Taylor Swift and the Republican love affair with conspiracy theories

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Several years ago, Taylor Swift was far from the femme fatale some members of the MAGA far right now consider her to be.

Many conservatives used to revere Swift. In 2015, Republican lawmakers invited the pop icon for personal tours of the U.S. Capitol and offered to provide donors tickets to her concerts. Even Donald Trump stated she was “terrific” and “fantastic.”

How times have changed.

Swift is now political poison to the right, largely despised for her progressive viewpoints, her unabashed support of feminism and, perhaps worst of all, for having the gall to inject herself into the NFL.

“The NFL is totally RIGGED for the Kansas City Chiefs, Taylor Swift, and Mr. Pfizer [Travis Kelce],” charged Mike Crispi, a Salem Radio talk show host, “all to spread DEMOCRAT PROPAGANDA.” On Fox News, Jesse Watters accused Swift of being a “Pentagon asset.” Newsmax host Greg Kelly accused Swift fans of idolatry: “If you look it up in the Bible, it’s a sin.” One America News host Alison Steinberg suggested Swift and Kelce were plotting to brainwash teenagers into thinking about sports when their focus should be on Jesus Christ.

And on and on and on.

The NFL has been a historically conservative organization with a right-leaning fan base. Taylor Swift represents assertive, powerful, independent womanhood. She is pro-choice and a staunch advocate of LGBTQIA rights, and she openly espouses and supports liberal and progressive positions on race, gender, class, and economics. Hence, she epitomizes most of the things despised by many conservatives, especially by the reactionary right, and they view her as a credible and serious threat.

The reality is that for many decades, conspiracy theories have been a fundamental factor of right-wing politics. During the McCarthy era of the 1950s, the modern right feared that communists had infiltrated virtually all avenues of American society. During the 1960s, Republicans, many of them former Dixiecrats, decried the civil rights and antiwar movements as being engineered and agitated by Russian politicians in Moscow.

Similar political paranoia was evident in the 1970s when far-right strategists declared that Democrats were conspiring with leftist radicals and homosexual sympathizers to eradicate America and Christianity. In fact, such efforts were so effective that they convinced millions of Christian evangelical voters to join the Republican Party. By the 1980s, President Ronald Reagan revisited 1950s paranoia when he insisted the anti-nuclear weapons movement was a creation of the Russians, despite denials from the FBI. The Republican Party embraced Christian Coalition leader Pat Robertson, a proponent of antisemitic conspiracy theories, and granted him considerable a power within Republican political circles.

When Bill and Hillary Clinton resided in the White House, right-wing journalists and pundits went into overdrive with conspiracy theories about their various business dealings and the suicide of aide Vince Foster, alleging it was murder. The ultra-right pastor Jerry Falwell sold sleazy videos alleging the Clintons had murdered many of their political enemies. Prominent party leaders, among them Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, assisted in amplifying the anti-Clinton conspiracy theories, which conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh used to radically entice millions of listeners.

The right’s attack on Barack Obama was fueled by a torrent of conspiracies regarding his past, most evident in the racist birther conspiracy theory that Trump sinisterly embraced and exploited to become a darling of the conservative right. Obama was portrayed in right-wing media as a Kenya-born undercover Muslim and secret socialist whose goal was to establish death panels and to destroy America.

What really rankles the psyches of today’s conservatives is that unlike many entertainers, Swift has demonstrated courage while being unapologetic about her convictions. She has spoken her truth despite physical threats and the potential public backlash. She has refused to remain silent, even if that means being targeted by the menacing and sinister hostility of Doanld Trump and his MAGA sycophants.

Although she hasn’t even endorsed President Joe Biden for reelection yet, that hasn’t stopped members of MAGA power circles from threatening to declare — as one source close to Donald Trump called it — a “holy war” on the pop megastar, especially if she ends up publicly backing the Democrats in the 2024 election.

Hostility aside, declaring war against Taylor Swift is an ill-advised tactic that could further augment her already powerful brand. She has demonstrated over and over that her cultural influence is a formidable and undeniable reality. To target someone with her profile and her legion of diehard fans is an almost futile effort that would alienate sizable segments of the county. She is simply a force to be reckoned with.

Copyright 2024 Elwood Watson, distributed by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate

Elwood Watson is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.

Elwood Watson, Ph.D. is a professor of history, Black studies, and gender and sexuality studies at East Tennessee State University. He is also an author and public speaker.