Culture

Pastor Kanye Abandons His Flock

President-elect Donald Trump and musician Kanye West pose for media at Trump Tower in Manhattan, December 13, 2016. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)
The anguish of some fans over Kanye West’s political heresies points to the dangers of hero-worship and the cult of celebrity.

When you grow up conservative, you quickly learn that if you’re going to enjoy good music, movies, and television, then you’re going to have to hold them at arm’s length. You have to separate the art from the artist, knowing full well that the man or woman who made you laugh or who moved you to tears may — in their very next interview — rip your faith or your politics to shreds.

At its best, this reality generates a healthy detachment, an ability to appreciate a person’s gifts and talents apart from their preferred candidates. Moreover, it prevents dangerous hero-worship and helps you understand that talent isn’t the same thing as wisdom, and it’s certainly not synonymous with virtue.

At its worst, the power and hostility of modern celebrity culture drives conservatives a little bit crazy. They alternatively yell “Shut up and dribble” and fawn over every celebrity that smiles in their general direction. After all, a plurality of GOP voters happily nominated the biggest Republican star in the land. And if you ever doubt that Republicans don’t love “their” celebrities with an odd intensity, just spend a little time watching Fox News.

“Coming up, Scott Baio discusses how great it is that Trump ‘talks like a guy.’”

This, of course, brings me to the ongoing, colossal left-wing meltdown over Kanye West. In case you’ve just returned from the International Space Station, Kanye not only had the audacity to tweet affection for Donald Trump, he doubled-down, time and again, even to the point of declaring that he and Trump share something called “dragon energy.”

The liberal Internet piled on. He was unmoved. It kept piling on. He remained unmoved.

Now, Kanye being Kanye, he may well turn around and tweet something entirely different in the next twelve hours. He may turn on Trump with ferocity. But it seems clear at this point that Kanye’s legendary independence holds even in the face of what may well be the most intense public attack — especially from his colleagues and friends — that he’s ever endured.

Of course, there’s a political component to this story. Kanye has an immense following, and his declaration of political independence represents a powerful and potentially influential break with pop-culture political groupthink. The Democratic party depends on a united, motivated black base. Even a slight reduction in their support would be extraordinarily damaging to the party’s national political influence. And Kanye hasn’t just broken with his peers, he’s elevating other dissenting voices.

But the politics here are much less interesting — and, ultimately, less important — than the emotional and spiritual consequences. Read the commentary, and it’s clear that many of the takes aren’t just angry, they’re anguished. Reading those words, it struck me — the Left isn’t used to this. The marriage of pop culture and liberal politics is so deep and long-lasting that millions of Americans haven’t learned to embrace the art while holding the artist at arm’s length. It’s not just a song that speaks to their hearts but a person. The role in their lives isn’t merely professional, it’s pastoral.

In an increasingly secular culture, people still yearn for transcendence, and they still seek mentors. For millions of liberals, the art provides the transcendence, and the artist becomes the mentor. It’s not unlike the appeal of a powerful preacher. The congregants thrill to his message, and they long to respect the man.

I was reminded of the marriage of art and artist when Prince died. The emotional response was orders of magnitude beyond the considerable merits of “Let’s Go Crazy” or “When Doves Cry.” It wasn’t just Prince’s music that turned his death into the “Black 9/11.” Legions of fans shared stories about the man and his ideals (selectively, it turned out — Prince was hardly a down-the-line leftist). He gave the people music, and the people gave him their hearts.

In thinking of what it’s like when a person you’ve long admired suddenly seems different, or you learn that he’s not the person you thought he was, I’m reminded of one of the seminal events of my childhood — when our beloved preacher ran off with another man’s wife. It didn’t make the good words of his countless past sermons any less true, but since man and message were inseparable, those words were tainted forever.

Ultimately, I learned good things from that painful moment. I learned that we can’t put our faith in men. Hero-worship is spiritual poverty. I learned no person should be arrogant about his own virtue, but instead that we should understand that all good things come from God, including our own integrity.

At this moment, there are Americans who look at Kanye as if the pastor has abandoned his flock. The sense of betrayal is deep and profound. While we don’t know what happens next, the importance of opening cracks in the Democratic coalition pales in comparison with the cultural importance of questioning the cult of celebrity. The anguish of the Left reveals the emptiness of the pop-culture faith. No man should have such a hold over the human heart.

NOW WATCH: ‘Kanye West Explains Why He’s A Fan Of Trump’

Most Popular

Regulatory Policy

Going Medieval

Writing in Bloomberg, Noah Smith gives more than a nod to Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction (or, as Smith neatly relabels the phenomenon, “elite over-competition”) as a cause of the current wave of turmoil in the West, something with which I would agree but, I think, more emphatically. Quite ... Read More
Regulatory Policy

Going Medieval

Writing in Bloomberg, Noah Smith gives more than a nod to Peter Turchin’s theory of elite overproduction (or, as Smith neatly relabels the phenomenon, “elite over-competition”) as a cause of the current wave of turmoil in the West, something with which I would agree but, I think, more emphatically. Quite ... Read More
Religion

From ‘Anchors Aweigh’ to Away-from-Church

If any group of Americans could reasonably be expected, and trusted, to conduct themselves in ways that minimize the danger of spreading infection during public worship, you might think that would be the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. They’re used to obeying orders, including those that involve ... Read More
Religion

From ‘Anchors Aweigh’ to Away-from-Church

If any group of Americans could reasonably be expected, and trusted, to conduct themselves in ways that minimize the danger of spreading infection during public worship, you might think that would be the men and women of the U.S. armed forces. They’re used to obeying orders, including those that involve ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More
U.S.

Bad News about the Virus

On the menu today: an important update about indications that the coronavirus is now more contagious than it used to be, with far-reaching ramifications for how we fight this pandemic; a point on the recent complaints about the Paycheck Protection Program; and a new book for everyone closely following the debate ... Read More
Culture

A Triumph at Mount Rushmore

If nothing else, President Donald Trump’s July Fourth speech at Mount Rushmore clarified the battle lines of our culture war. The New York Times called the speech “dark and divisive,” while an Associated Press headline declared, “Trump pushes racial division.” A Washington Post story said the speech ... Read More
Culture

A Triumph at Mount Rushmore

If nothing else, President Donald Trump’s July Fourth speech at Mount Rushmore clarified the battle lines of our culture war. The New York Times called the speech “dark and divisive,” while an Associated Press headline declared, “Trump pushes racial division.” A Washington Post story said the speech ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Washington vs. Violent Crime

In New York City, 49 people were shot over the holiday weekend. The death count, so far, is eight. With 101 shooting victims in the last week, shootings are up 300 percent over the same period last year; for the full month of June, they reached a level not seen since 1996. Even before this latest bloodbath, ... Read More
Politics & Policy

Washington vs. Violent Crime

In New York City, 49 people were shot over the holiday weekend. The death count, so far, is eight. With 101 shooting victims in the last week, shootings are up 300 percent over the same period last year; for the full month of June, they reached a level not seen since 1996. Even before this latest bloodbath, ... Read More