Kanye’s unholy alliance with Donald Trump and right-wing pundits was cemented yesterday after he called Trump “his brother” and posted a picture of himself wearing one of the infamous Make America Great Again hats, which is as demonstrative as rocking Kanye’s $500 Yeezys when it comes to pledging allegiance to an idol. Some may have held out hope that Kanye was “trolling” or merely fishing for publicity for his upcoming music when he co-signed conservative commentator Candace Owens last weekend, but his infantile conflation of “free thought” with restrictive Republican pathology seems dead serious.
Even if Kanye tries to double back and proclaim this week’s tweetstorm a practical joke or performance art, it will be hard to shake rid of the right wingers he’s made bedfellows with such as Owens, Alex Jones, and Trump himself. The President tweeted Kanye twice today — surely enjoying the chance to shift attention from his ongoing FBI investigation.
If the alliance between the Knowles-Carter clan and the Obamas was about a coalescence of grace and cool, West and Trump’s union is about unflinching narcissism and the startling efficacy of exploiting your cult of celebrity for personal gain. Both Trump and Kanye’s peace of mind thrives on their self-absorption, and their supporters have unwittingly fed their egos while buying into their personas.
Kanye went from an in-house producer who no one believed could rap into one of the beloved artists of all time, releasing music steeped in the influence of Black music — while idolizing European culture every step of the way. Trump transitioned from a New York yuppie turned reality star into the so-called “leader of the free world” who manipulated a base of rural, Middle American voters into believing he would carry out their best interests.
Trump is now doing the same thing to Kanye. The normally verbose President’s curt “Thank you Kanye, very cool!” and “MAGA!” tweets in response to Kanye’s commendations might as well have been accompanied by a video of him making a pat-on-the-head motion. The patronizing tweets were as cringeworthy as photos of Kanye with Ralph Lauren or holding fashion designer Peter Dundas‘ plate while he ate off of it.
Trump knows that having a Black entertainer like Kanye in his corner is an easy way for him to continue to normalize his way of thinking — and give his supporters a simplistic talking point to refute the very real notion that Trump’s policies are corrosive to Black America. But it’s not just about “the Blacks,” as Trump deemed Black Americans. Kanye has a fanbase of Mexicans, Muslims, trans and undocumented people who have been in Trump’s sights with fascist policies. Kanye basically spat in all of their faces when he donned a MAGA hat — but he’s too oblivious to care. Siding with Trump is merely an opportunity to court attention and persuade his remaining fans into believing his push for “independent thought” is another stroke of genius, similar to wearing the Confederate Flag because “any energy is good energy.”
Watching Kanye’s former fans despondently tweet that they had to figuratively wipe their hands of him reminded me of Trump supporter’s first realizations that the person they voted into office had the likelihood of hurting them with his retrograde healthcare policies. Both poor Trump supporters and ardent Kanye fans might be asking themselves: What were we thinking?
Kanye’s characterization of Owens’ “Black oppression is not real” perspective as “free thought” is a telling representation of how delusional he is in 2018 — and it’s no surprise. He’s as insulated from the realities of middle-to-lower class America as Get Out’s sunken place is. He recently tweeted, “if your foresight is incredible. Stay stubborn to your vision.” Perhaps it’s that shared stubbornness that made both Owens and Kanye unlikely Republican mouthpieces.
A Reddit post from November 2017 deemed Owens a former “well-meaning and intentioned [social justice warrior].” She started a crowdfunding petition for an anti-bullying database called Social Autopsy, in part based on the racially-motivated bullying she experienced in high school. She, like Kanye, has come across the realities of racism in her life — no matter how “dated” a concept they believe it is.
A New York Magazine article about Social Autopsy says that Owens was “unclear” to potential investors about how she would go about developing the site, and the concept was fundamentally flawed given that anyone could be added to the database — which initially aimed to link entered names to their employers. The service that vied to out bullies could have easily been exploited to further victimize people. An Ozy profile notes that Owens felt “shamed” by “progressives” who criticized the feasibility of social autopsy.
She then got into a tiff with fellow anti-Bully activists Zoe Quinn and Randi Harper (of GamerGate), who she accused of conspiring to take down her service. Breitbart, which had previously deemed Harper a “toxic activist,” was the only media outlet that gave Owens a favorable post. The circumstance imbued her with the belief that, “my friends were my enemies, and my enemies were my friends.” She soon made an ideological 180 and has become a rising right-wing pundit who caught Kanye’s ear with statements such as “[Democrats] have created a mental prison for all of us. And the second somebody runs off what I refer to as the ‘Democratic plantation,’ they send the dogs out.”
