2024, Taylor’s version
Taylor Swift and Elmo dominated the online conversation this week. And MAGA’s reaction was about as normal as you’d expect.
This week, Elmo made the mistake of asking everyone on the Internet how we were doing. The Internet’s response? Not great, Bob!
Elmo’s tweet and the outpouring of responses from hundreds of thousands of people went viral and generated a lot of media coverage. I couldn’t help but laugh when I read that Sesame Workshop’s chief marketing and brand officer told the New York Times that Elmo, who is 3 and a half, “might not have been prepared for all the emotional fatigue shared in response.” (Though I’m also disappointed that no one asked why a 3-and-a-half-year-old muppet is on Twitter at all, especially in the Musk era!)
Since MAGA loves to glom onto viral moments, I kept waiting for them to engage, but for the most part, it was tepid. Jordan Peterson’s response was comically unhinged (he’s apparently a longtime Elmo hater, even ranting about Elmo in one of his books.) and Ben Shapiro seemed to think the entire thing was a joke. Mostly, folks on the Right were annoyed that President Biden quote-tweeted Elmo, but couldn’t even come up with any particularly creative reasons as to why they annoyed them.
Of course, MAGA has been preoccupied with a pop culture force even bigger than Elmo: Taylor Swift. Almost overnight, Swift has become a singular obsession in the MAGA Cinematic Universe. Swift is the most popular entertainer in the world right now, and since she endorsed Joe Biden in 2020 it’s a good bet that she will in 2024, a scenario the Biden campaign is already strategizing how to make the most of. Trump allies are supposedly
You might have heard that Taylor Swift is also attending the Super Bowl. Her boyfriend, football player, and pro-vaccine Pfizer pitchman, Travis Kelce’s team, made the big game. Greater MAGA has of course determined that the fix is in and that the NFL has rigged the Super Bowl so that Swift can endorse Joe Biden. Again, something that was probably going to happen anyway.
I’m not sure which version of this conspiracy amuses me more, the version where Swift is a Pentagon asset or the one where George Soros bought Swift’s master recordings in order to force her into endorsing Biden to get them back.
Still other MAGA fanboys are less concerned with Swift Super Bowl conspiracies and more concerned with the contents of her womb. Writing in her newsletter, MomLeft, Kelly Weill reports that “It’s a bizarre stance, and other factions of the right have acknowledged as much if only to suggest that conservatives should cheer Swift/Kelce because they might have children and encourage Americans to increase the birthrate.” Weill goes on to quote some seriously creepy tweets about Swift’s egg count by men who don’t understand fertility or math.
The Trump campaign has leaked that their candidate believes he’s more popular than Taylor Swift, and that Trump loyalists will declare a “holy war” on Swift should she endorse Biden. You know the threat is serious because they leaked to Rolling Stone, a music publication. They’re clearly trying to intimidate Swift’s camp out of wading into the 2024 election, but if calling Swift a psyop and speculating about her egg count is the best MAGA can do, I doubt it’s a threat she takes seriously. (If you want a laugh, Jimmy Kimmel’s takedown of all this, including some truly wild news clips, is pretty great.)
It’s always fascinating to watch MAGA engage with America pop culture, something they claim to loathe while also being incredibly thirsty for acceptance from. Theirs is a movement fueled by outrage and pop culture gives them an endless supply of fuel, not to mention a reliable audience engagement strategy. As Vox’s Liz Zou points out, Swift is also a convenient target for male grievance and rage, another staple of the MAGA outrage machine.
Personally, I think both the Trump and Biden campaigns should be focused on Elmo’s endorsement. Elmo’s influence on social media is enormous, and that’s in addition to his TV show, music catalog, and lucrative licensing deals. Plus, parents trust him. The Biden Campaign should make more of an effort to lock Elmo’s support down. Donald Trump has no chance here, but Elmo’s frenemy Rocco is an ideal surrogate for the MAGA base. Though a word of warning for Trump: you come at a muppet, you best not miss.
US Leaders Must Advance Big Ideas To Protect Our Digital Civil Rights (Tech Policy Press)
I haven’t been following the various bills Congress is considering around Tech and safety, but I trust Nora Benavidez and Free Press probably more than anyone on these issues. Writing about this week’s Senate hearing and the focus on child safety Benavidez argues that “The challenge now before lawmakers and experts is to actualize big things here, to envision that a broader solutions approach — examining all of the potential harms of disinformation, discrimination, and data abuse — is profoundly more important as people across the planet face existential threats to democracy.”
Once again, the Right wants to ignore a SCOTUS order from the Majority of Justices they bought and paid for. But unlike in Alabama, Abbott is rallying MAGA foot soldiers to the border. Yes, folks, there’s a convoy headed to Texas. Predictably, some of the online chatter around it is Civil War II fantasies, and some of it is paranoia that the entire thing is a “psyop.”
REPORT Intimidation of State and Local Officeholders (Brennan Center)
"Officeholders across these demographic categories reported experiencing threats or attacks within the past three years. And the volume and severity of abuse have increased in recent years, they said. More than 40 percent of state legislators experienced threats or attacks within the past three years, and more than 18 percent of local officeholders experienced threats or attacks within the past year and a half. The numbers balloon to 89 percent of state legislators and 52 percent of local officeholders when less severe forms of abuse — insults or harassment such as stalking — are included."
A follow-up to my newsletter from last week. From a policy perspective, I’m not sure if this makes sense, but as a consumer who already hates getting robocalls, I’m all for anything that slows down using AI to generate more of them.
The Rise of Techno-Authoritarianism (The Atlantic)
Money quote “The world that Silicon Valley elites have brought into being is a world of reckless social engineering, without consequence for its architects.” Yup.
Salon’s Amanda Marcotte quotes the newsletter in her analysis GOP’s current tearing itself apart from within. Whereas I focused on state parties, Marcotte takes a more expansive view and makes a compelling case that the Republican party’s in-fighting makes it weaker than people might realize.
That’s all for this week. Talk to you again next Sunday!