Kanye West tweeted his support of Donald Trump last week and nobody was happy about it. The reasons for his betrayal to the Hollywood/Democrat consensus were unclear to many. Some said it was mental illness. Some said it was a publicity stunt. Some called him an Uncle Tom. Supporting Donald Trump has become bad enough that some celebrities throw free speech out the window. Take, for example, singer Janelle Monae’s response: “I believe in free thinking, but I don’t believe in free thinking if it’s rooted in or at the expense of the oppressed.” What on earth does that mean? It could mean anything, which is the problem, as we have seen the crackdown against “harmful” free speech spread every which way during Russiagate.
Donald Trump’s merciless deregulation of the state has made him one of the worst Presidents ever. The consequences of his war on the environment will be deadly for future generations. At this point there really is no excuse for supporting Trump. It is an irresponsible position. But so is supporting the ecocide, deregulation or bombing campaigns of any Democrat or Republican. The war over Trump is much more about style than substance. Our dying planet and its people get very little attention compared with Trump’s needy bullying.
Let us not forget that Kanye West delivered perhaps the most courageous celebrity critique of George W. Bush’s Presidency. After Hurricane Katrina NBC was running a measly charity event that would provide no structural change to the class and racial caste system within the United States. They put on Kanye West to be one of their many smiling faces. He shocked P.C. Matt Lauer (who has since been ousted on allegations of sexual harassment) with his words on live television: “I hate the way they betray us, the media. If you see a black family it says they’re looting. If you see a white family it says they’re looking for food and you know it has been five days, most of the people are black….you know a lot of people who could help are at war right now and they have given permission for them to go down and shoot us…George Bush doesn’t care about black people.”
Everyone thought Kanye was crazy for his claim that black people were shot by the police during Hurricane Katrina, but he proved to be correct. While the corporate media bemoaned the hurricane as an unavoidable tragedy, Kanye took aim at those responsible. Virtually no one else was willing to talk about race as the reason for the neglect. The Army Corps left weak levies in place, which a federal judge ruled as “monumental” neglect. It was four days before Bush even agreed to an aid package. The hurricane took 1,800 lives and 600,000 people were left without a home. Just three months after Katrina the Recovery School District was given the power to take over 107 New Orleans public schools. By 2014, they were all charter schools. Among the most outrageous elements of the Bush administration response was that they didn’t waive the Stafford Act, despite the act being waived for 9/11 and Hurricane Andrew. Bush only wanted to federalize the response in Louisiana, not Mississippi, because in Louisiana the governor was a Democrat, and in Mississippi the governor was a Republican. Dick Cheney called a Mississippi electricity cooperative to restore power to a oil pipeline (funded by the Koch brothers). This delayed the restoration of power for two hospitals. The dirty Superdome was filled to the brim with people for days. Bush’s call for evacuation was also far too late—he was on vacation after all. Kanye was right about another thing too—the people who could have been helping were overseas fighting wars for oil.
But somehow George W. Bush has become a respected figure in American politics. When his mother died earlier this month four Presidents and four First Ladies gathered for a photo-op. It was as if we had lost a national hero rather than the woman who raised perhaps the worst American of all time.
As for the rest of the sick people in that picture, they haven’t treated Kanye all that great either. Kanye rightly noted that Barack Obama was in office for eight years and nothing in Chicago had changed. Barack Obama’s contribution to Chicago was further militarization of the police, support for the disgraceful mayor Rahm Emanuel, and a condescending racist attitude towards black men: “Brothers need to pull up their pants.” People forget that Kanye’s first album College Dropout was perhaps the most important album about public education of the decade. We all know what Obama did public schools. Obama, first off the record, then on it, called Kanye a jackass after Kanye interrupted Taylor Swift’s Video Music Awards speech.
So, since Kanye was one of the few public figures critical of both Bush and Obama, why did he embrace Donald Trump? Kanye raps in “New Day”: “And I’ll never let my son have an ego / He’ll be nice to everyone, wherever we go / I mean I might even make him be Republican /So everybody know he love white people.” As opposed to this line as one may be, who could argue the logic of it? Glen Ford and others have rightly recognized that the Republican Party is the “White Man’s Party”. The Republican Party is the haven for blatant white supremacists, from their richest funders to their most deplorable voters. But, as Kanye asked, what changed for the better under Obama’s eight year stint in the White House? Absolutely nothing.
