The Evolution of AOC and Behind the Trump Bump.

Someone holding small versions of Donald Trump and AOC in their hand. Image Description: Someone holding small versions of Donald Trump and AOC in their hand.

Summary: Distracted Max reached new heights this week so instead of releasing the third installment of the Over the Borderline series, he mashed up two shorter Topical Creams from YouTube into an episode. Both cover familiar ground to keep a focus on what matters politically. The “silly season” is when narratives harden so sometimes it’s important to reassert certain claims. The first segment is about AOC’s recent decision to fund the Democratic Party in the upcoming election for the first time in her brief career. The second is a reminder that the things that people recall fondly from the Trump era were predominantly socialist-style and Keynesian interventions that provided momentary relief and financial security for all those who made it through COVID.

Hey Unfuckers. We’re taking a different swing at things today because I got distracted with a couple of news stories this week that caught my attention. I’m nearly finished with the final installment of our border crisis series, but am pausing to bring you these two stories that appeared on our YouTube. We also have an extended post show musings at the conclusion as a stand in for show notes this week as well. There’s so much to cover these days so I hope you don’t mind me changing things up to keep on top of everything.

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Now, here’s what got me sidetracked this week, starting with AOC.

In the past, I’ve offered a full throated defense of Representative Ocasio-Cortez, the beté noir of the Republican establishment and, too often, the Democratic establishment as well. I’ve listened to the objections of corporate democrats to her youth, her tactics, her priorities, you name it. And more recently, we’ve heard the objections of progressives who claim she’s caving in to the status quo.

Well, if that’s the case she’s not going to earn any marks from progressives for her recent contribution of $260,000 for the Democratic Party’s Voter Protection Program, an initiative designed to register voters and preserve voting integrity. It’s also a rainy day fund for the inevitable legal challenges the Republicans will mount in the upcoming election and most likely beyond. Then again, her PAC has also committed half a million dollars to defending Squad members.

AOC is a fundraising machine. Has been since she ousted Joe Crowley. According to OpenSecrets the congresswoman has raised $6.5 million in this election cycle and is still sitting on over $6 million in cash on hand despite having spent a little more than $5.5 million. She’s been stockpiling cash since 2019 and outraising her colleagues by orders of magnitude.

Here’s why I don’t listen to criticism from fellow leftists when it comes to AOC, not that anyone is infallible. AOC is a titan in the making. She’s only 34 years old and already one of the most recognizable figures in America. She makes bold choices, not all of them terrific, but always eye catching and headline grabbing. She’s polarizing because the higher her profile goes, the more she’s villainized by the right. And the more she scares the centrists.

Not only is she beating most House members in the recognition game, she’s beating them at their game. The money game. And not in a Marjorie Taylor Green way by fear mongering and stupidity, but through advocating and teaching. One of the most underrated aspects of her tenure that’s lost on older people like my demographic is how she engages with her 8 million followers on Instagram. She’s a teacher and a guide. Lets them know what’s happening behind closed doors and literally teaches young people about the legislative process. It’s a masterclass in community engagement and public square advocacy for the modern age. And she’s peerless in this regard.

Critics within the establishment are quick to diminish her, saying she’s a lone voice on the far left but she’s a ranking member of the vital Oversight and Reform Committee where she has set herself apart by coming prepared, bringing receipts and scoring points with intelligence and bravado. Even Republicans admit she’s a force to be reckoned with on this committee, with many backing down from high profile spats for fear of retribution from her legions of followers.

I see in Ocasio-Cortez a seasoned politician beyond her years in life and in office who is carefully crafting a standout role in an aging party. Time is on her side in this regard. You know, it wasn’t so long ago that Nancy Pelosi was chiding her in private and in public. Did AOC throw a tantrum or pull the bullshit that the Freedom Caucus has done on the other side of the aisle? Nope. She waited. And raised a lot of money. And stayed in the public eye. The Pelosis of the world are fading away as a younger generation moves in, which is not to say things will get better. It’s just that seasoned politicians who know their way around the Beltway and have lost enough battles to learn how to win them are the ones who eventually call the shots, especially if they become fundraising machines. Like AOC.

Now that she’s spreading the wealth, and in a very specific way, she’s basically announced the next chapter in her career. For those who expected more from her and want her to vote against every single thing either party puts on the table, you’re missing the point. If you want pure principle that’s for activists like Medea Benjamin, Nina Turner, Angela Davis, Christian Smalls and Ralph Nader. When you elect representatives you’re looking for people on the inside who understand how to pull the levers and make deals. There are 435 of these assholes and our job is to find the assholes that know when to pucker and when to make a stink. If you’re looking for bomb throwers to dismantle the system that’s not what this is.

