It’s 2019 and we are sadly in that place in history when the political battle of the titans for the body, heart and soul of the Western world takes place between an ageing real estate developer and a young waitress, both coincidentally from New York. In generational terms it’s the Boomers’ last gasp and the Millennials’ first hurrah. Meanwhile the Xs like me roll our eyes so much that we can now see our spine (it’s still there).
Though just one-in-three voters have a favorable opinion of freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, if she were old enough to run for president in 2020, she’d give President Trump a run for his money.
A new Rasmussen Reports national telephone and online survey finds that, if the 2020 presidential race was between Trump and Ocasio-Cortez, 43% of Likely U.S. Voters would vote for Trump, while 40% would vote for Ocasio-Cortez. A sizable 17% are undecided.
In the 1940s we had Roosevelt and Churchill and Hitler and Stalin (not that anyone wants to see the likes of Hitler and Stalin again); in the 1980s we had Reagan, Thatcher, Gorbachev, Kohl, Mitterand and Pope John Paul II. Meanwhile in the 2010s we can all sit back and confidently enjoy the sterling political leadership of Trump, May, Trudeau, Merkel, Macron and Putin, of whom the last one – unfortunately – seems to be the canniest and the most effective. If in every era we get the politicians we deserve, then we must have been very very bad recently, like drowning kittens and clubbing baby seals bad.
Nearly two years ago I wrote a piece titled “Donald Trump – the president the left deserves, and we all get”, noting that after decades of crying wolf about every mainstream conservative politician, the left has finally got someone who is pretty much a parody and a cliche of all their wildest stereotypes and fears about those on the right of centre:
If all his presidential and congressional predecessors have been bad, he is the Frankenstein monster of the right-wing politics, put together with all the most disgusting pieces of conservatism and capitalism, as imagined by the left: very rich, crooked, dodgy, unethical, bankrupt literally and morally, ugly and grotesque inside and outside, vulgar, uncultured and unsophisticated, materialistic and philistinistic, flashy and ostentatious, ignorant and barely literate, immoral or at least amoral, tabloid family history, arrogant, authoritarian, nationalistic, jingoistic, bigoted, xenophobic, racist, sexist, homophobic, Islamophobic moron. Have I missed anything?
This barbarian at the gate of the progressive establishment then proceeded to behave just like the left said the right does, but until the Coming of Trump never actually did. It’s the case of life follows art and fiction comes to life:
Unlike the Republicans of the past, Trump neither puts up the brave and dignified face nor gets his surrogates to defend and counter-attack on his behalf. Richard Nixon used to rage against all his liberal enemies in the privacy of the White House and his recording system. Not for Trump any secret enemies lists; he has Twitter, which his underlings have not managed to pry from his short fingers. No, Trump gets right into the mud and wrestles with his critics and mockers. He calls them out by name, individually or institutionally, he lays into them, ridicules them, taunts them. And that gets his enemies and his targets even more worked up, sending them into paroxysm of rage and indignation. They’re not used to a Republican – a Republican president to that – not turning the other cheek. They get drawn back into every argument, every exchange of insults, every fencing match of accusations and counter-accusations, frothing at the mouth and shaking with indignation and disbelief, while Trump has already picked himself up and moved on to start another controversy. He fights, oh yes, he fights, and fights back. That’s what his supporters always loved about him. It’s not classy, and it’s not dignified – it’s not I or many others would expect of the occupier of the highest office in the land and the “Leader of the Free World” (if such position still exists) – but it is mesmerising to watch, like a slow-motion car pile-up or a particularly violent yet funny GIF looping again and again into infinity.
I’m afraid things haven’t changed or gotten any better over the past two years. If anything, Trump has gotten even more Trump, the Trump Derangement Syndrome more deranged, hysterical and unhinged, and the average person even more exasperated and disenchanted with politics. As I’m writing this little rant today, the top two pieces of political news from the United States are Nancy Pelosi’s cancellation of the State of the Union address (ostensibly because the government shutdown means she can’t guarantee the proper level of security in the Congress) and Ocasio-Cortez’s use of an euphemism for a gang-bang to describe her plans to push through her progressive agenda in the next two years (which, if unintentional, was nevertheless very revealing in a Freudian sort of a way – that’s what socialism, after all, does to people and to nations). Living in 2019 is getting slapped on the face by a flying fish forever.
The very arrival of Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez onto the national political scene in itself of course marks a new low. I don’t know whether AOC is the leftist standard-bearer we on the right deserve the same way I have argued the left deserved Trump, but here she is anyway, the Trump era left’s response to Trump the same way that Trump only a couple of years ago was the right’s response to the world created by the left from Bill Clinton to Barack Obama. Not surprisingly for an equal and opposite reaction, Ocasio-Cortez is likewise a collection and an exaggeration of all the traits and stereotypes the right finds so infuriating about the left: an insufferable Millennial, deeply passionate and deeply ignorant about just about everything, a victory of style over substance, the number one fangirl of socialism in a society that increasingly finds socialism attractive again (ironically, probably more than at any previous time) while knowing less and less about what socialism actually is. Hundred per cent renewables, 70 per cent top marginal tax rates, billions mixed with trillions, unicorn money for everyone, all combined with a thin skin, sanctimony, victimhood and a fair dose of tampering with the past in order to give oneself more socialist street cred.
For all the many differences, there are also a few similarities between Trump and the anti-Trump. Both are outsiders who appeal to and mobilise large sections of their bases, which for a long time have felt disenchanted with and ignored (even betrayed) by the mainstream as well as their respective party establishments. Both have no problem with becoming living memes in order to better connect directly with their supporters while going around all the usual communication channels and intermediaries. Both are creatures of an era of reality TV and social media.
And both are now the public faces not only of their political parties but of the broader ideological movements. Adam Smith and Karl Marx must be looking down and up from their respective afterlives and scratching their incorporeal heads.