“Poopy-di scoop, Scoop-diddy-whoop, Whoop-di-scoop-di-poop, Poop-di-scoopty, Scoopty-whoop…”Lift Yourself, Kanye West
The man who wrote these “lyrics” is running for president and I’m deeply amused by that fact. I’m going to front load this piece by saying I was mostly kidding when I thought of writing this piece. Kanye West isn’t technically a “seriously candidate for the presidency” in any meaningful sense. He almost certainly doesn’t have a chance of gaining steam in a write-in campaign. He certainly won’t be sworn in as president in this January.
That said, I can’t help but feel a bit enthused by the IDEA of Kanye West. The artist has been one of the most interesting voices to come out of cultural in the past twenty years. Initially, he was widely embraces by the left wing for his defiant pro-black statements and flamboyant lashing at conservative figures like President Bush. He spoke out against black issues like mass incarceration in the drug war and went out of his way to unnerve people around him in every way possible. He caused massive dramas and famously called out Taylor Swift in one of the most publicly embarrassing celebrity stunts in decades.
He was, and is, an egoist and a show off of the highest order. Most of his art is almost entirely solipsistic and focused on his own internal existentialism and temptations as a man and a quasi-lapsed Christian.
In the past few years though, his image has entirely flipped. Kanye’s friendship with Donald Trump has alienated his leftist fans from him deeply. His transformation into a quasi-Evangelist has also gone a long way to strain his credulity with his adoring fans. Young fans of hip hop were confused to find his newest album in 2019 was a Christian Gospel album called Jesus is King. Despite rocketing into popularity, some of his fans missed the sexually charged lyrics and profanity. The new Kanye was giving sermons to masses of people about the life of Christ and doing interviews with prominent Christians like Joel Olsteen.
Leftists certainly felt betrayed by this new iteration of Kanye. Online progressive voices were castigating him as far back as 2016 for being Trump’s friend. By 2018, the left had almost entirely given up on him for hanging out with him at the white house and becoming one of his loudest public advocates. Then in July of this year, Kanye finally pulled the trigger on one of his great life ambitions and announced his run for president. Since the campaign was quite late in the season, he wasn’t going to be on the ballet in more than a few states. His entire campaign thus far has been a write-in campaign.
This long train of absences has gone a long way to making the left fully fed up with their former Rockstar personality. It might’ve been tolerable for him to act like a Jagg-off when the only victims were Republican presidents but now he endorsed the orange man and had gone off the reservation on a massive ego trip for seemingly no logical purpose. If the left couldn’t have him, nobody ought to.
The leftist darling Ta-Nehisi Coates famously blasted Kanye’s political trip in an infamous piece for The Atlantic in 2018:
“What Kanye West seeks is what Michael Jackson sought — liberation from the dictates of that “we.” . . . West calls his struggle the right to be a “free thinker,” and he is, indeed, championing a kind of freedom—a white freedom, freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant; freedom to profit off a people in one moment and abandon them in the next; a Stand Your Ground freedom, freedom without responsibility, without hard memory; a Monticello without slavery, a Confederate freedom, the freedom of John C. Calhoun, not the freedom of Harriet Tubman, which calls you to risk your own; not the freedom of Nat Turner, which calls you to give even more, but a conqueror’s freedom, freedom of the strong built on antipathy or indifference to the weak, the freedom of rape buttons, pussy grabbers, and fuck you anyway, bitch; freedom of oil and invisible wars, the freedom of suburbs drawn with red lines, the white freedom of Calabasas.”I’m Not Black, I’m Kanye, The Atlantic, May 7th, 2018
This is the petulant cry of a child losing his favorite toy. Coates mourned for the fact that he was no long able to call Kanye a member of his personal cadre of progressive darlings and retaliated by taking away his “black card” and accusing him of “whiteness”.
On the reverse side of things, a lot of conservatives and Christians sensed an obvious opportunity with Kanye and briefly jumped on the bandwagon to gain his supposed. This was more cynical than effective. Kanye has never truly BELONGED to anyone and nobody should pretend he’s on their side just because he’s as prominent as he is. Bringing such a huge figure like Kanye into the Republican Party could, in theory, draw thousands of young black voters into the party. Rightists like Candice Owens quickly jumped on the situation and tried to draw Kanye in only to intimidate him. Kanye only retreated at these invitations.
Personally, I don’t accept the bandwagon jumping from either side of the aisle. What makes Kanye interesting is his independence and free thought. Nobody can or should own him or his identity. He’s not a rightist or a leftist. He’ll go on stage with a MAGA hat and a #BlackLivesMatter t-shirt to make a statement that both sentiments are a part of him. He’ll talk about the need for environmentalism and world peace and use quotes from Jordan Peterson and Thomas Sowell to build his case. He loves America and is simultaniously unafraid to criticize it in hopes of building it into a utopia.
