What surprises me most about the reaction to freshman Representation Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s latest social media storm is how unsurprising her defenders were.
Media figures like Andrew Kaczynski and Chris Hayes lept to her defense in response to Rep. Liz Cheney’s public condemnation of Ocasio-Cortez’s use of “concentration camps” and the line “never again” in her Instagram Live tirade about the illegal immigration detention centers on the border. Her defenders were quick to say “Well, actually…” in informing Cheney and other conservatives that concentration camps have existed before and since World War II, and that the comparisons of Ocasio-Cortez’s comments to Nazi Germany’s slaughter of millions of Jews are inaccurate because work camps and extermination camps were two separate things.
Of course, this is all rhetorical nonsense. When you bring up “concentration camps,” you are purposefully invoking one image and one image only. It is the image that is burned into your brain in school when you first hear about the Holocaust. The image of bony, starved Jews, their corpses filling mass graves.
Ocasio-Cortez, though at times clueless, knew exactly what she was doing when she used the phrase “concentration camps,” and that’s not even taking into consideration the fact that she used the phrase “never again” in her comments – a phrase that was used to solidify the idea that these mass exterminations of a people should never, ever be allowed to happen. Her entire rant was meant to stir up the same emotions one feels when remembering the story of the Holocaust.
It is blatant dishonesty to defend what she said with this defense. A reference to the Holocaust is exactly what she intended, and her use of key phrases is further evidence of that.
Her ignorance on certain policy issues does not mean Ocasio-Cortez is stupid. She is intelligent. But, more importantly, she is clever. In terms of rhetoric, she is very, very skilled at playing with the emotions of those listening to her and she knows exactly how to get the response she wants out of the people she is talking to.
And here’s the thing: That’s what makes her exactly like President Donald Trump. She knows how to whip the people into a frenzy over what she says. Her supporters enthusiastically cheer in agreement with the idea that the detention centers on the border are exactly like concentration camps and we know exactly what you’re saying, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez! while her opponents latch onto the words and decry them because the United States government is not conducting a mass extermination of illegal immigrants at the border because we know that you’re comparing it to the Holocaust, Rep. Ocasio-Cortez!
It’s really no different from the way Trump can tweak his audience, his fans cheering on in agreement while his opponents lose their minds over it. The only difference between the two is that Trump has been doing it longer and, frankly, does it better. But, the knack for doing it that Ocasio-Cortez has shows that at least some on the other side of the political aisle realize they have to play the game that way now.
And so, she’s trying. She knew what she was saying and how it would be taken. To underestimate her on that is to admit that you haven’t learned anything since 2016.