Print Edition - 2019-01-13 | Free the Words
Trump vs Ocasio Cortez
- They both know how to control the narrative. But one comes across as a human being
Jan 13, 2019-
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is “Extremely Online.” That’s the phrase that Charlie Warzel—soon to be my colleague at The New York Times—used to describe the new congresswoman in an article on Buzzfeed News, in which he noted a multitude of fast-twitch posts by her on a range of issues on Instagram and Twitter over a short period last week.
She is “the perfect foil for the pro-Trump media,” he wrote. Her posts “are relentless, keeping Ocasio-Cortez in the news cycle. She’s an insurgent, internet-native political force.”
“Extremely Online”—typically capitalised—is usually defined as conducting as much of one’s life online and having as little human contact as possible. But Ms. Ocasio-Cortez embodies and morphs the concept like the digital native she is, meaning simply that she speaks the language of the internet fluently.
That was made clear by her ability to turn a video of her dancing in a “Breakfast Club” homage at Boston University— posted to hurt her—into a transcendent meta-meme last week. It was accomplished by her offering an expertly rendered bookend, a decade later, as she danced to “War (What Is It Good For)” right by the plaque with her name on it outside her Capitol Hill office.
And more: Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has done live conversations that include both cooking tips and policy pronouncements, has posted stories of her congressional experience the way others post vacation or holiday or food photos and has clapped back expertly in pithy tweets at whatever gets dished out at her by the right.
What she is doing is significant for politics, because of one key thing: She has made digital depictions of herself seem very analog. In other words, she is perfectly human online.
The ability to take your message and yourself directly to people is perhaps one of this era’s most important talents. In this, as much as she’d hate to admit it, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is following in the footsteps of President Trump.
I recently wrote a column about how Mr. Trump had been using social media to govern, noting that “we are now a government of the Twitter, by the Twitter and for the Twitter.” That’s even truer this week, as the government shutdown has dragged on and Mr. Trump has taken to Twitter to provide running commentary of the situation and also to make threats, attack foes, lob fact-free water balloons and generally conduct a bizarre play-by-play of his state of mind. After his television appearance this week to demand funding for his fantasy wall was widely panned as lackluster, he doubled down on tweets to make his ALL-CAPS points. What’s interesting about Mr. Trump’s digital efforts is that even though he is always online, he is not Extremely Online. Rather than fully engaging with the platforms and employing their nifty audio and video tools, he has stuck to text, using his own set of locutions and his own distinctive voice. While at first this made him seem, to many supporters at least, more authentic than the average politician, it is now making him look more and more like a giant cartoon bobblehead. The internet is not making him more of a person.
And while he spouts outward, turning into an online megaphone, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez listens, takes everything in and reacts. Both methods work. And she is the only one who can keep up with him online. The joint response by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer to Mr. Trump’s wall speech turned into a very funny mom-and-dad-sure-are-mad meme, while Senator Lindsey Graham looked like a feckless spinning top as he pinged from faux indignation at some of Mr. Trump’s acts to adulation.
There is no one close, except Beto O’Rourke, whose adorkable stylings tend more toward family igloo-building and earnest informational postings and live Facebook posts (he just did one from the border, carrying a doughnut, after Mr. Trump’s speech). But he’s slow and cool and deep dude in a way that— while effective — is very different from the more frantic tone that both Mr. Trump and Ms. Ocasio-Cortez employ.
It would be a mistake to dismiss their practices as just noise. Because, as Mr. Warzel noted correctly, they are controlling the narrative by doing this so effectively. “It’s agenda-setting,” he wrote, whether we’re talking about the wall (Mr. Trump) or taxing the rich (Ms. Ocasio-Cortez). “Constant content creation forces your opponent to respond to you.” It means you are creating the news. While there is a danger in that, it’s probably the way it’s going to be from here on out, and those who can do it well are more likely to get the attention in this very dissonant world.
This is the world that was predicted in the 1976 satirical movie “Network,” now a popular Broadway show. I saw it recently and the lead character, Howard Beale, articulated exactly what is happening now, for good or not so good: “I feel vivid and flashing, as if suddenly I’d been plugged into some great electromagnetic field,” he says. “It is a shattering and beautiful sensation. It is the exalted flow of the space-time continuum, save that it is spaceless and timeless and of such loveliness. I feel on the verge of some great, ultimate truth. And you will not take me off the air for now or for any other spaceless time!”
—© 2019 The New York Times
Published: 13-01-2019 07:05