Why Taylor Swift terrifies Republicans

MAGA’s got problems, and I don’t think we can solve them

Why Taylor Swift terrifies Republicans

by Gil Duran | FrameLab

The latest target of the Republican Party’s feverish and conspiratorial wrath: 34-year-old pop music megastar Taylor Swift.

Here at FrameLab, we cannot exactly claim to be “Swifties” (as Swift’s most loyal fans are known). But we will admit that some of her tunes are quite catchy.

Yet we have taken a keen interest in the right-wing’s growing fear of Swift and her army of Swifties. The reasons why Republicans perceive Swift as a grave threat explain a lot about what Republicans actually believe.

A story in today’s New York Times outlines the Republican antipathy toward Swift:

For football fans eager to see a new team in the Super Bowl, the conference championship games on Sunday that sent the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers back to the main event of American sports culture were sorely disappointing.

But one thing is new: Taylor Swift. And she is driving the movement behind Donald Trump bonkers.

To summarize, Swift — already one of the most famous people in the world — has been dating the NFL’s Travis Kelce, who plays for the Kansas City Chiefs. In response, right-wing football fans have politicized the situation. They have been praying for the demise of Kelce’s team. They have blamed the team’s losses on Swift, saddling her with direct responsibility for the team’s fate. They have even predicted that Kelce’s relationship with Swift would cost his team a shot at the championship.

Plot twist: Taylor Swift’s boyfriend is going to the Super Bowl. So now the regressive Trump party must concoct a kooky new conspiracy theory to explain the failure of its previous anti-Taylor theories.

From the NYT:

The conspiracy theories coming out of the Make America Great Again contingent were already legion: that Ms. Swift is a secret agent of the Pentagon; that she is bolstering her fan base in preparation for her endorsement of President Biden’s re-election; or that she and Mr. Kelce are a contrived couple, assembled to boost the N.F.L. or Covid vaccines or Democrats or whatever.

“I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month,” Vivek Ramaswamy, the conspiratorial presidential candidate, turned Trump surrogate, pondered on social media on Monday. “And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall.”

You get the idea. When one kooky Republican frame fails, another kooky frame rises to take its place. (We recommend reading the entire NYT story, “Taylor Swift, Travis Kelce and a MAGA Meltdown,” for the full context.)

But let’s get to the heart of the matter: Why do Republicans see Swift as a threat? The simple answer: She is a powerful young woman who challenges the traditional social hierarchy.

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Swift effortlessly challenges the Republican moral hierarchy in many ways. Here is the hierarchy, as laid out by UC Berkeley Cognitive Scientist George Lakoff:

This conservative moral hierarchy is at the heart of Republican ideology. It explains why they believe what they believe. Whenever you have a question about a Republican policy or position, consult this chart and you will find the answer.

Now, here are the main ways in which Swift challenges this hierarchy:

First, she is an independent and powerful woman. Swift became a billionaire through her musical talents. She wields a great deal of social and cultural power and does not require the permission or support of any man. This challenges the traditional hierarchy, in which women must be subservient to men. Swift’s success turns this hierarchy on its head.

Second, she is young. In the Republican hierarchy, young people must bow to the authority of adults. Though now in her early thirties, Swift became famous at a young age and is a powerful icon for millions of young people. As a young person with an outsized influence over other people of her generation, she upsets the conservative moral hierarchy’s emphasis on older people wielding power over younger people.

Third, she opposes racism. As the NYT story points out, Swift has acknowledged that systemic racism exists. “I believe that the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent,” she said in 2018. This positions her in direct opposition to the Republican assertion that either systemic racism does not exist, or else that systemic racism is a good thing. In the Republican hierarchy, whites are placed above people of other races. Therefore, Republicans see racial hierarchy as the good and natural order of things. By acknowledging the existence of systemic racism and opposing it, Swift challenges a core part of the belief system.

Fourth, Swift is a champion of LGBTQ people. Swift has made it clear that she strongly supports LGBTQ rights and rejects all prejudice and discrimination. We highly recommend watching the music video for “You Need to Calm Down,” in which she deftly takes on anti-LGBTQ discrimination and Trumpism at the same time. (Click image below to watch the video…highly recommended!)

Fourth, Republicans fear Taylor Swift because she has supported Democratic politicians. Even worse, Swift has encouraged her fans to register and vote.

Given that she’s a young, powerful and independent woman who opposes racism and anti-LGBTQ discrimination, her political leaning makes perfect sense. The other side doesn’t exactly make any space for people who oppose bigotry.

But there’s another big reason why Swift terrifies Republicans. She challenges the hierarchy in many ways, yes. But she also does this as a person who would, in many ways, seem to benefit from the traditional hierarchy. She is white, she is wealthy, she is Christian and she is from a western country.

Of course, once you reject the constraints of patriarchy … it only makes sense to reject other forms of hierarchical oppressions as well. New studies show that young women around the world are increasingly rejecting regressive conservative politics, and it’s not hard to figure out why.

So, Swift’s rejection of conservative hierarchy politics is a glimpse of the future.

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Now, imagine the version of Taylor Swift that Trump’s Republicans would support. They’d fawn over a pop star who embraced bigotry and prejudice, and who urged her followers to reject science and embrace conspiracy theory. A Republican version of Swift would deny the reality of climate change, militate against abortion rights and urge women to embrace subservience to men. A red-pilled wannabe Taylor would rave against Joe Biden while donning a red hat and endorsing Donald Trump.

Fortunately, that’s not how reality works. The creativity, empathy and independence that have allowed Swift to rise to the top of the music industry are inherently connected to the values she expresses. Her powerful connection to her audience depends on her authenticity, and her music expresses her identity. It also reflects the identities and values of her millions of followers.

An authoritarian, hierarchical and regressive Taylor Swift?

Not in your wildest dreams.

— Gil Duran | FrameLab

Further reading on the Republican Moral Hierarchy:

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