Well Met: AOC, Class, and Leftist Infighting passing as Engagement.
When I saw that AOC was at the Met, I thought to myself “oh cool, she’s there too!” Of course when I saw her on Vogue’s live stream I only saw the front of the dress. I thought it was fitting for a Congresswoman: minimalist, elegant, simple. Then she turned around, and in coarse red letters read the slogan: “Tax the Rich.”
Almost instantaneously the usual suspects went chattering, hurling their proverbial tomatoes at the Congresswoman, your right wing commentators and cookie cutter Republican politicians — are racing one another to see who can make the best talking point of the night the better than everyone else ad infinitum.
That was expected but then to my surprise there was a comparable roar of outrage from the left, from other progressives — unelected irrelevant progressives yes but progressives nonetheless. Similar in size and content to the right’s hate hour. This is of course right after the outrage from the same people who were furious with popular left-wing political commentator Hasan Piker buying a $3 million dollar home. Allegations leveled at both AOC and Piker involved the words: “fraud”, “joke”, “hypocrite”, “fake”, “performative”. And then I got to thinking as I always do, why is the left so easily triggered by the Engels’ of their corpus?
AOC’s invitation to the Met had nothing to do with wealth — she was not the only politician in attendance, and not the only one making a political statement, but she was the one who got all the flak. Some attacked her for wearing a bad dress, other attacked her for going to the Met in the first place, and many called the message on her dress “slacktivism” which is ironic considering many of those who were leveling that charge wrote zero policy and had no relevance beyond the Social Mediaverse. Many Leftists, some Progressives, and pretty much every Conservative united in attacking the Congresswoman, with the majority of Progressives and all Liberals firmly in her camp.
So the die was cast, and while it was reasonable to look at this event as a terrible PR move, I hold the opposing view, that it did its job. We’re talking about raising taxes on the rich. That’s the point of PR moves like that, to start a conversation. AOC is currently supporting legislation — a $3.5 Trillion infrastructure bill that could use a tax hike on the rich to pay for. We currently tax the wealthiest Americans at a rate lower today than under President Reagan. And Biden’s modest tax increase to around 38% is a bridge too far for the corporate right wing in this country. Taxing the rich has always been a slogan for progressives but the conversation surrounding it carries real weight this time because there’s vital legislation on the books that depends on it.
The American infrastructure system hasn’t been updated in over 70 years, with the last major infrastructure project being President Eisenhower’s interstate highway system which redefined what travel meant for all Americans. Today we’re facing a dilapidated power grid, urban congestion, crumbling roads, and climate change. Many of those freshly minted highways and byways under Eisenhower needs a renovation. Where I live, every time a major storm comes through — a thunderstorm even, people lose power and there’s flooding. And there’s bigger storms to come. We should be investing in sea walls, updated sewer systems, green energy, advancing carbon capture technologies (because current ones are ineffective), fusion power, and burying our powerlines — which are safer for urban inhabitants and gives our power grid more stability in storms. And all of that needs to be paid for.
AOC’s message is simple and on point, and to move policy forward, you can’t do that with the leftist aesthetic. Screaming “fight the power” from the sidewalk where the cameras aren’t, or worse, from your particular corner of Twitter is completely ineffective — no matter how good it feels to “stick one” to AOC and her counterparts. That’s not praxis. When you as a leftist/progressive are making the same arguments that Conservative shock-jocks are…that should give you pause, but for many on the left they don’t see the irony. Hurling tomatoes isn’t praxis, its performative. Some said that AOC’s dress should’ve had a more…vulgar message. But as anyone with a moderate level of maturity can tell you, in a Democracy its not enough to be “correct” or “true to your values.” You have to be effective. You have to be persuasive. And regardless of what many leftist detractors AOC’s think, she’s already done more to move the conversation regarding taxation in a positive direction than all of them combined then doubled again. When you go to an event made for the ultra wealthy by the ultra wealthy, that’s the best place to make that statement. The Met Gala is one of them. “Tax the rich” on Twitter or a T-Shirt you aren’t wearing outside anyway doesn’t have the same gravitas or relevance as the same statement or T-Shirt in front of millions of Americans, many of whom don’t follow politics the way AOC’s detractors do.
