Taylor Swift and How to Win the Culture War
The Taylor Swift freakout on the Right is more evidence that the Republicans are out of touch with mainstream values
Growing a newsletter has been a challenge in recent years. Elon Musk’s utter destruction of Twitter means finding new readers on that platform is very hard. Last year, Mark Zuckerberg tweaked the Facebook algorithm to deprioritize politics and news, which means posting a Message Box on Facebook is about as effective as printing it, folding it into a paper airplane, and throwing it out of the window.
Ultimately, growth depends on two factors. One, current readers spreading the word to people in their networks (thank you so much for sharing and gifting Message Box) and two, finding viral topics, writing about them and hoping for the best.
This is why every person writing a newsletter, blog, or article found a reason to write about Taylor Swift earlier this week. The Right Wing’s bizarre conspiracy theory about the Deep State scripting the Super Bowl so that Taylor Swift could help Biden win has been THE topic of the week; one of the few things that actually broke through in our disaggregated, chaotic, confusing media ecosystem.
Now that the Taylor Swift news cycle is waning, I have decided to weigh in. Smart, huh?
Obviously, the idea that Taylor Swift, Joe Biden, Travis Kelce, and the NFL, whose teams are mostly owned by Trump supporters, rigged the Super Bowl to defeat Trump is absurd. Other than the true MAGA zombies, none of these people actually believe it. They are just chasing online attention, which — to be fair — is political power in Trump’s GOP. And for MAGA influencers like Benny Johnson, who helped kick this whole thing off, attention is money.
Beyond making fun of these yahoos, there is something notable about the Right Wing picking a fight with America’s most popular singer, one of its most popular athletes, and the most popular sport by far on the occasion of what will be the most watched television event of the year. The “Taylor Swift is an op” accusation is an example of the Democrats’ continuing and too often unrealized opportunity to paint the Republicans as out-of-touch.
Pop Culture Wars
At their core, most political campaigns boil down to trying to label the other side as outside of the American mainstream. It’s not high-minded, Lincoln-Douglas debate stuff, but it is the reality. Typically, Republicans have been more aggressive in these efforts. When you are on the wrong side of the most important issues, the only option is to “otherize” your opponent. It’s why Republicans tried (and succeeded) to characterize John Kerry — a war hero — as an elitist, wind-surfing Boston Brahmin who hated his fellow troops. Republicans tried (and failed) to otherize Barack Obama by calling into question his birthplace, falsely claiming he was educated in a Madrassa, and using every racist trope in the book. All of the “Defund the Police,” Critical Race Theory, DEI bullshit were attempts to make Democrats seem extreme. And all of this is why, dating back to Richard Nixon, Republicans have worked so hard to claim ownership of the words “freedom” and “patriotism.”
Democrats are often ahead of public opinion on issues of civil rights and reproductive and sexual freedoms and, therefore, on the defensive over these sorts of cultural issues. But those days are no longer. Republicans are on the wrong side of public opinion and backing themselves into a corner by picking some truly bizarre fights. CNN’s Oliver Darcy wrote in a recent edition of the Reliable Sources newsletter:
The movement that once championed small, business-friendly government is now led by far-right media forces hoping to cash in on attention from raging culture wars, sealing off its adherents from the rest of society.
From a bird's eye view, the state of affairs among MAGA Media diehards as it sits today is remarkable. A subset of America actually purports to boycott Disney, the world's preeminent entertainment company; Bud Light, once America's most popular beer; Target, the quintessential brick-and-mortar shopping destination; Pfizer, the pharmaceutical company that produced life-saving Covid-19 vaccines; Major League Baseball, the nation's favorite pastime; and now Taylor Swift, a generational icon and one of the most successful musical artists of all time.
It’s a truly wild turn of events and one that Democrats can use to our advantage in the coming months.
Representing the Majority
What ties baseball, football, Bud Light, Taylor Swift, and Target together is that they are all things that appeal to a majority of Americans. They are past times, well-respected brands, and beloved by millions. They are quintessentially a part of the fabric of American life. The internet, social media, and filter bubbles destroyed the idea of an American monoculture. Everyone can curate their own entertainment and news bubbles. We no longer watch, listen or discuss the same things. Television shows and musicians can be incredibly successful but unknown to large swaths of the country. The two biggest exceptions to this new reality are Taylor Swift and football. Swift is by far the most famous, popular, successful, and discussed entertainer. The NFL is the most dominant source of entertainment in America. According to the Sports Business Journal, 93 of the 100 most watched television programs of 2023 were NFL games. To put this in perspective, 56 million people watched the San Francisco 49ers beat the Detroit Lions on Sunday night and a little more than 2 million people watch Sean Hannity on a nightly basis.
The point here is that by picking these culture war fights, Republicans demonstrate how disconnected they are from typical American life. While this whole Taylor Swift psyop thing has gotten some attention, most voters don’t know just how far from the mainstream Republicans have wandered. Therefore, it’s our job to tell them. Two tips for doing so:
First, when taking on an extremist faction, particularly one with authoritarian leanings, it’s always helpful to remind the public that this faction is a minority in the country. This helps isolate the threat and rob them of their power. It’s also empowering to the rest of us to be reminded that we are the majority. We are not in this fight alone, and we are joined by most of our fellow citizens.
Second, having a bizarre meltdown over Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce, and the Super Bowl is fucking weird and Americans don’t elect fucking weirdos. Just ask Ron DeSantis, whose candidacy was doomed the minute people discovered that he eats pudding with his fingers. The Right picking fights with Bud Light is weird. Their opposition to vaccines (which is why they hate Kelce) is weird. Their obsession with trans kids is weird. The fact that the Right focuses on all of the wrong and weirdest things makes them unrelatable to most people.
In 2016, Trump re-appropriated Richard Nixon’s racially tinged “silent majority” language. In 2024, he is leading an extremist minority of weirdos.