Photo by Evan Vucci
Words can’t describe the emotional gut punch I felt when I first saw that tweet.
We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States 🇺🇸! #2020VISION
— ye (@kanyewest) July 5, 2020
I was out in the desert near Joshua Tree National Park with some friends, getting away for the weekend. We wanted to escape the terrifying state of the country and its most outwardly nationalist holiday to clear our heads for a few days. After the horrific failure of the government during the COVID-19 outbreak and its truly disgusting response to the uprisings against racial injustice, the idea of celebrating Americana patriotism just felt wrong. Over the weekend, we reveled in emotional and intellectual conversation about everything—from our personal lives, to music, to politics. Yeezus even became the trip’s guiding soundtrack as we followed its themes of subversion, disillusionment, and ultimately finding meaning in genuine personal connection. But suddenly, after laying out under the star-filled, pollution-free sky watching fireworks on the horizon, we came inside to news that thrusted us back into the frankly dystopian realities of power and celebrity in the modern world.
The tweet announcing his “candidacy,” which has yet to be officially registered in any legal capacity, shook music fans across the country. Kanye’s rocky political history and relationship with social justice raised immediate skepticism, not to mention his obvious lack of logistical consideration. What party would he run as? Wouldn’t this split votes? What are his actual policy positions? The confusion over these surface-level questions proved his plain irresponsibility. Clearly Kanye, no matter what he claims, wasn’t actually thinking this through. Maybe it was just another clout-chasing stunt ahead of his upcoming album God’s Country.
But then came the Forbes interview. It was another gut punch; something along the lines of “Holy shit, he’s not kidding.” To quote a few highlights:
On a COVID-19 vaccine: “That’s the mark of the beast. They want to put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven. I’m sorry when I say they, the humans that have the Devil inside them.”
On foreign policy: “I haven’t developed it yet. I’m focused on protecting America, first, with our great military. Let’s focus on ourselves first.”
On managing the White House: “A lot of Africans do not like the movie [Black Panther] and representation of themselves in…Wakanda. But I’m gonna use the framework of Wakanda right now because it’s the best explanation of what our design group is going to feel like in the White House…That is a positive idea: you got Kanye West, one of the most powerful humans—I’m not saying the most because you got a lot of alien level superpowers and it’s only collectively that we can set it free.”
These quotes obviously speak for themselves. Kanye West should not be taken seriously as a political leader. This is a man operating at a fundamentally different level from anyone I have ever met, and there is no possible way he would make a rational, let alone good, president. He not only sounds out of touch with reality, he sounds delusional and unwell.
However, the media attention surrounding his announcement and this interview says something important about the current state of the nation. As a people, Americans are lost. From top to bottom, every generation, every culture, and every demographic within this country either holds misguided values that force them to latch onto broken systems, or they have lost all faith in established institutions. This damaging polarization has led to unabashed civil unrest and a young generation disillusioned with the prospects of supposed success in the modern world.
As a young music nerd who worshipped Kanye’s artistic influence, it can be hard to watch your idol fall from grace. But the very culture which created him has been grinding down systems meant to improve lives for decades. Kanye has never been a solution to wider problems—not in society, politics, the music industry, or even the rap game. At every step of the way, his best work challenged the concerning implications of the broken system surrounding him by taking them to their logical extreme. From 808s & Heartbreak’s deconstruction of rap sonics, to My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy’s maximalist critique of fame and ego, to The Life of Pablo’s abstract commentary on expression in the digital age, the themes of his art and public persona embraced whatever his music attempted to break apart. By perfecting a sound every step of the way, Kanye could justify participating in the worst parts of the culture it embodied as a sort of meta-artistic celebrity arc.
While the past iterations of that celebrity endeavor may still be valid, how far are we willing to let him take it? Kanye’s next persona project seems to be the perfection of a Trump-era politician: an outsider who says out of pocket shit to get media attention while misrepresenting the country’s desires and validating harmfully “subversive” viewpoints. Building on his “innovative, Christian billionaire” mindset of recent years, he’s seeking to establish himself as American royalty. The ultimate validation for Kanye has always been public adoration, and few things could better represent that success than the presidential mantle.
Still, the realization that this presidential bid fits into Kanye’s broader narrative does not validate it. As a musical endeavor and commentary on rap stardom (and later general celebrity), Kanye wrote the book on what modern, commercial art could do. He truly did revolutionize the cultural landscape. But his embodiment of these economic and artistic symbols always shined a spotlight on their most insidious aspects. By marrying conscious hip hop with pop elements, he forced the industry to again accept the marketability and validity of Black art. By questioning the effects of contemporary fame, he rewrote the narrative around celebrity, sharing his pain with the public so we could ultimately reaffirm the value of individual connection. But by exploiting the flaws of the political apparatus with his cultural ubiquity, Kanye should be opening our eyes to the fundamental flaws that drive it—the racism, economic inequality, and nearly insurmountable roadblocks for meaningful change.
That’s a valuable critique, one made more visible by the absurdity of this presidential play. It is not, however, a reason to vote for him. Please, you can listen to Kanye, but don’t take him seriously.