Trump and AOC: Twitter Royalty

No politician has as much social currency among young voters as Alexandria Ocasio Cortez. After being elected to Congress at the age of 27, she has effectively positioned herself as the Democrats’ marketing strategist. Her choice to host live Instagram sessions with her followers while making food and talking about political issues has every member of the Democratic Party in a frenzy to capture her appeal.

No doubt she inspired everything from Elizabeth Warren crackin’ open a cold one in her own Instagram livestream, to Beto O’Rourke chatting with fans while getting a root canal, to Kamala Harris getting down to Cardi B. These continued efforts fall flat in spectacularly cringe fashion for the simple reason that they were imitations, not the real thing.

Another way she succeeds at the game of social media is in the way she channels Donald Trump. Although she doesn’t label media reports that are unfavorable to her “fake news”, her singular response to legitimate criticism is to mock and dismiss the outlets that fact check her. She tells us that fact checkers like to “blow up one figure here or one word there” because they’re more concerned with being “precisely, factually, or semantically correct.” When it turns out that that “one figure” turns out to be the false claim that a misplaced $21 trillion dollars in Pentagon money could pay for medicare-for-all, we’re missing the “forest for the trees.” What would have provoked an endless stream of takes that tell us Trump has launched yet another assault on the free press, Cortez’s thinly veiled outcries about fake news elicit praise from the likes of Brian Stelter.

AOC’s error-prone nature isn’t news to anyone. More interesting is the truth about human nature that she unwittingly stumbles into. Repeated factual errors like these go overlooked for the same reason that they do when Donald Trump makes them; she taps into the motivating political mood of her base like nobody else in her party. The details are just noise, what matters is the ultimate goal. The political game is rarely won by facts, but by guttural feelings.

As social psychologist Jonathan Haidt would put it, she speaks to the elephant rather than the rider. The elephant in this analogy represents the emotional impulses of the person you’re trying to persuade, and the rider is their rational conscience. Simply calling her out for her factual shortcomings is not close to being enough— in other words, it misses the forest for the trees.

The answer to that fundamental problem is murky at best. It’s arguable that rationalism can never trump that base human desire. But there remains a worse error AOC’s critics make, which would be their attacks on what makes her so popular in the first place. That same social media savvy is mocked all too often by boomer MAGA accounts that somehow garner a lot of attention, attacking her for the most superficial of reasons. What follows is an inevitable AOC quote tweet that rightfully mocks the person trying to dunk on her, catapulting her further to the top. As a matter of practicality, these boomers offer themselves as a ramp for AOC to do a kick-flip off of.

Examples include such hits as the many renditions of her looking like a horse, as though people who agree with her political agenda are going look at her gaping mouth and think to themselves, “Wow, free college tuition and a green new deal sound just as ridiculous as they are.” They’re no different than the ridiculously exaggerated portrayals of any politician’s physical traits, including the left’s favorite hobby of making Trump look like an orange Jabba the Hutt.

Just as childishly cartoonish caricatures don’t do anything to undermine her social capital, lying about her clothing advice won’t, either. And yet we see ludicrous examples doing this blow up for no good reason. Despite that she literally says to "have multiple outfits ready so that you don't have to spend your mental energy thinking about it", a massively viral tweet goes on to mock her for wearing the same pajamas every day, and thousands don’t think to question it.

This feeds into AOC and her supporters’ personal favorite, which are the attacks on her clothing choice. These, in their view, demonstrate an innate bias in how we treat male and female politicians. That idea is largely ludicrous, but in the random cases it happens she seizes it as evidence of that worldview.

It should almost go without saying that most of the reasons people criticize her are because of her inability to have a basic grasp on seemingly any issue, but that’s not what it looks like when posts like these continually dominate the conversation Much of the time she purposely inflates how often this occurs to her advantage, but she’s not always wrong. It allows AOC to skirt by and suggest that her critics are “obsessed” with her, even while she shapes the Democratic Party’s internet presence in her image. Trump’s nonconventional internet presence allowed him to do the same to his party. Instead of putting their feet in their mouths, critics would be wise to see that success and channel it, rather than tripping through one cringe attempt after another to dismantle it.

Christian O'Brien