What we need and don’t need from progressives in the age of Trump

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In the aftermath of the most recent midterm elections and the swearing in of the 116th Congress, there has been one standout taking the media by storm: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Brought into the spotlight after a shocking upset when she won the Democratic primary for New York’s 14th District back in June 2018, 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez is now the youngest woman ever elected to Congress.

Aside from the unexpected win, Ocasio-Cortez also has garnered attention from all sides of the political spectrum for pushing progressive policies that line up with her beliefs as a self-proclaimed democratic socialist. Several of these policies include tuition-free public college, a marginal tax on the rich at 70 percent and the abolishment of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Many conservative pundits have made Ocasio-Cortez the the focus of their attacks, while liberals tend to side with her strong-willed and seemingly authentic personality.

In the era of increasing polarization in Washington D.C., introducing Ocasio-Cortez and her headstrong personality into Congress is ultimately a hazard. Her impulsive tendency to fire back against criticism on social media is reminiscent of President Donald Trump’s behavior; and while expressing her prioritization of morals can be interpreted as commendable, as she’s trying to highlight what she believes the right wing lacks, undermining the importance of facts in policymaking is also not helpful in pushing back against an already dishonest administration.

In spite of fierce attacks from the GOP and conservative media, Ocasio-Cortez has still managed to gain a large social media following, especially on Twitter, where she has now surpassed the follower count of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. This is an evident nod towards the audience of young voters she’s attracting, given the popularity of social media amongst the younger generation. But this also brings up a problem in the way voters are choosing their candidates. This past midterm election showed that young voter turnout, especially among college students, is increasing. Accompanying this surge in voter participants, we’re also starting to witness an issue with the growing culture of identity politics.

Looking at the 2018 midterm elections reaffirms the idea that America has started to lean towards voting based on physical characteristics and not political ideologies. Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez is one of the many “firsts” we witnessed from the outcome of the midterms. Aside from the victories, we also witnessed a record-breaking amount of female, minority and LGBTQ nominees running for office in general. Despite the historically groundbreaking wins we witnessed from the midterms, such as the election of the first Native American and Muslim women to the House, there are flaws inherent identity politics; namely, that voting on the basis of identity devalues fact-based voting, which is most vital to a strong democracy.

We also live in an age where outwardly expressing opposition to identity politics can be interpreted as not wanting inclusivity and representation, two key concerns which have recently dominated the political and social discourse. Seeing someone who comes from a background familiar to voters might be engaging in terms of being able to relate to a candidate, but it’s also important to keep in mind the necessity of still listening to their stance on public policy. Just because the look of a nominee physically resembles a voter doesn’t mean they may necessarily have their best interests at heart.

Going back to her prominence on social media, Ocasio-Cortez has certainly not shied away from remaining true to her outspoken personality on these platforms. However, the aggressive way she uses Twitter is close to mirroring Trump’s behavior on social media, in terms of the way both are quick to respond to their respective critics with a backhanded sense of pettiness.

Instances of Ocasio-Cortez’s social media blitzes include the time she responded to Donald Trump Jr.’s joke about socialists eating dogs by encouraging him to “keep it coming,” reminding Trump Jr. that she is now part of a body that has subpoena power. She also quote-tweeted a video in which she was booed by the GOP in the House, saying “Don’t hate me cause you ain’t me, fellas.” A particularly popular moment on Twitter that totaled over 700,000 likes and 160,000 retweets is a video of her dancing after being criticized for a resurfaced video of Ocasio-Cortez dancing in her undergraduate years at Boston University.

Her responses could be part of her attempt to appeal to young voters and trying to appear more relatable to them by actively using social media and having rapid-fire responses to any online trolls. The latter definitely plays to the popularity of today’s “call out” culture amongst teenagers. In some ways, it’s refreshing to see someone young and light-hearted taking up Congress in today’s tense political environment. Although this might be a technique to attract a larger audience, what needs to be left behind is the often immature quips that come from her, as Congress is still ultimately a body of professional decorum, and stooping to the level of ridicule that Trump uses to get his messages across isn’t going to quell the amount of hostility present in the government today.

Given the attention she’s received and the ways she has utilized her social platform, key members of the Democratic party have come to endorse her, despite some blunders Ocasio-Cortez has made in terms of discussing policy. Senator Elizabeth Warren has praised some of Ocasio-Cortez’s causes and Senator Kamala Harris has publicly endorsed Ocasio-Cortez on The View, claiming that her ideas are worth giving a listen to.

These supportive sentiments have been given even as Ocasio-Cortez confused some voters with accidental falsehoods. It’s very easy for politicians to miscalculate numbers and overstate claims, but that doesn’t mean they should deflect the blame onto another topic and not address the false statements. A notable tweet that got fact-checked by The Washington Post read out the assertion that 66 percent of her proposed “Medicare for All” could have been funded by now by the Pentagon in terms of their defense spending amount. In actuality, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) found that completely defunding the military would only pay off one-fifth of the $32 trillion it would take to cover Medicare for All. Given her ambitious agenda, some also have wondered as to how she plans to pay for the expensive policies she wants enacted in the U.S. When asked this question on 60 Minutes, instead of giving a more direct answer, Ocasio-Cortez brought up the point of how Republicans didn’t seem to regard the economic consequences when they passed their $1.5 trillion tax cut, and therefore she found it unfair that she was being asked to explain the payment plans for her policies.

Also given the popularity she’s gained among Democrats, this implies the possibility of her pushing the Democratic Party towards the left, which poses multiple risks. We’re already caught in a divisive political environment, and although there are left-leaning policies that sit well with with most Americans (such as the 87 percent of Americans who support DACA and the 66 percent of Americans who support legalization of marijuana), the Democratic Party faces a possibility of losing their base if they continue shifting towards the left and allow themselves to make a democratic socialist the face of the Democratic Party.

Fighting fire with fire has long been a suggestion for battling aggressive forces. Perhaps right now, responding to Trump’s governing style with an actor who is just as loud and rambunctious is being weighed as a feasible option. But the reality is what we’re witnessing with the influence of Ocasio-Cortez is simply another factor contributing to the antagonistic partisan climate in our nation’s capital. Further driving cleavages within the branches of government isn’t going to be a long-term solution if we want a productive policy-making environment. It will only lead to more stalemates in which neither side wants to budge, such as the record-breaking government shutdown we’re witnessing right now.

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