There was a time in history when both political parties wanted to own the cultural real estate centered around being the “good guys.” Republicans spearheaded the suffrage movement in the early 1900s. Decades later, they outpaced Democrats in voting for the Civil Rights Act. That result was mostly driven by geography, but the fact remains: The GOP was once an active part of the fight for gender and racial equality.
Even in this century, George W. Bush — the scourge of the pre-Trump left — positioned himself as a president who cared for the citizenry. He famously called Kanye West’s jab about his disregard for black people after Hurricane Katrina the low point of his tenure. Whether he handled the storm well or not, the president certainly felt like his care for its victims ran deep. He also strived to connect with minority voters, immigrants, and the poor under his banner of “Compassionate Conservativism.” And though you may take issue with his policies, it did feel as though he was a real human being.
The current incarnation of the Republican party is so aggressively toxic, so gleefully noxious that they can’t even keep a tenuous hold on people who have a vested financial interest in staying apolitical. People like Taylor Swift, who recently endorsed two Democratic candidates in Tennessee, or Eminem, who drew a line in the sand, exiling his pro-Trump fans (of which there were likely many).
The current GOP and its extreme factions are reveling so deeply in their “bad guy” role (and “guy” is the right word here, as they’ve scorned women at every turn) that it’s safe to assume that the less compassionate take on any issue is a pillar of their platform. A raped woman’s right to choose what she does with her body? Against it. Kids in cages? For it. An athlete peacefully protesting for racial justice? Against it. Banning trans people from public restrooms?
This isn’t even tough; it’s top of the head stuff. Every move the party makes is so deeply callous that the best possible play for Swift — a country star (at least at her inception point) with a heavily Southern/ likely Republican fan base — was to pen a highly polarizing Instagram post distancing herself from Republicans. Not because she’s anti-fiscal responsibility or state rights or any other theoretical tenet of Republicanism, but because she is anti-asshole — a pejorative which the right wing actively structures their modern branding around.
Last week, on Saturday Night Live, Pete Davidson did a bit about Kanye West’s pro-Trump rant the week before. One thing he said was exceptionally telling. “Do you know how wrong you have to be about politics for me to notice?” Davidson is 24 years old. Historically speaking, that’s been a highly disengaged voting block. As recently as August, the Washington Post was expecting the demo to have little impact on the midterms. But now? After the fall Republicans have had, with the Kavanaugh hearings and Swift’s political stance (don’t act like it doesn’t matter, the woman has more Twitter followers than Trump)? A newly released survey reports a high degree of youth voter excitement. Another poll reveals that Swift could literally swing Tennessee.