And yet its not enough, those same detractors scrutinize AOC and every other progressive politician, viewing their actions through a cynical leftist lens. The right built themselves on fear and cynicism: immigrants are always a threat unless they’re European, leftists are always poor, Black people are the real racists because they always talk about race — I can go on. When leftists also play into whole “socialism is when no iPhone” trope that the right wing uses to straw-man the left, the irony is not lost on me. You criticize AOC, you criticize millionaire socialists buying homes, you criticize Bernie Sanders for owning multiple homes, but at a certain point it just makes you look bitter. When Conservatives can find a friend in you, you may want to take a look in the mirror. That’s not the “class solidarity” you think you want. The greatest damage the right has done to the left is to insinuate that leftist policies will result in poverty and cultural stagnation. We of course know this is false, but when leftists adopt right wing framing to judge the “purity” of other leftists, it makes the right that much more appealing to the centrists of the world. The “leftier-than-thou” folks were tweeting a storm last night, and are probably still attacking AOC even as I write this.
Its so easy for politicians to ignore the left, they’ve done so since the 1960’s as Neo-Liberalism became the national religion, and the left was brutally crushed under fear, lies, and McCarthyism elevated by the Cold War. Both Democrats and Republicans are staunch Neo-Liberal parties, with leftists and alt-right politicians mixed in. We have a politician in AOC who goes to the Met to continue to push for policies that will do the most good, because she was invited not because she bought a $30,000 table. And even if she did buy the table, it wouldn’t be reprehensible because the money goes to the Met, its a fundraiser for the Met. But because rich people are there, it must be bad according to an uncomfortable number of leftists. Consider the irony of the left’s cynicism. The right say the poor are reprehensible. The left says the rich are reprehensible. If you’re a Conservative doing poor people things — like advocating for a fairer tax policy — you’re a traitor. If you’re a leftist doing rich people things like going to the Met or buying a nice home — YOU HAVE TO BE A TRAITOR. When some political commentators talk about the Horseshoe theory, I don’t think they mean that Leftists and Right wingers are the same — they’re not, but given this most recent string of outrage against more high profile successful leftists, I have to call into question my own skepticism of that theory. When beloved voices on the left and right are making the same asinine arguments against AOC, I again have to call into question my own skepticism.
The right wants you to believe the left will bring you ruin, and the left judges you and each other by how ruined they are. The more left you are, the less house you have and the less Met Gala you go to. The more left you are, the smaller your bank account, and the larger the holes are in your boots. The more left you are, the more marginalized you have to be — CisHet white Americans needn’t apply. This tribal, kneejerk reaction to any perceived contradiction or hypocrisy says more about Human nature than it does any particular political ideology. And that’s a problem I’m supremely unqualified to tackle.
But what I will say is that AOC didn’t have to make a statement at all. She could’ve just went to the Gala, had a great time, and went home. But she wanted to garner support for taxing the people who could afford to go to that event to help the people who couldn’t as well as those who could. Infrastructure doesn’t care about your class, green energy doesn’t care about your bank account, its a net gain, a positive. The left should be riding that momentum and discussing policy, discussing actual praxis. But no, they’d rather throw shade than build consensus. They’ve convinced themselves that by nitpicking every little thing other progressives say and do: whether its using language they don’t approve of, or having friends they don’t approve of, or buying homes they don’t approve of, or going to events they don’t approve of is somehow praxis, somehow building consensus. But outside of the echo chamber they just look ungrateful and bitter. And when the centrist Neo-Liberals and left adjacent progressives look like the adults in the room, it hurts leftism, it sours the taste of Socialism. I don’t think this little controversy will make AOC change her beliefs, she’s a very principled woman and one thing about progressives is that they’re used to setbacks and criticism, just ask Senator Bernie Sanders. But if you’re always never happy as a base, if you’re always turning up your nose at everything that offends your sensibilities, you give your ideological rivals that much more ammunition. For all the intelligence the left has, they sure like letting the right set the rules and definitions for their own praxis.
“The haft of the arrow had been feathered with one of the eagles own plumes. We often give our enemies the means of our own destruction.” — Aesop.