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Donald Trump and Kanye West
Donald Trump and Kanye West, Trump Tower, 2016

Kanye West, Donald Trump, and the apex of reality TV

In a world that brings us ever closer to the beauty and the ugliness of its stars, perhaps we shouldn’t be so surprised to see West in a MAGA hat

“Thank you Kanye, very cool”. If we were in any doubt that we were through the looking glass, those five words tweeted from the account of Donald Trump after West referred to him as a “brother” removed any uncertainty. And now that we’re there, the imagery of West wearing MAGA hats and having them signed by Donald Trump feels abnormally everyday. How long before Trump is wearing Yeezys?

The domino effect was huge, and it was not long before Trump was tweeting his thanks to Chance The Rapper (who would later apologise for saying that “black people don’t have to be Democrats”), Donald Trump Jr was saying how incredible it was to see “a cultural shift happen in real time”, West was posting pleading texts from John Legend begging him to reconsider his alignment with Trump, @Jack was apologising to Candace Owens for his platform labelling her “far right” in a Twitter Moment, and a fake account of Vince Staples having a surreal, depressing dinner with Kanye and the Kardashians had gone viral. All of these people act as characters in a play that millions of people help to write.

West also tweeted that he was glad that Peter Thiel – the billionaire venture capitalist who brought down Gawker and donated to Trump’s campaign – would take a meeting, and eulogised about his and Trump’s “dragon energy”. This term feels naturally wedded to modern conservatism: it reveals a nerdy philosophical pride in being animalistically intelligent that leads to far-right TV hosts like Milo Yiannopoulos selling supplements such as Brain Force Plus, tablets said to offer you “heightened mental clarity”. West talking about refusing to be “enslaved by monolithic thought” is the apex of Red Pill culture, a term lifted from The Matrix and adopted by alt-right Redditors and YouTubers, who believe that they see the light, but the left does not. Freedom of speech is the right’s totemic symbol of their “oppression”, naturally West’s allusion to a global conspiracy of restrictive thinking is catnip to a movement of people who ironically seem to think much the same thing at the same time.

“West’s allusion to a global conspiracy of restrictive thinking is catnip to a movement of people who ironically seem to think much the same thing at the same time”

The continued “co-signing” between West and the Trump dynasty has sent shockwaves around the world because we like to imagine that our pop icons are liberal, and maybe in a pre-social media era it was easier for artists to keep up that pretence. West and Trump are both powerful iconoclasts for whom reality – the disruption and the harnessing of it – is paramount. Trump is a reality TV star turned president, a pathological liar who has somehow legitimised the concept of “fake news” in order to discredit a litany of allegations against him, a person who openly shows little regard for minorities. West is a musical genius who has found himself at the centre of a family who created a whole new rulebook for consuming and understanding celebrity culture – and distorted reality as we know it. He too alludes to running for office, whether that’s by posting Kanye 2024 pictures or criticising Obama, just like Trump did in his proto-campaigning years.

The stark reality of 2018 is that our demand for constant connectivity with famous people means that we are closer to ugliness. An insistence on everybody living in a glass house means that illusion is easier to break, and constant waves of information ensure that the things we once knew become easier to forget, that the essential easily becomes ephemera. It was under 18 months ago that West visited Trump Tower, told audiences that he would have voted for him, and tweeted a picture of TIME magazine with Trump on the cover, signed by Trump. Is it really such a surprise to see him in a MAGA hat?

“Our demand for constant connectivity with famous people means that we are closer to ugliness”

These two men are both people aware of their social media platforms and how they can be used for global influence, as is the person who runs them, Jack Dorsey (more widely recognised as @Jack), who liked every one of West’s tweets on his return from Twitter hiatus, and showed no concern about Donald Trump starting wars from his phone. All traffic is good traffic. It’s a platform often criticised for engendering the echo chamber, often cringingly referred to as the “Twittersphere”, but West’s disavowing of “monolithic thought” seems so naive – everything that he’s done in the past week has only encouraged exactly that, enabling the right-wing to claim him as one of their own and push their anti-nuance, monolithic agenda. There is also no doubt that West is having loads of fucking fun with this, probably viewing his flirtations with the right-wing as a Kaufman-esque disruption, something that his “scoop ditty poop poop ditty scoop poop” verse only appears to confirm.

Kanye’s public determination to think his own way, and “brotherhood” with Donald Trump feels galling in an era of necessary group activism. It’s a reactionary brand of individualism that many rightly perceive as disloyalty to the black community – it was not long ago that Trump was demanding to see Obama’s birth certificate, and not long ago that he failed to denounce white supremacists in Charlottesville. Back in the 80s, he took out newspaper ads calling for five black boys wrongfully convicted of rape to die. By contrast, West has long been known for his pro-black politics: he once stood next to Mike Myers on live TV and accused George Bush of not caring about black people post-Katrina; he’s talked about being the “great grandson of slaves” and written lyrics like “hands up we just doing what the cops taught us”.

While I have sympathy for West’s passion for freedom of thought – I do believe that we‘re caught uncomfortably in a polarised, paralysing period for expression – Trump is a highly dangerous racist who should be challenged and brought down at every opportunity. Politics no longer harnesses the power of pop culture – it is pop culture. West likely views himself as just playing, frustrated and bored by the world’s inability to view anything other than good or bad. His new online campaign about being obsessed with love, and loving everything, seems close to self-deifying, a God-like way of approaching the world. This is real life though, and Trump is a person who proven himself to be driven by hatred. But what seems to separate the two men is that Trump is obsessed with the amount of power he has, whereas West seems to misunderstand it. Indifference to Donald Trump is dangerous enough; public support could be irrevocably damaging.