Lived Experience and the Politics of Emotional Blackmail

Sometimes the desire to manufacture perceptions fails spectacularly.

Consider the antics of—sorry, I can’t resist—Alexandria Ocasio-Smollett. Of course, I mean Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, aka Sandy Ocasio, the congresswoman from New York’s 14th district.

In a February 1 90-minute Instagram Live video that Washington Post columnist Robin Givhan tells her readers “revealed our collective trauma,” the congresswoman describes her experience on 1/6 when, to paraphrase Ilhan Omar’s remark about the 9/11 attack on New York City, some people something.

(The date 1/6, when protestors entered the Capitol building, is the new 9/11. Pelosi is seeking to establish a 9/11-style commission to study the matter. The label “domestic terrorist” to describe the protestors is being widely socialized by the establishment media and Democratic Party figures.)

Ocasio-Cortez was not in the Capitol building at the time. She was in the Cannon House Office Building some ways away. There were no rioters at the Cannon. Nonetheless, the congresswoman tells a story about how an unknown man—a Capitol Police officer—knocked on her door and entered her office.

Of course, the congresswoman could have thought that rioters were in the Cannon building. It was a confusing situation. But she could only have thought this for a short while, as she was quickly apprised of the situation by that same Capitol Police officer, and nearly a month passed between that day and the day of her notorious livestream.

Ocasio-Cortez’s story is more than a telling from the standpoint of what a subject believed at one point in time. The personal is the political. The case makes me wonder: is there such a thing as lying in a post-truth world? Does personal standpoint stamp narratives with truth?

After all, in identity politics and its attendant postmodernist epistemology (or anti-epistemology, as it were), trauma and subjectivity, the “truth of experience,” is what matters, not objective facts. According to the ethics of the “lived experience,” we’re supposed to “believe her.” It’s what the placards instruct. Acknowledge the trauma of the “survivor.” Who are we to say Ocasio’s truth isn’t true? It’s her truth, not ours.

But if this is true, then why believe anybody? Can there be any basis for asserting a shared reality? What is the method by which a common existence could be known?

Not that there’s no sanity on the far left side of things. Postcolonialist feminist philosopher Sandra Harding says an objective reality can be known. She writes, in an essay I assign my research methods students, “Beyond the Neutrality Ideal,” “No critics of racism, imperialism, male supremacy, or the class system think that the evidence and arguments they present leave their claims valid only ‘from their perspective.’”

But Ocasio doesn’t operate on Harding’s level where regret can be expressed (see “Newton’s rape manual”). Ocasio is an organic manifestation of a popular post-truth condition.

All Ocasio had to do was tell the truth about her experience on January 6, the truth known to her as she live-streamed her account. In doing so she did not need to hide her feelings.

She could have said that she did not know at the time, especially since she was in a separate building, what was happening and appreciated very much the Capitol Police officer stopping by to check on her. She could then have mentioned that she enjoyed a cup of coffee with a colleague down the hall immediately afterwards. She could have said, just so there was no misunderstanding, that there were no rioters outside her door, which she would have emphasized was a door in a separate building, that she was safe, but of course empathized with what others in the Capitol went through, an ordeal investigators are sorting out.

Instead, timed for an impeachment based on absence and ignorance of facts (the Senate trial began on a week later and resulted in another acquittal of Donald Trump), Ocasio made the Capitol riot all about her, presenting herself as a victim to her throng of adoring fans (and others among her 12.5 million followers on Twitter and nearly 9 million on Instagram)—all for maximum propaganda effect.

When it was obvious that she could not be an actual victim of 1/6, she “contextualized” matters by telling the audience that she was at one point a victim. She then used this claim to berate those who dared to criticize her.

“The reason I say this and the reason I’m getting emotional in this moment is because these folks who tell us to move on, that it’s not a big deal, that we should forget what’s happened, or even telling us to apologize,” she said with wet eyes. “These are the same tactics of abusers. And, um, I’m a survivor of sexual assault.”

These are the tactics of an emotional blackmailer. It’s not a technique just anyone can use.

Nobody doubts the congresswoman’s savvy as a demagogue. In the livestream, she unfolded a story she knew was false, brazenly changing it as she told it, seemingly hearing the lies as she told them in her baby voice, while leaving the desired impression, namely that her fear, manufactured or real, is the truth of her experience.

There were men yelling and pounding on her door trying to kill her. Okay, one man. Okay, a Capitol police officer checking on her safety. But she didn’t like the way he looked at her (“ACAB”!). And Ted Cruz is trying to have her killed. She actually tweeted that—unfiltered by Jack Dorsey. (Remember Jon Lovitz’s SNL character the Pathological Liar? That.)

Now she is beseeching her Twitter army to demand the platform take down the tweets of those who exposed her Smollett.

As Jack Posobiec of One America News noted on Steve Bannon’s War Room, everybody remembers that one girl in high school who makes everything about her. The drama queen. The actress. Like Jussie Smollett.

Ocasio-Cortez is Hillary Clinton “landing under sniper fire” in Bosnia. Maybe Hillary was telling the truth. After all, it was her experience (#Ibelieveher). The trauma tells the truth.

These aren’t big mouths in high school. They’re big time influencers in the national arena.

I was wise to Ocasio-Cortez a long time ago. This is from my blog June 2019 and there’s more where that came from. Her followers exist in a religious-like space and state and she is their idol, their totem, their cult leader.

I am told that the congresswoman’s past stint as a bartender makes a claim on working class bona fides. But her brand of woke leftism does not represent working people. It can’t. Woke politics is the ideology of relatively affluent members of the academic and professional-managerial strata and their offspring.

Ocasio-Cortez is a creation of the Justice Democrats, a group organized by the once-populist Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sander insiders Saikat Chakrabarti and Jack Exley, Cenk Uyger of The Young Turks, and Kyle Kulinski of Secular Talk, key social influencers for enlisting young Americans in the progressive establishment, who self-identify as “democratic socialists.” (This was crowd that Jimmy Dore had to get away from because they are so subservient to state corporate power. I have watched Dore’s awakening in real time. He still has sleepies in his eyes, but he’s drinking the coffee. He now calls Ocasio-Cortez a coward, a gaslight, and a liar.)

Self-described democratic socialists are the faux-left. You may know them by their jargon. If you hear “crypto” (as in “cryptofascist”) to refer to a critic, or if there is expressed a fetish for some DSA sanctioned drama queen, or if some old sellout in mittens at Biden’s inauguration is the bomb and memed incessantly or, alternatively, if his grumpy chic is an expression of white privilege, then you know you have a faux-leftist in your midst. A piss-poor understanding of science and deep contempt for such core liberal values as equality of opportunity and free speech are also dead giveaways.

This crowd thinks puffed up antifascist rhetoric is a proper substitute for working class politics. They believe they constitute the left end of what they perceive to be a popular front against a rising tide of rightwing reaction that mostly exists in their imagination. At best, they’re wannabes.

Published by

Andrew Austin

Andrew Austin is on the faculty of Democracy and Justice Studies and Sociology at the University of Wisconsin—Green Bay. He has published numerous articles, essays, and reviews in books, encyclopedia, journals, and newspapers.

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