From minute one when James Madison was struggling to find common ground with slave owning colony representatives, it was decided that we would have something called the Senate that would serve as the great cooling mechanism that restricted purely ideological instincts. Do I think that AOC and the Squad should have, and could have, done more to protect the most important provisions in the Build Back Better bill and force Biden’s hand? You bet. AOC was elected in 2019 and Build Back Better was 2021. That’s a lot to put on someone who’s been in the job for two years. And, oh by the way, the Squad is just in the House. There’s that prickly thing called the Senate again and at the time we had Kyrsten Sinema and Joe Manchin to contend with and so promises were broken, compromises were made and we got what we got. But guess what? Manchin? Leaving. Sinema? Leaving. Pelosi. Just rank and file.

If you’re not patient, then politics isn’t for you. Agitation, activism, protest. These things happen outside of the system to raise enough awareness and noise that the people inside the system respond. The great equalizer in this equation in the past couple of decades, however, has been money. Money beats protest all day, every day. But now, this 34 year old with only five years under her belt has managed to raise over $37 million dollars since first getting elected.

  • 8 million followers.
  • $37 million raised.
  • Prime committee assignments.

AOC’s not selling out. She’s taking over. The best thing we can do is stay out of her way, back her play and let her continue to grow into the role. One by one, the old guard will retire, fade away or just die. And if it comes to the point when she loses the plot and sells her soul, then we can protest and agitate.

Until that time, I’ll leave you with this before we move on to the second story: The historical corollary I drew in the longer AOC piece you’ve heard me tell before but it bears repeating.

When Rosa Luxemburg challenged the establishment socialists of her time she too built coalitions and fought within her parties. She challenged the likes of Karl Kautsky in her home country and Lenin and Trotsky in Russia. She threw herself into the challenges of the day when it wasn’t yet clear whether capitalism would survive, when there was a real opportunity for a socialist revolution from Russia to Latin America. But when leftists wanted to revolt against the German SPD to spread the revolutionary flames that burned in Russia and topple the German government, Luxemburg preached caution. She said Germany wasn’t ready; that the revolutionary conditions were not yet prime in Germany, much to the chagrin of the revolutionaries who ultimately ignored her and attempted a coup anyway. In the midst of it, Luxemburg was murdered, her body thrown in the river and her memory largely forgotten to history. No statues. No movies. No holidays.

Sometimes it seems as though nothing short of martyrdom will suffice for leftists and that AOC is the avatar they choose to project their armchair criticisms upon. So take heed of Bloody Rosa and remember that this isn’t a chess match, it’s high stakes poker and the minimum bid is in the millions. And now, there’s a new player at the high stakes table who will not be denied.

That brings us to the second distraction this week. Donald Trump’s increasing favorability ratings.

Although the top story about Trump should be the rumor that he apparently stinks like shit.

As the days roll on and we get simultaneously closer to the election and further away from Trump’s presidency, the tiny hand orange face buttpucker’s favorability ratings are increasing. A joint New York Times-Sienna poll has the former president’s favorable ratings two points higher than the current president. It’s only been three years but the country is actually getting nostalgic for the Donald. This is the kind of sentimental turn that typically takes decades to pull off.

Surprising? Yes and no.

Barack Obama secured his first term with a popular vote margin of 10 million. Obama fever swept the nation and the world for that matter; I mean, he was given a Nobel Peace Prize in his first year for basically nothing. Because the country was pulling out of the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression, Americans had a big appetite for all that hope and change we had coming to us. By the next election, Mitt Romney managed to shave the margin and Obama won reelection by about 5 million. By 2016, America had enough of Obama’s steady Eddie routine and decided to vote for a reality television star with no experience, a litany of bankruptcies and slew of public sex scandals.

So what’s wrong with us? Is it a uniquely American trait to suffer from extreme electoral amnesia? Not really. I mean, it’s definitely in our DNA but it’s not exclusive to us. For example, in 2021, the Levada Center released a poll that revealed more than half of Russians polled think Stalin was a “great leader.” It’s estimated that Stalin straight up murdered about 1 million Soviet citizens in Gulags, and somewhere between another 6 and 9 million through forced starvation and incarceration. Nazis have also made resurgence in Eastern Europe and, sadly, in corners of our little democratic experiment. There are Chileans who pine for the days of Pinochet. You know who gets this? McDonalds and the makers of Mallomars. There’s a reason the McRib only shows up every few years and synthetic Mallomars are marketed as seasonal.

