Trump tore down the walls for the Democrats’ socialist superstar

Rachel Cunliffe
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Democratic Congressional Candidate In New York Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Attends Election Night Party
Why should Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spell out who will pay for free college when Trump got a pass on funding for his wall? (Source: Getty)

Half-baked policy ideas that don’t stand up to economic scrutiny but spread like wildfire across social media.

The ability to tear up the rulebook to forge a new path to power.

A US politician who is almost certainly dramatically under-qualified for the office they hold, but who has captured the imaginations of millions through sheer charisma alone.

Yes, Donald Trump is still President. But the above observations could equally apply to Washington’s new leading lady of socialism: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez – “AOC”, as she is stylishly known on Twitter.

At 29, AOC is the youngest ever member of the US Congress. She is cheerfully photogenic, with a backstory made for the movies – it’s no surprise that, on Wednesday, news leaked of Netflix’s bid for a documentary about her astounding rise.

Raised in the Bronx in New York by working-class Puerto Rican parents, she started her congressional campaign while working as a waitress, and went on to win a primary against a Democratic incumbent who had held the seat for 20 years.

Unsurprisingly, this rags-to-riches insurgent has become a lightning rod for the progressive movement and has been branded the Republican party’s “Latina socialist nightmare”. And she’s a standard bearer for millennial causes too: affordable housing, free college, guaranteed jobs, and, of course, climate change.

Sadly, this is where the gloss somewhat chips off this freshly sworn-in congresswoman – her platform may sound exciting, but much of it falls under the general banner of raising taxes to soak the rich.

Beneath the eloquent soundbites condemning a new age of inequality are the old-school socialist foundations that have been discredited time after time.

The left-leaning media has given her a soft ride, ignoring countless stumbles of policy detail and embarrassing slip-ups. Still, you would think that a woman who appears to have applied an Instagram filter to Bernie Sanders’ platform would be laughed out of Washington.

It’s true that the conservative press appears unhealthily obsessed with her. Last month, Republicans who defended Trump’s infamous “grab ’em by the pussy” tape subsequently fell over themselves to attack a video of AOC dancing at college.

“Here is America’s favorite commie know-it-all acting like the clueless nitwit she is,” read the tagline. No one, it was argued, who had ever danced that wildly and provocatively was worthy of high office.

AOC has also been mocked for revealing that she was struggling to afford the move to Washington before her government salary came through. Fox News criticised her “expensive taste”, displaying photos of her in smart clothes and accusing her of financial irresponsibility.

It’s hard to imagine such comments being made about a man. Similarly, observers of US politics might remember the frequent hissy fits from the conservative corners of the media about Hillary Clinton’s fashion choices. Double standards in the coverage of female politicians are clearly alive and well.

But something interesting is happening with AOC: every time she is targeted, it somehow backfires

“If I walked into Congress wearing a sack, they would laugh & take a picture of my backside,” she tweeted in response to the critique of her clothes. “If I walk in with my best sale-rack clothes, they laugh & take a picture of my backside. Dark hates light – that’s why you tune it out.”

She turned the attack to her advantage, drawing attention both to her working-class background and to the impossible line that women in politics are expected to walk.

And rather than attempt to brush the dancing video under the carpet, she derided her deriders, posting a video of herself dancing outside her new congressional office. Her dance moves have since become a meme.

The ability to win at Twitter isn’t a substitute for a coherent policy platform. Or at least, it didn’t used to be.

But the 2016 election saw a candidate with painstakingly detailed, economically consistent proposals drowned out by a man whose main ideas were to start an unwinnable trade war with China and build a wall that Mexico would pay for.

AOC’s ideas may not pass economic tests. They might mostly be debunked socialist follies reheated with a sexy social media spin. But oh, do they sound appealing to millions of young Americans who don’t think the current Washington elite care about their future.

Whereas Trump went after the disenfranchised blue-collar Americans left behind by globalisation, AOC speaks to the lost generation whose prospects plummeted after the 2008 financial crash.

And while she’s been slated for never having held prior office, it’s hard to argue that inexperience is a limiting factor when the inhabitant of the Oval Office demonstrates daily that he has little grasp of economic, legal, or geopolitical reality.

Why should she spell out who will pay for free college when he got a pass on funding for his wall?

It’s no wonder, then, that some of Trump’s biggest fans, including campaign strategist Steve Bannon, rate her style. And just as establishment politicos were utterly blindsided by Trump’s magic at turning every scandal into fuel to fire up his fanatical base, AOC’s critics are finding that traditional political ammunition makes her stronger.

His supporters don’t want to admit it; hers would be furious at the comparison. But Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a product of the Trumpian political landscape.

He broke down the walls that would have blocked her from power. And it doesn’t look like anyone knows how to build them up again.

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