The Corner

Politics & Policy

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Twitter Trolling, and the Annals of Negative Polarization

Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez campaigns for fellow Democrat Kaniela Ing ahead of the Democratic Primary Election in Honolulu, Hawaii, U.S. August 9, 2018. (Marco Garcia/Reuters)

Representative-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted this morning:

This prompted me to ask:

If you look at some of the replies, you can see that a lot of people don’t like the question. Quite a few folks don’t get what I’m getting at, so let me explain. It’s been reported that the staffers who sometimes handle Trump’s Twitter feed intentionally include typos and weird capitalization not just to make them seem more authentic, but because they think it’s a form of trolling “elitists” who obsess about grammar and usage.

Presidential speechwriters have always sought to channel their bosses’ style and cadence, but Trump’s team is blazing new ground with its approach to his favorite means of instant communication. Some staff members even relish the scoldings Trump gets from elites shocked by the Trumpian language they strive to imitate, believing that debates over presidential typos fortify the belief within his base that he has the common touch.

I’ve written about how I suspect other politicians are getting in on the act, though not necessarily with typos. During the Kavanaugh hearings, Hillary Clinton tweeted a proven falsehood about Kavanaugh, inviting a terrific backlash from conservatives. My theory was that she — or her advisers — knew what she was doing. In an era of intense negative partisanship, partisans forgive their own “team” members for almost anything while cheering attacks from “them.” The most valuable thing in this political climate is to invite the wrath and attention of the right enemies.

It’s early yet, but it seems to me Ocasio-Cortez has figured this out, either deliberately or subconsciously. For instance, until further evidence is provided, I simply don’t believe this tweet:

Maybe — maybe — something like this happened once. But the idea that it kept happening, i.e., multiple times? I just don’t believe it. I’m open to being proven wrong. And it’s not the biggest deal in the world if I’m right. My point is that she has an excellent instinct for playing the media (that tweet got enormous friendly coverage) and trolling her enemies. So it’s entirely possible that her tweet decrying pedants for criticizing small mistakes contained an honest, well-tomd typo that invites critics to make a big deal about a small thing (and in the process make her more egregious and much more serious errors seem trivial).

But I’m skeptical.

Jonah Goldberg, a senior editor of National Review and the author of Suicide of the West, holds the Asness Chair in Applied Liberty at the American Enterprise Institute.

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