Mocking Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's trauma is really about covering for Trump's violent coup

There is a long history of dismissing the traumatic experiences of women and people of color as hysterical

By Sophia Tesfaye

Senior Politics Editor

Published February 2, 2021 1:00PM (EST)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez | Capitol Riot on January 6th, 2021 (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez | Capitol Riot on January 6th, 2021 (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

Today wouldn't be Groundhog Day if we weren't all experiencing a collective sense of déjà vu. 

The House impeachment managers delivered an 80-page memo to the Senate on Tuesday ahead of next week's impeachment trial, which comes a little more than one year after Donald Trump's first impeachment trial. And right-wing pundits are again dismissing the bid to hold political bad actors accountable — this time piling on Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's recounting of her fearful experience as a violent mob ransacked the Capitol on Jan. 6 to absolve Trump, and the larger right-wing media ecosphere, of responsibility for inciting the mob. 

Ocasio-Cortez took to Instagram Live on Monday evening to give her harrowing account of cowering in her congressional office in D.C., revealing for the first time that she is a survivor of sexual abuse, to explain why she believes her colleagues who egged on the Jan. 6 crowd with baseless accusations of election fraud — like Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Sen. Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee — should be held accountable. 

"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 — these are the same tactics of abusers. And I'm a survivor of sexual assault and I haven't told many people that in my life, but when we go through trauma, trauma compounds on each other," the congresswoman explained. 

Ocasio-Cortez's colleagues have corroborated her fears. 

In an interview with MSNBC, Ocasio-Cortez's colleague, California Democratic Rep. Katie Porter confirmed her account as she recounted just how terrified Ocasio-Cortez was as they hid together. "'I'm a mom. I'm calm. I have everything we need. We can live for like a month in this office,'" Porter said she told Ocasio-Cortez. "I hope I get to be a mom, I hope I don't die today," Ocasio-Cortez replied. Republican Rep. Thomas Massie of Kentucky said he felt he needed to be armed when faced with the mob chanting "Hang Mike Pence!"

Yet Ocasio-Cortez's vulnerability has been met with the familiar chorus of mockery and dismissal from right-wing pundits like Fox News star Tucker Carlson and former Fox News star Megyn Kelly

"Narrowly escaped death," Carlson sarcastically declared when Ocasio-Cortez first publicly recounted her fears two weeks ago. "When the most harrowing thing you've done in life is pass freshman sociology at Boston University, every day is a brand new drama! Sandy's heart is still beating fast!"

"It's not an exaggeration to say that many many members of the House were nearly assassinated," Ocasio-Cortez said during her livestream. Right-wing websites, however, have mocked the congresswoman, calling her account a "gross manipulation" that "uses a sexual assault claim as a political cudgel."

Assuming a right to define the impact of another person's trauma is a tired shtick that is often trotted out by right-wing pundits who attempt to deflect negative attention like after a school shooting or publicized event of police violence, for instance. It's meant to deflect from Ocasio-Cortez's revelation that she saw the eventual rioters in the parking lot of the Capitol on the Monday before the attack. It's meant to deflect from the fact that Missouri Sen. Josh Hawley, the Republican who gave life to Trump's coup by becoming the first member of the upper chamber to sign on to the GOP's challenge of Biden's Electoral College win, says he raised the most money since taking office after he raised his fist before the mob laid siege to the Capitol last month. It's meant to deflect from the fact that, as Salon's Amanda Marcotte noted, "three-quarters of Republican voters insist that Trump got more votes than Joe Biden, even though he received 7 million fewer."

The anti-democratic nature of the right-wing movement in America is deeper than even the anti-democracy moves made by Republicans in the establishment. The anti-democratic nature of the right-wing media actively works against the full participation of every member of our society. They work hard to discredit "lived experiences" because the world of credentialism has thus far blocked competition for them. Trauma is mocked because they have no understanding of what it feels like to be on the receiving end of any of these things so they think "rapist" and "racist" are just insults that you call somebody you don't like. Ocasio-Cortez herself laid this all out in a 2019 thread detailing the barrage of online harassment and threats she received: 

"Anyone who tells you that we couldn't have seen this coming is lying to you, anyone who's gone on the record and said that there was no indication of violence has lied," she told over 300,000 viewers of her livestream on Monday. "I probably started getting text messages about me having plans for my safety or me trying to figure something out, about Thursday. And those text messages came from other members of Congress." 

By continuing to tell her story, Ocasio-Cortez makes clear that ridicule and mockery are not enough to deflect from or defend the sedition acts of baselessly suggesting a presidential election was stolen. It's not an attempt to silence opposition by speaking the truth. But beyond holding her Republican colleagues to account, Ocasio-Cortez continues to give voice to survivors of systemic violence — like the sexual assault victims paid off by a taxpayer funder congressional slush fund until recently.

By Sophia Tesfaye

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon's senior editor for news and politics, and resides in Washington, D.C. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

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