By Kenneth Tiven
There are 365 days and counting until the most critical presidential election in America’s nearly 250-year-old history. Will it be continued Constitutional Democracy with its flaws and blemishes? Or a dystopian version of fascism unleashed on everyone who disagrees with a newly re-elected Donald Trump? Older voters, rural voters and primarily white Christian voters all seem to think they can restore an America imagined existing in their youth. They forget the post-World War II era realities of 158 million citizens. Individual mobility was limited by race, religion and geography. Political thinking nationally and locally was similar, varying mostly by degrees. Both political parties supported the Constitution, although Republicans argued that government involvement in most issues was Communism, thus incompatible with America’s way of life. With no sense of irony whatsoever, Republican opposition to voting reflects political views they claim to hate: Elections are invalid unless they win, and the government can and must dictate all aspects of personal behaviour, especially any issue that involves sexual behaviour, especially abortion.
Today, there are 335 million people in the USA, with demographic shifts making attitudes very different. The 2024 national elections will be decided by the determination and beliefs of younger voters, especially women offended by theocratic evangelical Christians telling everyone exactly how to behave. Singer-songwriter Taylor Swift has made clear her opposition to those who use a religious lens to interpret the Constitution. By the way, that document written in 1787 mentions religion, but once and never uses the word “God”.
Yes, Trump remains a right-wing demi-god, notwithstanding his 91 criminal indictments and growing legal troubles. Hard-core voters and politicians in Congress stick with him. Republicans with a slim majority in the US House of Representatives conspired to remove the House Speaker, their leader, a month ago. In his place, the Republican caucus of 218 picked an obscure Congressman active in backing Trump’s election lies. Few Americans had heard of Louisiana Congressman Michael Johnson, but his surprise elevation ripped the facade off any Mr Nice Guy image. My original reaction stands: He’s as radical a right-wing zealot as Jim Jordan, without the pugnacious demeanour. Better dressed and mannered, but equally dangerous to everyone with more than a literal interpretation of the Evangelical Christian Bible.
So, the 2024 US elections will be a choice between the history of soaring fascism in 1934 and events that have transpired in the 90 years since creating today’s reality. Some US states have taken steps to ban books, discriminate against citizens and rig their election systems, all to keep old beliefs in place. However, a tumultuous turnout of young voters will add to the seven million vote plurality Democrats managed in 2020. More than just re-electing Joe Biden, everyone’s grand dad, it can logically sweep in Democratic control of both sides of Congress. Will dispirited Trump supporters take to the streets to protest? They have that right, but not to start a shooting civil war. Outrage over school shootings and needless gun violence fuels my optimism. Hope comes from a pop music star who actively urges young fans to vote.
Taylor Swift is a phenomenon long in the making, cemented now by her “ERAS” global tour and concert movie smash hit. In an era of unbridled excess and cynicism, she demonstrates to young girls, women, and her many male fans that you can be a rich celebrity while treating others with kindness and respect.
She has given extra money to people who work for her instead of stiffing them for wages owed. She has been strong without using threats and intimidation. Unhappy with a company that bought the music rights to her early songs, she has fought back by re-recording everything.
After a presidency where the Donald has widely demeaned and disparaged people on social media, Swift’s behaviour is a reminder of a kinder America. Republicans turned the House of Representatives into a non-functional branch of government by choosing a committed right-wing religious zealot to lead. The Republican majority’s behaviour will not attract swing voters in the upcoming election.
Jill Lawrence, an experienced political journalist at the Bulwark website, says that watching Swift’s concert movie “immediately brought me back to the inexplicable emotional punch of the Beatles era. It was the same, but also completely different. These were not girls expressing unrequited puppy love for a few cute guys. They were devoted to a strong, successful woman who loves them back. That seems a lot healthier than obsessing over the hair-tossing male superstars of my girlhood.”
Swift is a sorely needed role model for our times. Her triumph is not just her well-documented business savvy, musical gifts, or how she has worked for years with the non-partisan voter-registration group Vote.org, urging her fans to participate in the US democracy.
Swift is a nice girl, not a mean girl. A sweet, considerate person who picks up the trash at a family gathering. “I don’t think she got the diva memo,” said Ed Kelce, the father of Swift’s current boyfriend Travis Kelce, an American football star to People magazine. “She is the girlfriend who meets the parents, whether their famous son is an actor or a football player,” he added.
Journalist Lawrence and I both remember mean girls and boys from junior high school. Surely, they still exist, but she writes: “Swift is the antidote we need, especially now. She shows young girls, women, and her many male fans that you can be a rich celebrity while also treating others with kindness and respect. You can give away extra money to people who work for you…you can show that kindness is not weakness. In the age of Donald Trump, these are all lessons that bear repeating.”
Once, Americans believed we had saved the world from fascism. Today, we stare it in the face again, here at home, just as mean and irrational as in 1934. Today, the MAGA block of Republicans carry the torch for fascism, which I define as a strong leader without constitutional restraints, elections that cannot be lost, business functioning absent any regulations for fairness (to employees or customers), environment ignored, individuals subservient to the wishes of the government on health and religious issues.
If a pop singer helps destroy that possibility, she deserves the thanks of a grateful nation.
—The writer has worked in senior positions at The Washington Post, NBC, ABC and CNN and also consults for several Indian channels