I recently read a wonderful Op-Ed article that I thought I’d bring to your attention. It’s wonderful, not in the sense of being true; it’s wonderful precisely because of how un-true it is. In this case, the un-truth illustrates a typical strategy of the Establishment: to trivialize anyone who is challenging the power and privilege of the Powers-that-Be. One of those in the firing line, most recently, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. She has taken quite the volley of condescending fire from both the right-wing and from centrists and moderates everywhere.
The language of power and privilege is always condescending. It can take the form of de-humanization, a favorite tactic toward immigrants and people of color more generally, as I noted in yesterday’s post. Another form that this takes is paternal: those who are challenging the power/privilege of the Powers-that-Be are childish, immature, silly, and certainly not intelligent enough for the rest of the adults in the room to take seriously.
Dana Milbank has an opinion piece in The Washington Post, where he assumes the role of the wise, father-knows-best figure, in order to do what Republicans and right-wingers everywhere are doing: announce to the world that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is (more or less) an idiot, a silly little girl. Now, Milbank is not a Republican; he’s a centrist of some sort, and he’s anti-Trump. (From the looks of the titles of his columns in recent years, I’d say he’s pretty obsessed with Trump.) So Milbank begins his column by couching his paternalistic tone in the language of victory, i.e., the Democrats must stay united in order to beat Trump:
If they can stay unified, they will be an effective counterweight to the Trump lunacy, establishing the Democrats as the party to be entrusted with governing. But if they are split by internal divisions, they could become an easy foil for President Trump, lose suburban seats that gave them the House majority and possibly hand Trump a second term.
That’s fair enough, in and of itself, because Party unity can be useful, of course; but it isn’t necessarily true in every case. The Republicans have been a dysfunctional clusterfuck of a political party for about a decade now, and guess who runs Washington? It isn’t Democrats.
In fact, the more divided Republicans have been the more they’ve been winning. Correlation is not causation, so I’m not saying that Republicans have been winning because of their divisions, but politicians like Ted Cruz and Donald Trump have built enthusiastic movements precisely by challenging the status quo and the Party leadership. All of this started with the Tea Party whose manic opposition to Obama grew into a winning political movement that eventually put Trump in the White House. This win streak has shocked the talking heads and professional pundits everywhere.
As old ideas and policies fail, people look for something new and respond positively to leaders who are willing to break with the Establishment. As counterintuitive as it may seem, having a strong opposition wing within your Party seems to have the potential for winning elections, at least that seems to be the case in the current political climate.
But back to Milbank. If Milbank were truly interested in unifying Democrats to defeat Trump, then one would expect a measure of balance and an urgency for compromise, on both sides — but Milbank is only interested in shaming progressives and anyone to the left of the Establishment.
The decision by Ocasio-Cortez and others on the far left about whether to work with or against their party will determine the fate of the new majority and of the resurgent progressive movement.
Every compromise must come from Ocasio-Cortez and the so-called “far left.” “Progressives aren’t solely to blame,” Milbank assures us, yet at no point in his article does Milbank call on Establishment Dems to compromise or give ground. To the contrary, for Milbank the fate of our world depends on whether progressives like Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib can compromise and tone down their rhetoric:
The country is on fire. This is the time for Democrats to be the grown-ups voters want. It’s not the time for Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), mere hours after being sworn in, to tell a cheering crowd that “we’re gonna impeach the mother——.” It’s not the time for Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), without waiting for the Mueller report, to announce plans to introduce articles of impeachment against Trump.
Milbank, by contrast, holds up Pelosi exemplary because Pelosi (the Democrat centrist and Party leader) talks about compromise. She goes so far as to sing the praises of George W. Bush quote Ronald Reagan with approval. Here’s what Milbank says of Pelosi:
Democratic unity is what gives them the upper hand in the shutdown battle, as some Republicans openly question Trump’s strategy. Democratic unity also allows them to appeal to the large majority of Americans disgusted with Trump, as Pelosi did during her acceptance speech, uttering “bipartisan” seven times, praising George H.W. Bush and approvingly quoting Ronald Reagan on immigration.
The above quote also goes to the heart of the matter: for Milbank and other centrists, the end game is getting rid of Trump. For liberals and centrists getting rid of Trump is really the only objective. For Ocasio-Cortez and a growing movement of progressives, Trump is merely a symptom of a deeper social sickness. For progressives and leftists, getting rid of Trump isn’t going to address the political problems we face — and that’s where their sense of urgency comes from.
Ocasio-Cortez shocked the Establishment of the Democrat Pary when she came from nowhere to defeat an incumbant Democrat, a Democrat so well-entrenched in the Party Establishment that many speculated that he would be the next Speaker of the House. Ocasio-Cortez beat him, and she did so as a political outsider and a twenty-something democratic socialist. But voters put her in office precisely because she represented something new and different. Ocasio-Cortez’s constituents didn’t send her to Washington to vote the Party line every time, and nervous centrists like Milbank aren’t likely to change her mind or her tone.
Ocasio-Cortez certainly has a way of getting to the point with a good sound byte. Here’s a good fifteen minutes interview of Ocasio-Cortez on 60 Minutes. Toward the end, Anderson Cooper asks her if she thinks Trump is a racist. Without any hesitation she says, “Yeah, yeah. No question.”
Last June, after her stunning primary victory, Ocasio-Cortez told Stephen Colbert that Trump want ready for a girl from the Bronx. The more pressing question is whether the Democrat Party is ready.