How the cool kids are voting in November

01:40 - Source: CNN
Katy Perry: I love Hillary Clinton

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Sally Kohn: Hillary Clinton is receiving major celebrity endorsements

Celebrities, or "cool kids," are critical tastemakers determining the cultural and societal norms of today and tomorrow

Editor’s Note: Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

CNN  — 

The culture war began in 1970s America, when secular liberals and religious conservatives battled for the soul of the nation. Since then, there have been many skirmishes – from gay rights versus traditional heteronormativity, feminism versus misogyny and racial justice versus white privilege and supremacy. But no matter the driving divisive issue, the culture war has always been a fight for our national cultural identity, a fight for who we are, how we define ourselves and what we decide falls within the boundaries of desirable societal norms.

To put it simply, the culture war has been a fight over what is “cool” in America. And perhaps more than any recent moment in time, the 2016 election highlights that the liberal left has decisively won that fight. Whatever you think of Hillary Clinton and her policies, it’s clear that the cool kids are with her.

When I use the term “cool,” I mean as defined by popular culture – what the cool kids are doing, not merely because of fads, but in response to fundamental social, cultural and political shifts in society. There’s a reason hip hop tends to dominate the music charts today instead of, say, country.

Hip hop both reflects the diverse America we are today, and the diverse America most of us embrace for our future. Country music, in stark contrast, is reflective of the past. That’s not a knock on country music, which by the way I love. It’s just a simple fact: Hip hop is significantly more mainstream because it reflects social and cultural aspirations – or, in other words, what’s “cool.”

In recent years, pop cultural stars have learned to use social media to create auras of cool around them. And Twitter’s No. 1 most followed person Katy Perry is no exception. As a tastemaker, she is a leader even in the political realm. Therefore, it was notable when Perry performed right before Clinton’s convention speech. Her performance wasn’t just about generating eyeballs and clicks. Perry’s presence sent a message, especially to young voters, that liberal politics are cool.

And Perry isn’t the only political tastemaker. Just as Beyoncé can bless kale with coolness, so, too, can she do the same for Black Lives Matter. When Amy Schumer stands up for common sense gun control and Lena Dunham speaks up for abortion rights, they’re not just mobilizing their followings but deploying their cultural currencies. In other words, these celebrities are showing not just what cool kids wear and listen to, but what cool kids can and should believe in.

The contrast is stark when considering Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Scott Baio, an actor whose career peaked in the 1980s, and a potpourri of soap opera stars were the biggest names that Trump could draw to his disastrous and frightening Republican National Convention. And he hasn’t received any notable celebrity endorsements since. Meanwhile, the list of Clinton’s celebrity endorsers and donors is literally too long to mention.

And this celebrity tastemaker differential is critical. Celebrities influence everyday Americans, and those Americans have friends. Since elections and political movements have a peer influencer dynamic, what one’s friend thinks matters. Neighbors are best at swaying other neighbors to vote, and people often become involved in social movements, at least initially, because their friends invite them to an event.

But the explicit appeal to a culture of cool reached a modern apex during Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, when artists mobilized to create pop-art imagery of Obama. Bernie Sanders, in a sense, borrowed from Obama’s playbook, though his campaign tried to make its revolutionary ideas and agenda, rather than its candidate, the star of the show. And Clinton is taking a cue from Bernie’s campaign. Instead of trying to make herself cool (I mean…), she is working on making clear that America’s fundamental values of inclusion, fairness and opportunity for all – the essential values that are at stake in this election – are deeply, infectiously cool.

The Trump campaign has taken a different approach. A Trump surrogate, Marco Gutierrez, told MSNBC’s Joy Reid that if America doesn’t do something about immigration, “You’re going to have taco trucks on every corner.” He said it as if taco trucks were a bad thing. But the problem for the Trump campaign is that cool kids like taco trucks. They can be found on every other street corner in trendsetting hipster neighborhoods.

And cool kids don’t just like taco trucks. They like pluralism, tolerance, marriage equality, a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, and wait for it, Hillary Clinton. While in some ways this election seems like the last ditch effort on the part of the traditionalist right to “make America great again,” the cool kids are not interested in entertaining such backward ideals. They like where we are as a country – our progress toward gender equality, sexual freedom, racial justice and integration of immigrant communities into our national tapestry. They want that progress to continue, and even more quickly.

Last weekend, in the key swing state of Ohio, NARAL Pro-Choice America hosted a massive concert at a stadium in Cleveland featuring the musician Sia, actress Leslie Jones and “Daily Show” star Jessica Williams. At a time when Republicans in Congress are still trying to defund Planned Parenthood after dozens of failed attempts, it’s a meaningful sign that more and more high profile celebrities are showing up to support abortion rights.

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    And the Cleveland concert is just one of many examples. These cultural icons are not just telling their fans to pay attention; they’re not just using their celebrity status to attract media coverage. They’re signaling victory in the decadeslong culture war. They are affirming that homophobia, racial discrimination, misogyny and the backward regressive policies of the right are increasingly a relic of the past. The cool kids know it – and soon, hopefully, the entire American electorate will, too.

    Sally Kohn is an activist, columnist and television commentator. Follow her on Twitter @sallykohn. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.