What’s up with all this controversy over Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her diverse freshmen Democrat colleagues in the House of Representatives? What is so different about their public pronouncements? Why are even centrist Democrats attacking them? Something is happening here and their elders don’t know what it is, do they, Mister Jones?
Most of us believe that we act reasonably and hold our beliefs because they are true. Yet, we disagree so much and so often. How can that be?
Imagery and emotion often control how we view facts and how we apply reason to evidence in everyday life, and especially in politics. We all started out with “questioning minds.” That is why children drive parents to distraction by incessantly asking “Why?” As often as not, the answer elicits another “Why?” In our maturity, we question only those who fail to conform to what we have come to believe.
As they grow up, most folks stop questioning everything and accept the conventional explanations of how the world works. We conform to the worldview of those around us because it seems to make sense, and, after all, those most respected around us hold these views.
Most people want to “fit in.” They gradually shape their understandings of the world in the context and with the perspective of the social group to which they belong. That works well for most people in most situations, especially when things are stable. However, in the late stages of the modern world, as we have known it, things no longer seem all that stable.
Liberals Accept Deviance
Some do not simply conform to the norm, they deviate from what others consider normal. They take on the identity of rabble-rousers if they are outspoken in their challenges to the conventional wisdom. If they break with convention, adopting peculiar lifestyles or dress, sociologists label them deviants.
Some deviants just go about their lives just wanting to be left alone to their different lifestyle. They simply deviate from the norms of the social group, community, or society they belong to because they have taken on a different perspective. These deviants get in trouble to the extent that conservatives demand that they conform, sometimes invoking laws against deviant behavior. Liberals generally defend the right of deviants to deviate, as long as nobody gets hurt.
Almost Nobody Likes a Rebel
The social deviant is considerably different from the rebel who intellectually and openly challenges the status quo and the conventional wisdom about life and some core societal arrangements. At some point, the moral dimension enters the picture. Some rebel against particular norms, conventional practices, or unfair elements of the social structure itself. That is where moral indignation becomes political protest.
The “establishment” in any society resists all forms of protest or demands for change, particularly in the structure of power itself. Elites, who sit comfortably atop the establishment, frame such demands as threats to the social order, and as challenges to the core values of the nation. The propagandists and marketing directors they pay, know this well and exploit it fully.
Values become quite malleable, especially when propagandists reinterpret or distort them to exploit emotions like fear. We sometimes hold tightly to the comfort of sacred words, not realizing that powerful forces have changed their underlying meanings. Dominant institutions, advertisers and politicians often manipulate the imagery and emotions attached to our key cultural concepts.
The corporate, financial, and political elites who for decades have concentrated more and more power among themselves, fear and despise moral protest. It points directly at their ethical failings. We see their fear today in their responses to the challenges of the
New Progressive Democrats in Congress, the @AOCs and the Sunrise Movement. These new progressive members and their allies are self-aware rebels who have penetrated the core of the political center of power. They are not afraid to speak their minds and ask “Why?” which shocks and offends their elders. However, they know that “well-behaved women rarely make history.”
These political rebels consciously (or should I say, conscientiously?) fail to conform to the “traditional” norms that require new members of Congress to sit down and shut up until they have secured the privileges of seniority and rank among their older (mostly white male) peers. The new progressive female congresspersons of color will have none of it. They have arrived to speak truth to power, so naturally, they offend those old white men who have hidden behind their privileged status for decades.
George Lakoff explains in his book, Don’t Think of an Elephant! Know Your Values and Frame the Debate, how corporatist “conservatives” often win politically by “framing the debate” with emotions and imagery that influence voters far more than the fact-filled policy-wonk talk of conventional “liberals.”
All they are trying to conserve is their own power and that of their corporate sponsors, not any core American values, such as those expressed in the traditional American progressive ideas of a “Green New Deal.”
In that, they are bucking the tide of growing public sentiment against their privileges, against excessive wealth and power, and for saving people and planet from their sanctimonious greed.