[guest post by Dana]
I wasn’t going to write about the Taylor Swift-Travis Kelce conspiracy by the far right because the level of ridiculousness causes an immediate and reflexive eye roll [in rational Americans]. They’re a cute and famously successful couple. Hats off to them. Yet, when I read that a popular right-wing pundit suggested that “Taylor Swift is an op,” it became harder to laugh it off when seeing just how unhinged an already conspiracy-loving segment of the population has become…about a talented pop star. Consider:
Fox News host Jesse Watters asking on his prime time program earlier this month if Swift is a “Pentagon asset”…
“I wonder who’s going to win the Super Bowl next month,” Vivek Ramaswamy, the unsuccessful 2024 presidential candidate who has spread conspiracy theories about the January 6 insurrection and the legitimacy of the 2020 election, posted Monday on X. “And I wonder if there’s a major presidential endorsement coming from an artificially culturally propped-up couple this fall. Just some wild speculation over here, let’s see how it ages over the next 8 months.”
[Jack] Prosobiec said he believes the Democratic Party and other powers are “gearing up for an operation to use Taylor Swift in the election against” Donald Trump. [Roseanne] Barr agreed, saying that Swift is “definitely somebody who has consented to speak the way the establishment wants to be spoken of” and that using her influence will be how they “try to get on top of the next election.”
“Taylor Swift is an op,” Benny Johnson, a right-wing media personality who boasts millions of followers across different social media platforms, wrote on X. “It’s all fake. You’re being played.”
“The Democrats’ Taylor Swift election interference psyop is happening in the open,” added Laura Loomer, a self-described Islamophobe who has been embraced and promoted by Trump. “It’s not a coincidence that current and former Biden admin officials are propping up Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce. They are going to use Taylor Swift as the poster child for their pro-abortion GOTV Campaign.”
“The NFL is totally RIGGED for the Kansas City Chiefs, Taylor Swift, Mr. Pfizer (Travis Kelce),” agreed Mike Crispi, a Salem Media host. “All to spread DEMOCRAT PROPAGANDA. Calling it now: KC wins, goes to Super Bowl, Swift comes out at the halftime show and ‘endorses’ Joe Biden with Kelce at midfield.”
“It’s all been an op since day one,” Crispi concluded
Normally I would just shake it off, but the level of craziness just continues to increase. Given what we’ve seen of Trump’s Republican Party, increasingly ridiculous conspiracies will be believed and normalized by MAGAland. And that involves millions of Trump voters who will turn out in droves to support him. The cultural decline on the far right is staggering. Instead of embracing a golden opportunity, those on the far right would rather promote absurd conspiracy theories:
A story where the famous pop star abandons her country roots and spends years dating unsuccessfully in a pool of Hollywood creeps and angsty musicians, only to find true love in the arms of a bearded heartland football star who runs a goofy podcast with his equally bearded, happily married, easily inebriated older brother … I mean, this is a Hallmark Christmas movie! This is an allegory of conservative Americana! This is itself a right-wing meme!
It just becomes another reason not to take the modern Republican Party seriously. The abnormality of the moment and its inevitable self-destruction cannot be ignored:
There are two key reasons for this self-defeating weirdness, both of them downstream from Trump’s 2016 victory. The first is the realignment that I’ve discussed a few times before, where the ideological shifts of the Trump era made the right more welcoming to all manner of outsider narratives and fringe beliefs (including previously left-coded ones like vaccine skepticism) while the left became much more dutifully establishmentarian. This realignment made the right more interesting in certain ways, more inclined to see through certain bogus narratives and official pieties — but also more inclined to try to see through absolutely everything, which as C.S. Lewis observed is the same thing as not really seeing anything at all.
The second reason for the right’s abnormality problem is that even normal people in the Republican coalition overlearned the lesson of Trump’s election. Having made the safe and moderate choices in 2008 and 2012 and watched both John McCain and Mitt Romney go down in defeat, Republicans made a wild-seeming choice with Trump and saw him win the most improbable of victories. And there was a reasonable political lesson in that experience, which is that sometimes a dose of destabilization can open a path to new constituencies, new maps, new paths to victory.
But the dose is everything, and trying to be abnormal forever because it worked for you once is self-defeating in the extreme. The goal of destabilization, after all, is to eventually create a new stability, in which your party and vision and coalition are understood by most Americans to be a safe and normal place to belong. That is what the Trump-era right has conspicuously failed to achieve. And it won’t get there so long as it sees even cultural developments it should welcome, romances that it should be rooting for, and shakes its head and says, “It must be a liberal op.”