Clad in suffragette white and sporting her signature red lipstick, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was the image of stoicism as President Donald Trump delivered his State of the Union address Tuesday evening, railing against everything from Congress' responsibility to keep the executive branch in check to women's right to choose an abortion.
As he once again embraced his far-right rhetoric and attacked undocumented immigrants, the freshman congresswoman sat in silence. On her lapel, she had a pin with the picture of Jakelin Ameí Rosmery Caal Maquin, a 7-year-old Indigenous immigrant from Guatemala who died in Border Patrol custody in early December.
Critics were quick to zoom in on her behaviour, or lack thereof. "AOC had a rare bad night, looking not spirited, warm and original as usual but sullen, teenaged and at a loss," Peggy Noonan, a conservative columnist and former speechwriter for President Ronald Reagan, tweeted. The "teenaged" remark seemed intended to be dismissive of Ocasio-Cortez — the youngest congresswoman ever elected — while calls of her not being "spirited" or "warm" might as well be the equivalent to asking a woman to smile more.
The truth is, Ocasio-Cortez had no desire to perform in approval of a president who fundamentally represents everything she opposes. Neither did many of her fellow congresswomen most of the night. The only time Ocasio-Cortez got up and cheered was when she joined other Democratic women in celebrating the diversity of the 116th Congress — a victory that was only possible because of the nation's choice to rebuke Trump in the 2018 midterm elections.
"Why should I be 'spirited and warm' for this embarrassment of a
#SOTU? Tonight was an unsettling night for our country," she tweeted back at Noonan.
Conservatives have been obsessed with Ocasio-Cortez ever since she upended the Democratic establishment by pulling a primary upset last summer. They've wasted breath on comically shallow criticism such as her not dressing poor enough, her humble childhood home, her savings not being substantial, her public high school being decent, her dancing, and even how she's allegedly "not successful in real life" despite, well, being a congresswoman and a Democratic powerhouse. The key to a healthy democracy is to have diversity of thought but challenges to her ideology have been few and far between.
Zeroing in on whether Ocasio-Cortez smiled or not while President Trump boasted about a laundry list of policies she vehemently opposes is perhaps one of the laziest takeaways her critics could have mentioned. Women in positions of power, particularly in politics, have often faced this type of gendered criticism. But men are never questioned over their behaviour — even Trump himself has a habit of engaging in openly hostile body language such as crossing his arms without his opponents dragging him.
Ocasio-Cortez's choice to remain stoic spoke more about her convictions than a fake smile could have. "The president failed to offer any plan, any vision at all, for our future," Ocasio-Cortez said on Twitter. "We’re flying without a pilot. And I‘m not here to comfort anyone about that fact."