He’s a black activist who cares about issues like mass incarceration but he’s also his own man who cares about issues of religion, self actualization and love outside of narrow political conceptions. His love for Trump seems to mostly be rooted in the notion that Trump’s victory meaning ANYONE could be president. He didn’t care about Trump’s politics. If a celebrity like Trump could win, why shouldn’t Kanye also be able to win?
He’s so solipsistic that he can’t help but come around to himself in radical self reflection. As such, he quickly become society’s, and his own, harshest critic. In this state, he’s actually managed to achieve something fascinating.
Jonathan Pageau probably put it better than I could have. As unstable as many of his antics have been, Kanye is a deeply contentious person who is deeply connected to the zeitgeist. He’s more deeply in touch with the despair and chaos of modern life than maybe anyone alive. Instead of allowing himself to fall further into despair and nihilism, he found God and began a course of radical reinvention.
Symbolically, he’s taken on the societal archetype of “the Fool”. That’s not a slanderous accusation. In antiquity, the fool was an important role in a King’s court. He was the only person who could be perfectly honest in the presence of the king because he was below the king’s contempt. In this cultural moment, Kanye has tried to become an anti-fool. In a world of chaos and disorder, he’s trying to stand athwart history and show people a means of radically embracing order and peace through spiritual rebirth.
Of course, not everything Kanye has said in his campaign is without criticism. As much as I personally enjoy listening to a candidate for president celebrate religious heritage and family, I know atheists who consider Kanye’s positions theocratic, retrograde and oppressive. They’re not exactly wrong since it’s clear Kanye’s plans would involve installing some level of public religious education and religious exercise into the government’s agenda.
Certainly in <CURRENT YEAR>, is it really acceptable to have a mainstream Christian standing on a stage demanding Americans embrace their faith? Do we want to relitigate “Prayer in Schools” debates of the 2000s after we’ve come so far institutionalizing evolution and reason among a generation of young people?
I’m a libertarian in most respects and far from a theocratic fascist who wants to impose my values by force on everyone else. I mostly agree with the criticism at the level of government intervention. As a practicing Christian though, Kanye’s platform was music to my ears. Unlike most politicians, Kanye hasn’t been faking his faith. When he stood on stage and broke down in tears at the thought that his mother had almost aborted him, you knew he meant it. That said, I still wouldn’t actually voted for him seriously.
I’d considered briefly washing my hands of the 2020 election after finding distaste with both of the candidates. I live in Illinois and there’s next to no chance my vote will matter one way or the other. Illinois is certainly going to pick Biden. The tens of thousands of gravestones that annually vote Democrat downtown are certainly going to sway the vote whether I like it or not. I’d considered voting for Kanye as a joke just to make fun of how pointless my vote was going to be.
Then I watched his campaign video.
“We as a people have been called to a greater purpose. We are not only a beacon to the world but we should be servants to each other.”
Kanye’s campaign video is honestly one of the best pieces of political showmanship I’ve seen in years. It’s patriotic, emotional, earnest and talks from the heart about Kanye’s vision for America. Considering how chaotic his public image is, this is great optics for him. Standing in front of a black and white American flag, he calmly and emotionally lays out why he thinks his candidacy would encourage a national religious revival that encourages shared values, family and unity. He’s presenting himself as the path of grace and peace in a status quo defined by chaos and hatred.
He truly is playing the fool. In this upside down world, he’s offering to turn the world upside down and set things right again. It was watching this video when I thought, “this man could legitimately become president someday.”
Again though, I don’t think he’ll win 2020. I can’t imagine he’ll win any states and I don’t personally plan on voting for him at this point. My feelings about his chances weren’t improved by his recent appearance on the Joe Rogan Experience.
As much as I enjoyed listening to this discussion, this was night a great look for Kanye. He more or less outlined the reality that he hasn’t thought through the serious issues he needs to think through before launching a campaign. He has no foreign policy strategy, he’s basically making up his decisions on the fly based on his own judgement and he believes he’s been called upon by God to create and honest to goodness utopia by leading America to embracing naturalism, science and faith.
Even just on a normal policy level, I disagree with tons of his ideas. He’s as idealistic and leftist as Andrew Yang is and supports nationalized healthcare and abolishing the electoral college because it’s based on slavery. His notion of the 3/5ths clause is also drowning in contemporary progressive propaganda (it was indeed a compromise but the north pushed for it because it didn’t want the south to be able to count non-voting slaves as part of their population which would’ve given them undo representation in the electoral college. The 3/5ths clause kept slave states from gaining more power).
That said, Kanye’s tapped into something strange in the national psyche. There’s a very real possibility that Kanye West will be able to turn things around and actually work his way into office in the long run. When he fails in this election, my hope is that he’s able to use his influence and time in the spotlight to move the needle on some contentious issues and help raise order out of our moment of collective chaos. His public presence might actually be the pressure needed to change the public’s attitudes about abortion and religious revivals.
In some ways, he could serve as a modern John the Baptist to the very secular age we live in now that needs one man walking alone in the wilderness preparing the world for change. If anyone can do it, it’s the fool who may be brave enough to tell society when it’s wrong.