In the wake of his unprecedented campaign and unexpected election, the question always was: What would come after Donald Trump? What were the consequences of electing someone who was inexperienced, undeterred by and uninterested in facts and uncannily adept at whipping people into a frenzy by way of mere gesticulations and tweets?
Would Trump beget more Trumps? Or would the pendulum swing violently back in the opposite direction, producing perhaps a return to thoughtful, accountable and intellectually rigorous leadership?
While we await what 2020 will deliver unto 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., we have our short-term answer in Congress: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
In many ways, she is in the making of Trump himself, only plausible because of him, and only justified in comparison to him.
After all, it’s hard to imagine a political system more enamored and less scrutinized of a candidate-turned-politician as AOC, if Trump hadn’t made acceptable this particular form of politicking — one driven by feelings over facts and heavily reliant on a cult of personality.
Like Trump, she’s been caught repeatedly and unabashedly making stuff up. One example, telling PBS’ “Firing Line” that unemployment was low “because everyone has two jobs.” That’s no less egregious a factual error than when Trump insisted while campaigning that he’d “seen” unemployment numbers as high as 42 percent (when the official unemployment rate at the time was 5.1 percent). Both statements were rated “pants on fire” by Politifact.
She’s also been known, like Trump, to cherry-pick information from partisan sources and extrapolate false conclusions. Late last year she tweeted a screenshot from an article in the left-leaning Nation magazine, comparing Pentagon spending to the cost of Medicare for All. People immediately pounced on her distortion of the data.
More recently, she mistook a line in a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report from 2018 and declared that “the world is going to end” in 12 years if we don’t stop global warming. Climate scientists say that wasn’t an actual deadline and it’s a misreading of the report.
And, like Trump, she makes wild policy suggestions that have little footing in reality. Raising marginal tax rates on the last dollar earned by the wealthiest Americans to 70 percent is red meat for her base but is logistically implausible, much like Trump’s porterhouse of a suggestion to end birthright citizenship.
But possibly because of Trump, she’s learned that admitting mistakes is an irrelevant exercise, so instead, she turns that notion on its head, insisting that being “morally right” can be more important than being factually right. It’s not Trump’s institution-undermining “fake news” ploy, but a populist wink at the primacy of heart-versus-head politics.
One thing that importantly separates her from him: her earnestness. No one doubts she has a set of core beliefs and a principled commitment to them, even if her own party finds them impractical or politically perilous. And if Trump could totally disrupt the political establishment without a real belief in anything but himself, imagine how much further someone with actual values — and a sense of humor, to boot — could go.
Ocasio-Cortez is applying all the tactics of Trump, but with far more charm, likability and mainstream media support. This makes her a very real and significant phenomenon. One thing she’s proved: Her composition is tailor-made for the politics of right now.
S.E. Cupp is a syndicated columnist.