Politicians at the Met Gala: a double edged sword

By Kaitlyn McCormick

Every year the Met Gala stirs up conversation about the biggest names in Hollywood and what they were wearing, but this year, a well-known politician made her way into the mix.

New York Representative Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) donned a white gown by designer Aurora James emblazoned with ‘Tax the Rich’ in scarlet lettering on the back, inspiring a frenzy of reactions ranging from outrage to respect.

The phrase ‘Tax the Rich’ has been circulating in online and political spheres for a while now, and mainly refers to the structure of the American tax system that allows billionaires to legally skirt paying their fair share of federal income taxes.

A 2021 analysis by ProPublica compared the IRS reports on the amount of taxes paid by the 25 richest Americans to Forbes’s estimation of wealth growth within the same timeframe. Although Forbes calculated a $401 billion increase from 2014 to 2018, those individuals only paid a collective $13.6 billion in federal income taxes, evening out to only 3.4%.

ProPublica compared this trend to that of average middle-class American workers in their 40’s, who in that same period saw a $65,000 increase in net worth yet paid almost $62,000 in taxes.

In favor of fairly adjusting tax systems in the U.S. to hold the wealthiest population accountable, Ocasio-Cortez wrote on Twitter on Sept. 14, “After a year where frontline workers were thrown into harm’s way (many w/o hazard pay or adequate healthcare) while billionaires hoarded another $4 TRILLION, members of both parties have tried to halt taxing the wealthiest in our society. It’s unacceptable. We must Tax the Rich.”

The billion-dollar paychecks of America’s wealthiest are not necessarily comparable to the $174,000 salary of congresspersons, listed in the House of Representatives Press Gallery, however, the guest-list at the Met Gala is not made up of America’s working-class either.

Although her ticket was free, congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez received criticism for her red-carpet appearance, with online users accusing her of performative activism, and pointing out the hypocrisy of wearing a dress advocated to “Tax the Rich’ while also surrounded by some of the biggest names in Hollywood at an event too expensive for the typical public with a $35k ticket price tag.

AOC explained in a tweet, however, that “New York elected officials are routinely invited to and attend the Met due to [their] responsibilities in overseeing and supporting the city’s cultural institutions for the public.” She went on to say that she was “one of several in attendance.”

Some Twitter users praised AOC for her Met Gala statement, TV host Heather Gardner writing, “AOC really did wear a Tax The Rich dress to the Met Gala and all those rich celebrities had to see it. ICONIC.”

Though the congresswoman’s attendance at the 2021 Met Gala has sparked controversy and complaints, there is no denying that she has successfully got people in all political spheres talking about redefining taxation within the United States to benefit the working class. Whether complaining or congratulating, any conversation about her gala appearance reinstates and circulates the original message at hand: ‘Tax the Rich.’

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