Swift may not be responsible for the state of the nation but she is responsible for her fans.
Taylor Swift and Donald Trump have a lot in common. Both are the children of wealthy financial industrialists, taking the lives their parents dreamed for them to their ultimate conclusion. Their path toward their hegemonic hold over the media cycle carried similar gestures: in the middle of the era of great diversity, both pitted themselves as populist symbols of innocence, who happened to be white: Trump, a lying, corrupt oaf could somehow could be believed when he said he never took “dirty” money; Swift, whose love life was calculated to build maximum intrigue, remained virginal, clothed constantly in premarital white. Somehow, simultaneously, both rose in profile by delegitimizing black political and cultural figures: Trump turned from a reality TV hack to a regularly televised political commentator when he became defacto leader of a political fringe that contended that Barack Obama was not born in the United States. Swift turned from country pop singer to pop titan in the extended media campaign that followed her 2009 confrontation with Kanye West at the VMAs, an incident that Swift used to “capitalize on the stereotype of the ‘angry black man” and “catapulted her into the mainstream consciousness.”
Seemingly, by another coincidence, both became adored by neo-Nazis. The profiles of both Trump and Swift bloomed from ironic, troll-like, reverence to being seen as legitimizing presences by platforms like The Daily Stormer, whose community manager told Broadly last year that Swift was “Aryan in spirit” and had, at that time, published twenty-four posts praising Swift as the “the anti-Miley,” referring to singer Miley Cyrus who, at any rate, has a charity focusing on issues facing LGBTQ youth. The Daily Stormer was among the websites shut down after its involvement in the murder of Heather Heyer in Charlottesville earlier this year.
Trump’s own relationship with neo-Nazis is well documented and his relationship with them remains suspiciously murky. In a press conference shortly after Heyer, and others, were attacked for counter-protesting a neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Trump responded to demands that he condemn his supporters by adamantly declaring that the issue had “multiple sides,” a remark that has been widely condemned by many of Trump’s own party and supporters who are not neo-Nazis. It was a gesture that felt fatal to the idea of Trump as anything less than a troll himself; a president who refused to do that most basic of presidential tasks: condemn outspoken hate groups “Well, it’s over now – right?” asked Matt Taibbi.
Critical discourse on Swift’s interaction with the right-wing politics that she’s been associated with remains, currently, pretty divided. Mark Harris, at Vulture, demands we treat Swift like a John Q. Public figure, keeping her vote in last year’s election private, he contends, “is obviously her right.” This is simpatico with media-celebrity relations circa Jennifer Lawrence: they’re people too and deserve the sympathy we collectively give other attractive people. Even Dan Ozzi, ostensibly delivering a beatdown in an editorial titled “Taylor Swift Needs to Sit This Year Out,” concedes that “celebrities are under no obligation to be politically vocal,” turning this into a bitter aside: “they are better off remaining silent,” they are “woefully ignorant” about the world they live in. Elsewhere, at The Ringer, Justin Charity yearns painfully for an imagined past where “celebrity politics” weren’t a thing and pop singers, like reality TV show hosts, were thought as too woefully ignorant to opine on the issues of the day. Basically, Swift is too stupid to say anything about the world she lives in, these old white men contend.
Both are wrong. Swift may not be responsible for the state of the nation but she is responsible for her fans. Swift might not obligated to tell us who she voted for but we are permitted to ask her. As Amy Zimmerman pointed out after the attack in Charlottesville, there is nothing controversial in demanding that she vigorously condemn the sections of her fan base that wish harm on millions of people. Her silence on this is galling. Her silence on this is deliberate.
This would be one thing is Swift was attempting to lead the life of private citizenship that media commentators want to give her. She is not. She is the beginning of an album promotional cycle, a publicity-intense effort that will involve everything from putting her face on UPS trucks to demanding fans tell their friends to buy her album in order to get tickets to see her perform. Like Trump, she seems to be doing far fewer conventional interviews with the media this album cycle, permitting her to be both omnipresent yet silent, a large face in front of a newspaper that says nothing about the headlines behind it. We can still demand it say something.
Andrew Karpan has opinions, man. Follow them on Twitter.