Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as the child of an immigrant. This version has been updated.
The elder Trump daughter caught a whole news cycle’s worth of criticism on Tuesday when she declared that Americans did not, “in their heart, want to be given something.” On the contrary, Trump said, they wanted to “work for what they get.” Much like Ivanka Trump has . . . basically never done.
It was no wonder an heiress’s attempt to lambaste the idea of guaranteed jobs with living wages went over poorly. Critics leaped to a passage in Trump’s biography, “Women Who Work,” where she claims she learned the value of labor from running a lemonade stand that her father’s employees ended up subsidizing out of their own pockets. It reads almost as a perfect parody of Republican tax policy.
But we already knew Trump was entitled, and we already knew she lacked either the self-awareness or the will to recognize that entitlement in any meaningful way. The virulence and volume of the lashing out against this latest display of obliviousness make more sense when you consider not only what she was criticizing, but also who she was criticizing: Trump was using the jobs guarantee as a proxy for the Green New Deal, and the Green New Deal, for those interested in the politics side of policymaking, is often a proxy for Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
If Trump has become an avatar of today’s Republican Party for precisely the reasons her comments this week were so laughable, Ocasio-Cortez, who sometimes is known as AOC, has become an avatar of Democratic resurgence for the opposite ones. She grew up working-class and made her way — winning international science fairs, waiting tables, tending bar — to her upset last summer in the primary for her congressional seat. The odds were mostly stacked against her. She beat them, and she wants others to have the chance to beat them, too, but in a fairer fight.
Republicans know this, but they are so immersed in their own lemonade-stand ideology that their response has been not to raise themselves to Ocasio-Cortez’s level by arguing that they have also earned what they have and want to let everyday citizens do the same. Instead, it has been to lower Ocasio-Cortez to theirs by pretending that she has not earned anything at all.
Recall the widely circulated tweet featuring a photo of Ocasio-Cortez wearing a very regular black jacket and carrying a very regular coat captioned with, “that jacket and coat don’t look like a girl who struggles.” Or the one highlighting a photo of Ocasio-Cortez’s childhood home, which a commentator declared was in a “very nice area”: “A far cry from the Bronx hood upbringing she’s selling,” he pronounced.
Even now, conspiratorial conservatives are suggesting Ocasio-Cortez hired her boyfriend as a paid staffer, when really he obtained the House email address they used as evidence so he could access her calendar — standard practice for representatives’ partners. (Ocasio-Cortez may run into more trouble with a complaint with a GOP group has filed with the Federal Election Commission alleging that her campaign illegally funneled thousands of dollars to the same boyfriend, a digital consultant, through a supporting PAC. The PAC says it hired him for advertising and strategy help.)
Trump’s pandering to privilege is magnified when it’s juxtaposed with a genuine up-from-bootstraps story scary enough to Republicans that they’re determined to undermine it at any cost. But while it looks like Ocasio-Cortez has won this battle, she may have a tougher time with the war.
The freshman congresswoman is more vulnerable than she seems — precisely because she has become as much of a symbol as Ivanka Trump. Authenticity isn’t something anyone really expects of the scion of a scheming Manhattan real estate tycoon. It may as well be AOC’s first name. And it’s much harder to maintain the image of someone who always works for what she gets when what you’re getting is a whole lot of attention.
Ocasio-Cortez is getting a lot of attention: interview after interview, fact-check after fact-check, Twitter feud after Twitter feud. She’s doing a remarkable job of keeping her balance in the spotlight, just like Ivanka Trump. Her challenge will be to maintain that style and supplement it with the substance Trump lacks, but that Ocasio-Cortez has always claimed is at her core.
At the Michael Cohen hearing this week, Ocasio-Cortez asked factual questions that set the stage for future action. She yielded the remainder of her time, as though to underscore her efficiency. Democrats celebrated her straightforward sharpness as exemplary. Really, it was just the kind of normal she needed to show: She did what she had to do, and she worked for what she got.
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