Kanye West is many things: rapper, designer, father, producer, businessman, and most recently, philosopher. In his latest return to Twitter, West began tweeting out quips on living in love and abolishing fear to reach your greatest goals. Without question, fans were rabid for more Kanye content—much of Twitter couldn’t get enough of West’s new role as a wordy, sentient version of a “Hang In There!” cat poster we see in our dentist’s office.
During his sporadic tweeting sprees, West claimed that his recently announced philosophy book was actually the new series of tweets he was generating, which makes the book claim a perplexing statement at best. Amidst all this, Kanye West’s philosophical leanings have landed him another title: the new conservative crown jewel of the alt-right’s divisive media personalities.
On April 21st, 2018, Kanye West tweeted that he admired conservative personality and founder of Red Pill Black, Candace Owens.
I love the way Candace Owens thinks
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) April 21, 2018
He then launched into a diatribe filled with language coded as alt-right: “only free thinkers,” “we have freedom of speech but not freedom of thought,” and “the thought police want to suppress freedom of thought.” West’s viewpoints inspired Dilbert creator turned pro-Trump mouthpiece Scott Adams to livestream a video on Kanye West’s brilliance that will free us from our mental prisons, which West recorded and posted to his Twitter. This move garnered praise from none other than Paul Joseph Watson, the Infowars editor-at-large known as @PrisonPlanet. One look into West’s mentions on Twitter and hundreds of MAGA-celebrating, MSM-hating users are singing the rapper’s praises and thanking him for bringing their ideology into the mainstream. Hammering his political stance further, Kanye West told Ebro Darden during a radio interview that he loves Donald Trump.
I’m not here to bash people for having conservative beliefs. If Kanye West is showing a change in his political ideology, he has the right to say what he believes in. As American citizens, we should question and challenge our political leaders to determine if they truly have our best interests in mind, and speak out when we disagree with those leaders— as West reminded us, we have the privilege of freedom of speech.
However, by making these claims, West is igniting a dangerous fire within our culture, both as consumers and as a country. MAGA-loving trolls are latching onto West in their continued quest for nothing more than sustained agitation. As fans, we watch with breathless trepidation to see what headline-making thing West do next—like meeting with Donald Trump shortly after he was elected president.
We consume Kanye West’s art and behavior with a fervor that’s unprecedented, creating a toxicity that breeds unfathomable ego and generates positive reward for recklessness. We as Americans continue to enable the antics that put a reality television star into the most powerful office in the country. By not calling out Kanye West’s slow descent into the cesspool of alt-right media, we refuse to truly question our relationship with the celebrity culture of politics. Remember when people were tweeting “Kanye 2020” after the rapper detailed his presidential platform at the 2015 VMAs? The mishmash of celebrities jumping into politics might start as a joke to us—like Trump’s own presidential run—only to become painfully, nightmarishly real over time. The manipulation of alt-right media playing into Kanye West’s crippling adoration of praise is not a joke, at all.
That’s not to say that all celebrities who enter politics are unqualified. Republican candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger was famously elected the 38th Governor of California and served for two terms, while Sex and The City actress and Democratic activist Cynthia Nixon recently announced her own campaign in the New York gubernatorial primary election. While both of these celebrities have strong campaign platforms and ability to lead citizens without harm, it begs the question: does the allure of celebrity enhance the political message of a candidate?
Based on our current president, it seems that the answer is yes. If that’s true, then our current relationship with Kanye West as consumers of his art and fashion is something to think long and hard about. West has been an artistic innovator for over a decade, a decade in which he’s done important work to break down barriers on race, masculinity, and class. But being an innovator does not excuse behavior that threatens to nullify all the great things Kanye West has done. By not speaking up about West’s tweets, we are giving alt-right figureheads the chance to wrench an artist’s hard-earned career into yet another weapon in their aggressive war on goodwill and reason. In not exercising our right to free speech, we are allowing the alt-right to contribute to harm while people like Kanye West are taken advantage of.
If West continues down this path of the most extreme form of conservatism and decides to run for office, it begs the question: will fans side with the new Kanye based on memories of the old Kanye? After the 2016 election, I can only hope that we respect the weight of Kanye West’s political comments, and take them into consideration when examining our relationship with him as fans and American citizens.