’s chief political mode of operation is the politics of dominance. He never wavers. Never apologizes. Never acknowledges that he’s reversing course. When criticized, he hits back, no matter how mild the criticism or how small the target. His political schtick is that he’s the alpha dog and the alpha dog doesn’t make nice with the other dogs. It makes them submit.

And while the body of evidence we have on AOC’s modus operandi isn’t huge, I think it’s fair to say that, like Trump, she has no interest in apologizing or co-opting or persuading. She’s here to chew bubblegum and kick ass—and she’s all out of bubblegum.

Have a look at her beating up on a derp from Newsmax:

When Joe Lieberman—who knows something about electoral politics—suggested that AOC might not be the future of the Democratic party—she heckled him with a “new party, who dis?”

Lieberman’s point is entirely sensible: The future of the Democratic party is as unlikely to emerge from New York’s 14th District as the future of the Republican party is to emerge from, say, the 4th District of Iowa. To take just a couple of obvious data points: NY 14 is nearly 50 percent Hispanic and the median home value is $516,300; Iowa 4 is 93 percent white and the median home value is $113,400.

Most of America does not look like either of these places.

But AOC wasn’t really interested in having a colloquy with Lieberman about, say, how the economic concerns of dense urban areas are applicable more broadly, or how the future of the Democratic party is a coalition of voters from cities and suburbs. She was interested in putting him in his place and showing dominance. She’s what’s happening now and the rest of the neolibs can get onboard or get steamrolled. This is exactly the Trump view of politics.

The best AOC dominance move followed a Politico piece in which several Democrats openly worried about what her intentions are for the party. Her response:

There’s a lot to love about that tweet. It’s a Watchmen joke! It’s funny! But it’s also the kind of thing one would expect from the queen bee, or the slay qween, or whatever the kids these days call the alpha who’s establishing dominance over her colleagues/rivals.

And now here are the disclaimers: No, AOC doesn’t make fun of people with disabilities and she’s not a misogynist. She has never incited violence from her followers. None of the above is meant to ascribe any sort of moral equivalency between Ocasio-Cortez and Trump. The actual substance of their politics could not be more different.

But their style of politics is incredibly similar. As is the way in which people seem to be responding to it. Trump and AOC inspire both tremendous personal loyalty and antipathy; they consume enormous amounts of political oxygen; and this mode now looks, for better or worse,  like the future of American politics.

Maybe this evolution represents progress, as we trade the old politics of expertise and ambition for a new politics based on authenticity and good intentions.

But I wouldn’t bet on it.

Jonathan V. Last

Jonathan V. Last is editor of The Bulwark.