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War on Gaza: Hey AOC, is genocide a 'progressive value?'

Progressive Democratic leaders want us to be 'adults' and vote for their candidates in the US elections this November, but doing so requires us to lose our moral conscience
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Leesburg, Virginia, on 8 February 2024 (Jim Watson/AFP)
Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez attends the House Democratic Caucus Issues Conference in Leesburg, Virginia, on 8 February 2024 (Jim Watson/AFP)

It's an election year in the United States. If you're one of those voters who has the temerity not to like genocide and white supremacy, you might be feeling weird about being told to vote for Democrats, even if you don't like Donald Trump.

It's difficult to see how President Joe Biden and his party represent a material improvement from the previous administration. They continue to run concentration camps at our southern border, continue the policies of Trump's Muslim Ban, and enthusiastically partner with Israel to slaughter tens of thousands and displace more than a million innocent Palestinians in the past four months alone.

Suppose you're worried about voting for the people supporting genocide. In that case, the most progressive Democratic officials want to assure you that there's nothing wrong with endorsing powerful leaders who commit crimes against humanity. In fact, it's the "adult" thing to do.

You wouldn't want to be some weird, emotional Trump voter who has a strange, tribalistic attachment to their candidate and party, after all. "We've just got to be adults about the situation," Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said in a recent interview where she stumped for Biden.

"I think sometimes people [think that] if you vote for someone, they have to be the embodiment of you. That's something that I think Donald Trump provided to a lot of people, where it's like if you voted for him and you were a Donald Trump person, like, it symbolised so much. But I think what we have here in this situation is a more honest thing. There are plenty of things that the president does that I completely disagree with," she continued.

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Ocasio-Cortez doubled down on her support for Biden, despite his carrying out what she says are unacceptable atrocities. Speaking with CNN's Jake Tapper on 13 February, the congresswoman said the choice to vote for Biden - even as he commits genocide - is an easy one.

"And what I know is who I'm going to choose is going to be one of the most successful presidents in modern American history," she said.

"I think we need to be very, very realistic about the grave impact of a Donald Trump election…It is not a game. We need to protect our democracy and, ideally, it's going to be on progressive values."

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With her effusive praise and meritless assertions, Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez are asking voters for a near pathological level of hastily resolving cognitive dissonance. If it is easy for her to support Biden, that's fine and well, but to then make the jump to call Biden a historically successful leader is downright propaganda.

Cognitive dissonance

Ocasio-Cortez is speaking to progressive voters when she describes and derides Republican voters as having some inappropriate psychological need to feel represented by…their representatives. What she is demanding from voters instead is that we jump through an at least equally psychologically complicated set of hoops to vote for Biden and her colleagues.

Dissonance theory tells us that human beings are naturally inclined to have different cognitions consistent with one another. When there is an inconsistency between them, it can make us feel uncomfortable, and so we often look to change our cognitions or beliefs until they are aligned with one another.

Ocasio-Cortez and the Democrats want us to treat our anguish about the atrocities this administration commits as though they are mere personality differences

If Democrats like Ocasio-Cortez can't get us to accept the cognitive dissonance necessary to vote for them - the people doing the things we don't like - they want to assist us in changing our cognitions until we're malleable enough to endorse those pulling empire's trigger.

Voting isn't actually about advocating for good things or resisting evil being actively done, we're being told. Instead, it's about sucking it up, realising nothing better in this world is possible, and letting fear drive us - instead of hope and righteous anger. We've just got to be "adults" about the situation.

"Just because I'm voting for [Biden] doesn't mean he embodies everything about me. So, that, to me, is where I'm at," she maintains.

Ocasio-Cortez and the Democrats want us to treat our anguish about the atrocities this administration commits as though they are mere personality differences.

They want us to believe that there is some higher-order reasoning or objective of greater import that should unify us and justify our continued support of them. In doing so, we must disregard the police and surveillance state they oversee, the hundreds of thousands of innocent children they kill abroad, the prison slavery economy they insist upon, and the domestic concentration camps that their donors profit from.

That seems like a big ask of us. Don't fret - Democrats have that one simple trick to help us ignore our moral conscience.

After all, Ocasio-Cortez is just like us. She hates seeing the pictures of dead Palestinian babies at hands of Israel displayed on X (formerly Twitter) every day.

It's yucky. It's a bummer.

"I think, like, right now what's happening in Gaza, I can't, I can't go on every single day seeing this," she states.

Ocasio-Cortez predictably used the passive voice, with no mention of what Democrats are joining Republicans in doing - actively helping Israel ethnically cleanse all of Gaza while increasing their murderous bombardment of the entire region. She refers to "what's happening in Gaza" with no mention of what is being done, and as though there is no one actively doing it.

Such grief.

"I don't associate myself with what's happening," she tells us.

