WASHINGTON – When the big political news of the week involves Taylor Swift and Kanye West, we’re in serious trouble. I’m trying to “Shake It Off,” but I can’t.
I don’t mean to sound “Heartless,” but we shouldn’t have to pay the slightest attention to what those pop-music megastars think about the midterm election and President Trump. We do pay attention, though. The celebrification of our politics is complete, heaven help us, and we can only hope this doesn’t mark the “End Game” of American society.
We have created a “Monster” and it is devouring us.
Swift, who is registered to vote in Tennessee, posted a lengthy caption on Instagram late Oct. 7 in which she excoriated GOP Senate candidate Marsha Blackburn – “her voting record in Congress appalls and terrifies me” – and announced support for Democratic hopeful Phil Bredesen.
“In the past I’ve been reluctant to publicly voice my political opinions, but due to several events in my life and in the world in the past two years, I feel very differently about that now,” Swift wrote. “I always have and always will cast my vote based on which candidate will protect and fight for the human rights I believe we all deserve in this country.”
Swift went on to affirm her belief “in the fight for LGBTQ rights” and to declare “the systemic racism we still see in this country towards people of color is terrifying, sickening and prevalent.” She sounded almost “Breathless” as she urged everyone to “please, please educate yourself on the candidates running in your state and vote.”
Who cares? It’s not yet clear. But if any substantial fraction of Swift’s 112 million Instagram followers does care – yes, I said 112 million – and acts on her advice, we could see a real impact on Nov. 6. Swift’s audience is young; I don’t have any data, but I wouldn’t be surprised if their average age were roughly “22.”
Young people tend to support Democrats but tend not to vote much at all in non-presidential election years. If Swift’s intervention moves the needle even slightly on young voter participation, that could make a big difference in tight races.
Many on the right apparently had believed, based on no evidence either way, that Swift was in their corner. Clearly, they were wrong. Her message to the Republican Party seems to be that “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together.”
Since Trump’s ascension has made us all cast members in a tiresome reality-television show, it is inevitable that the yin to Swift’s yang would come from West. The two were forever linked in a bizarre unscripted moment at the 2009 MTV Video Music Awards. Swift was accepting her prize for Best Female Video when West suddenly bounded onstage, grabbed the microphone and uttered the immortal line: “Yo Taylor, I’m really happy for you, I’ma let you finish, but Beyonce had one of the best videos of all time.”
“I’ma let you finish” became a meme, then a cliche. Thursday, before having lunch with Trump at the White House, West came up with a new one: “Trump is on his hero’s journey right now.”
West has always had an exalted view of his own “Power” to shape the culture, and perhaps he sees in Trump a fellow genius in the art of self-promotion. He shocked fans earlier this year by opining that the centuries of American slavery perhaps should be seen as “a choice” made by the slaves. In terms of public image, it seemed like a “Runaway” disaster. But he was just getting started.
Since then, he has been increasingly vocal about his admiration for Trump. Last month, after appearing on”Saturday Night Live,” West donned a “Make America Great Again” hat and regaled the studio audience with alt-right nonsense. He said he had been “bullied” by the show’s cast and crew for his nonconformist views – a claim “SNL” adamantly denied the following week in a “Weekend Update” segment.
In the Oval Office, he once again wore the MAGA hat. He said it made him “feel like Superman.”
Can West’s support make Trump “Stronger” by convincing African-Americans to vote Republican, or at least dampen enthusiasm for voting Democratic? I seriously doubt it. But isn’t it absurd that we even have to ask the question?
In the age of social media and wall-to-wall cable news, fame matters. In 2016, Trump’s fame overcame such trifles as his ignorance, lack of experience and glaring unfitness for office. We are better off when celebrities model civic engagement. We are lost, however, if we take them seriously.