The choices then are slim. Side with the Democrats to stop the white supremacist Republicans is one option. But inequality will widen, jails will grow, schools will be cut, water and air will be polluted and police will be militarized. Side with the Republicans and all of this will happen at a quicker rate with a whole lot of racial targeting mixed in. A bonus of joining with the Republicans: at least you are in the White Man’s Party, rather than up against it. And for how little the Democrats offer, one could reasonably argue that this is the most pragmatic path to survival in AmeriKKKa, even if it is not the most socially responsible.
West explains himself on the track “Ye vs. The People” that he released this past weekend: “You on some choosin’-side shit, I’m on some unified shit.” In Trump’s America, what is there to be unified about? The approach rings of Booker T. Washington, not W.E.B. Du Bois. Yet perhaps the left has not understood Booker T. well enough, even though we are right not to let him off the hook. There are no good choices for survival in White America, although there are certainly such thing as worse choices.
Kanye continues in his new single: “See that’s the problem with this damn nation / All Blacks gotta be Democrats, man, we ain’t made it off the plantation.” Kanye is right to recognize that the two party system entraps people within the Democratic Party as slaves to its corporate masters. Stray off the plantation and you’ll get shot by a Republican. While you’re stuck on Democrat land, they can treat you how ever you want, for you have no place to go. Bill and Hillary always knew this.
This false choice is exemplified in one way or the other in almost all of Kanye’s albums. The cover of The Life Of Pablo has the words “Which one?” with two images: a photo of a black family and a picture of a white woman’s butt. We should acknowledge the glaring misogyny, especially towards white women, in West’s work. But there is another question the album asks: which life should he choose? The life of black poverty/goodness or the life of white success/immorality? To elaborate on this theme, Kanye raps in “So Appalled”: “Niggas is goin’ through real shit man they outta work / That’s why another goddamn dance track gotta hurt /That’s why I rather spit somethin’ that gotta purp’ /Champagne wishes, thirty white bitches / I mean the shit is fuckin’ ridiculous, fuckin’ ridiculous.” Kanye, like most of his buddies in corporate hip hop, knows who owns the record labels, and rather than attack white men, or even white people, he takes aim at white women. This makes most corporate rappers cringe worthy, although the underground scene is a far different story. But once one gets past the misogyny they can see the same split: a life of black struggle on the one hand, a life of white extravagance on the other.
Now, under the Presidency of Donald Trump, a gangster white supremacist who only values loyalty, Kanye is asking the same question. Sadly, he has come up with the wrong answer. Shed no tears for the public downfall of the celebrity millionaire Kanye West, but once we get past our patronizing explanations we might find a method to his madness. Kanye lost a lot more telling the truth about Hurricane Katrina than he gained from supporting the Democratic Party and their slick suit Barack Obama.
The patronizing treatment of Kanye’s antics reminds me of the way Bernie Bros reacted to black people not falling behind their Ben & Jerry’s Socialist in the 2016 election. Bernie Bros failed to recognize that as long as black people remain an underclass of American society, political strategies would vary. Bernie offered no radical changes to race relations. He stood no realistic chance to win a corporate election. Yet the bros wondered: how could black people be so stupid? Take this exchange between a black woman and Bernie on the campaign trail. She asked: “I know you’re scared to say black, I know you’re scared to say reparations. But it seems like every time we try to talk about black people and us getting something for the systematic reparations and the exploitation of our people, we have to include every other person of color. … Can you please talk about specifically black people and reparations?” Grandpa Bernie grumbled: “What I just indicated in my view is that when you have … you and I may have disagreements because it’s not just black, it is Latino; there are areas of America, in poor rural areas, where it’s white.” This is a true statement, but he completely runs from the question about how he would deal with black people specifically. It is no surprise then that Bernie only got 23% of the black women vote. Given his blind faith in the Democratic Party and his misplaced nostalgia for it, why are we surprised that many people did not fall for his half-baked political revolution?
Bernie Bro (and serious misogynist) Cenk Uygur said about Kanye: “Kanye is one of the dumbest guys in the country. But then those same hosts think Trump is a genius. Kanye might be Trump’s black twin – an empty celebrity who is dumb, narcissistic and shameless.” Blaming black people for a brutal racial caste system founded by rich whites is an ugly move. Kanye, who is rich as sin, should not be let off the hook for his behavior. Yet perhaps if we listened we would find that the false choices within our corporate duopoly system are not as simple as we make them out to be.