It’s unclear how much Kanye knows about Owens’ backstory, but some of his recent attempts to realize his vision seems as rudderless as Social Autopsy. In 2013 he went to Sway In The Morning and The Breakfast Club trying to gather support and force his way into the European fashion circles that he had long idolized. Critics pondered why he couldn’t merely use the considerable resources that he had to make an independent clothing line, but he grew agitated with the critiques, resulting in the infamous, “How Sway?” spat.
In 2016, he went on Twitter and asked Mark Zuckerberg to “invest $1 billion into Kanye West ideas after realizing he is the greatest living artist and greatest artist of all time.” It’s unclear if he had any concrete business model for his ideas which included a 360 movie theater, but once again his efforts were widely ridiculed by most on social media. Zuckerberg was targeted by Kanye during a tirade at a November 2016 concert in Sacramento, in which Kanye also railed against the music industry status quo and said he was “on his Trump sh*t.” Just weeks later, after a mental health crisis, he was at the Trump Tower visiting the then-President-elect.
Did he have an “enemies were my friends” moment? Trump is a chief detractor of former President Barack Obama, who called Kanye a “jackass” after his incident with Taylor Swift in 2009. What looked like acceptance to Owens and Kanye were really a chance for conservative vessels to exploit them. Breitbart was able to snipe at Harper by championing Social Autopsy and Trump found a Black figure in Kanye to help normalize him.
It’s not unusual for the Republican party to find unlikely allies in Black entertainment. In the 1970s, James Brown and Sammy Davis Jr. were criticized for endorsing Richard Nixon, a controversial candidate among Black Americans. Slate says that Brown, whose music was a pro-Black rallying cry of the ‘60s Civil Rights wave, specifically identified with Nixon’s “individualist policies.” The admiration wasn’t mutual, as Nixon has been heard in vintage audio tapes noting, “no more blacks from now on; just don’t bring them in here. James Brown apparently is very popular amongst young people; he is black. Well, what am I supposed to do, just sit and talk to him or what?”
Who would be surprised if Trump speaks like this of Kanye today? His own admission of being “calculated” would imply that Kanye knows better than to allow himself to be used as a pawn, but the popular perception of Trump as an outsider who took it to the establishment en route to triumph must have appealed to him.
And he was an easy mark. Kanye has enjoyed a decade-plus as a megastar with a cross-cultural fanbase, made a fortune that should have him living comfortably in the 1%, and has been married to Kim Kardashian for years — a tabloid figure of infamy whose ascendance into an American institution is as dependent on celebrity culture as Trump’s prominence is. All the while, Kanye has ignored her figurative warts.
Kim and her sisters have gained a reputation as women on a “trek to colonize the entirety of black womanness” as The Root said earlier this year. Singer K Michele even wrote a song called ”Kim K,” which she said was about “black women [who] are rarely given credit for our cultural trends and flyness.” She added that “the older I got I started to see that women of other ethnicities were being accepted [while] African American women were told no 2 big asses, [cornrows], long pointy fingernails… and other cultural aesthetics.”
Despite the constant criticisms of appropriation, the Kardashians continue to offend and apologize rather than learn from their mistakes. Kim recently said that she was “naive” about racism when telling people to “get over” makeup stylist Jeffree Star’s past racial slurs. It’s telling that at 36, a mother of two biracial kids could be that naive. Kanye once told “white publications” not to critique Black music because they “don’t understand what it means to be the great-grandson of ex-slaves,” but apparently he hasn’t imparted similar wisdom on his own family.
Perhaps his internalized anti-Blackness has blurred his understanding of the nuts and bolts of systemic oppression. After Kanye tweeted that Obama has “done nothing” for Chicago during his presidency, his former collaborator, rapper GLC, chided Kanye for having “left [Chicago] 17 years ago.” Another friend and collaborator Rhymefest expressed concern for him in February 2016 during his first Tweetstorm, noting “my brother needs help, in the form of counseling. Spiritual & mental. He should step away from the public & yesmen & heal.”
Cyhi The Prynce appears to be one of those primary yes-men, as he’s been taking on all comers for Kanye. He initially quote-tweeted a Complex post about Kanye’s love for Trump with an ad-hominem “why is everybody so scared of Trump?” attack. Since then, he’s been sniping back at everyone, including ironically telling one person to “get some money” in response to being told that he can’t think for himself.
It’s unlikely that Cyhi, who made last year’s incisive No Dope On Sundays, could truly believe Trump’s administration is doing anything productive for Black America, or that Kanye endorsing him is a good idea. Kanye has attempted to clarify that he doesn’t agree with anything Trump does, but it’s infuriating to many fans that he agrees with anything — especially as a predominant figure in a Black art form.
Kanye once opined that “people never change. They just become better at hiding who they really are.” It appears that this has been true in the reverse for Kanye, who’s exposed that there are no boundaries in his ceaseless chase for attention and desire to appear avant-garde — including his fans’ humanity.