Ocasio-Cortez has always steadfastly supported apartheid Israel's "right to exist". When she had the opportunity to vote against the US funding for Israel's Iron Dome weapons system, which targets Palestinians, she did not. Instead, she voted "present" at the apparent demand of her party leaders who opposed an even symbolic vote against the funding, which had more than enough votes to pass.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) greets demonstrators with Code Pink for Peace outside her office in the Rayburn House Office Building as they rallied on Capitol Hill in support of Palestinians and to demand a cease fire in Gaza on February 15, 2024 in Washington, DC
Rep. Rashida Tlaib greets demonstrators with Code Pink for Peace outside her office as they rallied on Capitol Hill in support of Palestinians and to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, 15 February 2024 (AFP)

Ocasio-Cortez felt compelled to apologise to her constituents, saying she understood those who accused her of "cowardice". Now, she's campaigning for Biden even as he refuses to call for a ceasefire.

Under Trump, Ocasio-Cortez wailed at a concentration camp wall where Latin asylum seekers were being held illegally. She has, in turn, praised Biden on his management of the ethnic concentration camps as he continues to illegally kidnap, traffic, hold, and kill migrant families in these inhumane and militarised pens.

She bears responsibility for the atrocities she claims to oppose.

How does a celebrated progressive like her deal with her own cognitive dissonance? Dissociation.

Her statement, "I don't associate myself with what's happening", can be better understood as "I don't associate myself with what I'm doing."

Democrats want us to not care about that which matters to us. Failing that, they are now asking us to support them as they do evil and resolve that tension by not associating ourselves with the actions of those we endorse.

If it's good enough for AOC, it's good enough for you!

Losing support

There are signs that Democrats' convoluted and mercenary appeal to voters may not be working. Biden's approval rating is lower than any incumbent who has successfully sought re-election to the White House in 80 years.

Sixty-one percent of all likely American voters (Democrats, Republicans, and Independents) want a "permanent ceasefire" in Palestine despite Biden and the Democrats telling us for months that a ceasefire would be wrong and dangerous.

It's not just Joe Biden's memory that's going - it's his second term too
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Democrats and Biden need the support of states they barely won in 2020, like Nevada (where Biden's margin over Trump was lower than Hillary Clinton's in 2016) and Michigan.

The Biden administration continues to kidnap and hold Latin asylum seekers in concentration camps. Latino voters in places like Nevada are also cooling on Biden at the same time. In the key electoral map, Biden's approval rating in southwestern states has fallen to just 36 percent.

Biden won Michigan in 2020 by just over 150,000 votes. Now brave voices from within the state's 310,000 Arabs and Muslims are making known their disgust with Biden over not just his material and moral support for Israel's genocide against Palestinians and the US's own bombing of the region, but also the president himself spreading anti-Arab lies to manufacture support for the oppression of Palestinians.

A recent report from Yasmeen Abutaleb in The Washington Post describes Michigan Arab and Muslim people shedding their fear and organising against Biden's policies and callousness, willing to use their power to try and save lives.

When Biden's campaign manager visited Michigan in late January, she intended to meet with leaders from some of the state's more sizeable minority communities, including Arab, Muslim, Palestinian, Black, and Latino. Several Arab and Muslim leaders turned the Biden campaign down and refused to meet, saying that they have nothing to discuss or negotiate until Biden secures a ceasefire in Palestine.

Democratic Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib did meet with Biden's campaign manager but didn't pose for smiling photo opportunities. When Biden himself visited Michigan at the start of February, he was met by large protests and a boycott from elected officials.

Biden called upon riot police to help defend him against the shouts of protesters, who were then surrounded with guns, shields, and batons.

Biden's wife was also met with protests last month during her trip to Chicago, another metropolitan area with a large Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim population. At the top of this month, thousands of Chicagoans also overtook downtown Chicago and City Hall, demanding and winning a city council resolution calling for a ceasefire in Palestine in contravention to the Biden administration and Democratic Party's line.

There is no legitimate defence for voting for those who rain down misery and destruction upon innocents, not even the vague, undefined spectre of a future, greater evil

Our elected officials increasingly disregard our values and desires. They want us to drop our morality and instead take action this election year to support them.

It does often seem like they want us to ignore our minds to alter our behaviour. There is perhaps an even more pernicious component to this, however.

One facet of dissonance theory has to do with how attitudes alter behaviour. But another piece of the theory that doesn't get much attention in political discourse is how behaviour can shape attitudes. Suppose politicians can get us to repeatedly take action in support of them despite our attitudes. In that case, they might eventually succeed in changing our feelings towards them, their policies, their empire, and their crimes.

Acting on conscience is a difficult habit many Americans are attempting to establish for themselves. It is revealing that those in power are so intent on telling us to break it just as we're developing it.

We're asked to choose only between evils (the lesser one!), and if we accept those choices, all we're left with is co-signing evil in sloppy and incoherent ways. There is no legitimate defence for voting for those who rain down misery and destruction upon innocents, not even the vague, undefined spectre of a future, greater evil.

There is nothing worse than genocide, and there is no moral cover in supporting those who commit it. The realisation that both presidential candidates are capable of it should spur on wholesale rejection of the system that employs them, not capitulation to endorsing one monstrous criminal over another.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Elias Cepeda is a Chicago-based writer and university instructor of journalism and American literature and culture.
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