Opinion | Taylor Swift, Donald Trump and the Right's Abnormality Problem – The New York Times

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Ross Douthat

Opinion Columnist
There was a brief period in the later part of the Covid-19 pandemic, between the moment when Glenn Youngkin swept into the Virginia governorship and the full political return of Donald Trump, when I became convinced that American liberalism was headed for a truly epochal defeat in 2024.
It seemed then that — under the influence of progressive radicalism, institutional groupthink and coronavirus fears — the liberal establishment was untethering itself from American normalcy to a politically suicidal degree. Blue cities and regions were rerunning aspects of the left’s 1970s social program on fast-forward and generating spikes in crime and disorder. The Democratic Party’s economic agenda had yielded 1970s-style inflation. Joe Biden was elected as a moderate but was too aged and diminished to actually impose moderation on his party. And elite liberalism was increasingly associated with a mixture of Covid overreaction and ideological hysteria: Imagine a double-masked bureaucrat running a white-privilege workshop, forever.
Liberalism in 2024 is still in all kinds of trouble, but the truly epochal defeat seems less likely than it did back then. In part this is because of adaptations within the center-left. Blue-state Covid restrictions were unwound a bit faster than I expected — in part because of the political peril they created for Democratic politicians. Many of those same politicians have found ways to get some distance from their party’s activists, especially in swing states like Pennsylvania. And ideological fervor on the left seems to have passed its peak, yielding a more contested environment inside elite institutions and a modest left-wing retreat in the culture as a whole.
But the other reason that liberalism is surviving its disconnect from what remains of American normalcy is conservatism’s inability to just be normal itself, even for a minute.
Trump himself is a great abnormalizer. But so are the various fixations and follies that take shape in his wake — like the very-online right’s bizarre reaction to the romance between Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce, a love story that’s united the two remaining pillars of our common culture: the National Football League and, well, Swift herself.
Conservative hostility to Swift has been simmering ever since she dipped into partisan politics in 2018 and 2020, though it should be stressed that this antipathy is hardly universal: An Echelon Insights poll from last summer found that what it called “Trump-first Republicans” were more likely to be hostile to Swift, whereas more “party-first Republicans” gave her the same broadly favorable ratings as the country as a whole.
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