Julia Salazar, the Left’s Post-Truth Politician
The democratic socialist lied. And lied. And lied. Then she won handily in Brooklyn.
According to The Washington Post’s running count, Donald Trump is averaging 7.6 “Trumpian claims” a day. One wonders how many Salazarian claims Julia Salazar has spoken.
On Thursday Ms. Salazar, a 27-year-old rookie politician and democratic socialist, trounced an eight-term state senator in the Democratic primary in New York’s 18th District. The district is gentrifying North Brooklyn — East Williamsburg, Bushwick — and there is no Republican on the ballot. So Ms. Salazar is guaranteed to win in November.
That she pulled this off even though she is, to put it gently, allergic to the truth, tells you a lot about our current political moment.
It’s one thing to change your mind. And Ms. Salazar has on several fronts.
In less than a decade she went from being pro-life to pro-choice. From a conservative Christian Zionist to an outspoken advocate of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel. From a registered Republican to a progressive insistent that she is “actively working to dismantle” capitalism and to abolish the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
It’s the ideological equivalent of a cinnamon-raisin bagel with lox. Strange. But technically kosher.
But evolving politically is different from fabricating your life story.
A few weeks ago, Ms. Salazar was perfectly positioned as the Robin to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Batman. She was a Colombian immigrant with a Columbia degree. A Jew of color and a working-class girl raised by a single mother without a college degree who had struggled to support her family. She was treated to flattering profiles in outlets like The Village Voice and New York Magazine.
The problem is that few of the details were true.
Ms. Salazar was born in South Florida. She was raised in a Catholic home and her conversion story, which no one can verify, keeps changing. She never graduated from Columbia, unlike her mother, who in fact did finish college. She grew up in a comfortable middle-class home. She even has a trust fund.
Much of this fact-checking was helped along by Ms. Salazar’s own family members, who seemed distressed about the way their past was being discussed in the press. Ms. Salazar claimed that her brother, Alex, had a political ax to grind: He has “very right-wing politics,” she told Vox. “Very anti-socialist politics.” Her brother responded that his aim was “telling the truth about my family.”
It’s hard to recall an instance where a candidate’s integrity was being openly challenged by her family more than by her political opponent.
Ms. Salazar’s first instinct was to accuse Tablet Magazine, where I used to be an editor, of practicing “race science” when it cracked open the story in August about inconsistencies in her background and raised questions about her account of converting to Judaism. A few days before voters went to the polls she softened it a bit for Rolling Stone: “I regret not having the foresight to anticipate being misunderstood.”
But none of it mattered. She won 58.5 percent of the vote — 20,603 to her opponent’s 14,614.
In the run-up to the election, only Citizens Union, a good government group, dropped its endorsement on the grounds that Ms. Salazar had provided incorrect information about her “academic credentials.” Ms. Ocasio-Cortez doubled down on her support for the candidate, saying, through a spokesman, that she remained behind her “100 percent.” Cynthia Nixon, who in July called Ms. Salazar “the future of the Democratic Party,” never wavered, nor did the New York City comptroller Scott Stringer. And the Democratic Socialists of America threw its organizing support behind her.
A known liar is now heading to Albany. At least she’ll be in good company?
No matter how many things Ms. Salazar makes up, it seems unfair to liken her to our post-truth president, who lies on a much grander scale and who has the power to do far, far greater damage.
And yet, the willingness of Ms. Salazar’s supporters to look past her fabrications sounds eerily familiar to the justifications Trump supporters made in 2016: Yes, he’s distasteful and prone to exaggeration. But he’s promising to pass policies we like. Supporting him is a price worth paying in pursuit of our goals.
Even the right’s dismissal of anything critical of Mr. Trump as fake news has its left-wing equivalent. On Friday on the website Jacobin, a democratic socialist writer celebrated Ms. Salazar’s win and dismissed the press’s “unprecedented smears.” There was, he says, “no smoking gun” and the whole thing could be chalked up to hostility to her political views — or, worse, to some kind of right-wing conspiracy.
In this, her supporters were helped by one story where her testimony rings true. Ms. Salazar is one of a dozen women who have accused David Keyes, until this week a top aide to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, of sexual misconduct. He denies the allegations, but I know several of the women who have accused Mr. Keyes and I am convinced they are telling the truth. Given the pattern of his alleged behavior, I have every reason to believe that Julia Salazar is, too.
But her supporters are now using this episode to paint a broader falsehood. They’re implying that the critical reporting was ginned up by right-wing Zionists to discredit her — that she’s a victim of a targeted campaign rather than a woman who was victimized by a man but also one who fabricated parts of her past for political gain. Just like Mr. Trump’s supporters, her fans have reserved much of their hostility for the media, which had the chutzpah to ask basic questions of a person running for elected office.
The right has been damaged beyond belief by its embrace of Mr. Trump. That Trumpian logic and Trumpian loyalty is now beginning to infect the left is nothing to cheer.