If the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist (BEAT)

then the greatest trick Trump ever pulled was convincing half of this country that he didn’t do it. Whatever it is. Except when he admits to doing it. In which case it’s fine.

Initiated operation warp speed to help bring the COVID vaccine to market then convinced people not to take. Or take it. He did. Except that he didn’t. Bleach and UV rays, maybe, a lot of people say that it’s a cure, along with horse medication, but take the vaccine, but don’t boost, no booster. And no mandate.

Even if you take the pandemic out of the equation, Trump gave everyone whiplash because he stands for nothing. He floated ideas from assassinations and nuking hurricanes to raking leaves from the forest floors to stop wildfires. Every single day a new bonkers headline.

It’s not that some of us have forgotten. There are those who never stopped loving Trump but for the fence sitters it’s too early for nostalgia to kick in for most people. The Trump Bump is something a little different. It’s what Obama was contending with in his second election. Momentum versus incrementalism. When we talk about historical epochs, there are a few in this nation. Revolutionary America. Preindustrial America. Depression era. Post WWII boom. Civil Rights era. The 50 year neoliberal era. I think when we look back through history, we’ll see the financial crisis as the end of the neoliberal era and 2009 as the beginning of something different.

From a political and economic perspective, we can see the change in how we legislate. Because of the way Congress is structured and the fact that compromise is dead, we’ve moved to governing by omnibus. Everything big gets done in the afterglow of an election presuming there’s a legislative majority to push through an executive agenda. Obama used his to pass the ACA. Trump used his to push through tax cuts for the wealthy. And Biden used his on the inflation reduction act and infrastructure bills.

The Obama terms gave us Trump because of the incremental nature of this period. After the $787 billion stimulus and the ACA, nothing moved quickly under Obama. The Republicans organized to beat back most of the promised agenda and the Obama team worked as technocrats to institutionalize the ACA and stabilize the economy. But because a third of that stimulus went to the states and a third went to extending unemployment benefits, the final third went to stabilizing the broader economy but didn’t do much in the way of moving the middle class forward or lifting people out of poverty.

The Trump tax cuts mixed with a protracted zero interest rate environment gave an appearance of forward momentum, if only because it caused the markets to rip and overheat a bit. But the pandemic laid waste to every policy in its path and left the Trump administration in a state of desperation. Now, the Cheeto’s personal management style aside, a couple of really important things happened. One was Steve Mnuchin’s PPP program that flooded small and medium business markets with capital. Then there were the direct stimulus payments right into people’s pockets. The moratorium on evictions. And on the big stuff, the Fed was able to revive a suite of financial crisis era programs to backstop the markets with liquidity. It was ugly, frenetic, at times lopsided and sloppy.

What’s fascinating is that pound-for-pound Biden’s omnibus accomplishments are far greater than his predecessors of this new era. It’s just that the investments are mostly into the physical rather than the human and therefore harder to feel on a personal level. Compare that with what happened at the end of Trump’s term.

Trump’s mismanagement of the pandemic plunged the country and household wealth into the abyss. And within months the government covered it and then some. A combination of socialist-style welfare policies and extraordinary Keynesian interventions gave the country a different kind of whiplash. From the depths of despair, social and fiscal welfare policies saved the nation and for the first time since the post World War Two boom, everyone was a little better off than before. I mean, those who were still alive and didn’t try to cure themselves of COVID by drinking bleach.

I know people on my side of the political spectrum who cannot bring themselves to compliment the Trump administration for anything. I think that’s stupid. They should be complemented for rolling out and managing one of the greatest examples of socialist economic policy the world has ever seen. Think about it. Eviction protection. Direct child welfare payments. Suspension of student debt payments. Infusions of capital into small businesses completely written off and forgiven. Free vaccines. Extended unemployment benefits. Universal healthcare.

The country isn’t nostalgic for Trump. It’s yearning for social democracy. It just doesn’t know to call it that.

Trump’s momentum was socialist in nature.

So maybe that’s the greatest trick the devil you know ever pulled off.

Image Sources

  • U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Thomas Scaggs, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Changes were made.
  • Staff of Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons. Changes were made.

Max is a basic, middle-aged white guy who developed his cultural tastes in the 80s (Miami Vice, NY Mets), became politically aware in the 90s (as a Republican), started actually thinking and writing in the 2000s (shifting left), became completely jaded in the 2010s (moving further left) and eventually decided to launch UNFTR in the 2020s (completely left).