Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the most interesting politicians of our time — perhaps the most interesting since President Trump, whom she in many ways resembles.
This comparison will not be welcomed by her many supporters. But the incoming Democratic congresswoman who will represent New York's 14th District is a distinctly Trumpian figure.
Just like Trump's, AOC's appeal is a matter of rhetoric and personality, not of policy acumen or relevant experience. She struggles every bit as much as the president does with facts. Basic norms about American civic life appear to have eluded her. She struggled — twice — to name the three branches of government in a recent conversation. She is, to put it kindly, not good with numbers. She believes it is possible for the Pentagon to have lost track of $21 trillion in the past seven years, a figure that is both larger than the gross domestic product of the United States and far in excess of the entire combined budget of our military from 1789 to the present. (After this was pointed out to her, she responded by doubling down and making fun of her interlocutor's family.) She has also insisted that the Pentagon received an additional $700 billion from Congress this year, which would have been a roughly 100 percent increase in its budget: "They were like, we don't want another fighter jet! Don't give us another nuclear bomb. They didn't even ask for it. And we gave it to them." But actually, like, they didn't because the actual increase from 2017 to 2018 was $61 billion.
Like Trump, AOC exaggerates constantly, insisting that she was outspent by her token Republican opponent "five to one." She believes that the Supreme Court ruled that monthly insurance premiums, which she has mistaken for the Affordable Care Act's now-suspended individual mandate penalties, are a "tax." She seems to be under the impression that America's upper-middle class has disappeared, despite the fact that she hails from a metropolis dominated by the upper-middle class (even if her own district is not), whose displacement of the middle and working classes is perhaps the most significant economic trend in recent American history. She is fixated on urban legends about so-called "bed quotas" that must be filled by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. She does not realize that dental care for adults is not covered by most of the world's single-payer health-care systems. She is apparently astonished by the fact that the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is expensive and that many people who live there work to supplement the income from their primary employer. She seemed to hold the federal government or Congress responsible for securing housing for her in advance of her arrival in the nation's capital. She interpreted an attempt by a Capitol Hill staffer to direct her to an elevator used by interns as an intentional slight rather than an obvious and totally innocuous mistake. For her all conflicts and disagreements are intensely and indeed almost exclusively personal.
Like Trump, Ocasio-Cortez is the opposite of a policy wonk. What she offers her sizable online base is something more important — the chance to watch a cool young superhero defeat an axis of Boomer male archvillains single-handedly. She speaks to an entire generation of young Americans whose legitimate political grievances — the sham post-2010 economic recovery, the college debt epidemic, the sneering cluelessness of those who squandered our patrimony — are as numerous as their personal shortcomings — laziness, inability to think critically, lack of empathy or curiosity about people who are less woke than them, a tendency to confuse performative outrage with moral clarity. Her conception of democratic socialism is more appealing to them than that of Bernie Sanders because it is not about making sure that the wealthy pay a bit more so that no one gets left behind, but a childish vision of easy, limitless prosperity. Bernie says we don't need 23 different kinds of deodorant; AOC asks why all 23 kinds aren't free.
This dorm-room dystopia would be terrifying if it weren't so painfully naive. It's all about as real as Trump's make-believe wall.