Music

The Kanye Freakout

Rapper Kanye West meets with President Trump in the Oval Office of the White House, October 11, 2018. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
The media cast Kanye West as a race traitor for speaking his mind.

Journalists can’t resist attributing importance to the vapid ramblings of barely informed celebrities. Rare is the starlet or songbird who has mastered public policy beyond the depth of a blog post, but news outlets that never tire of finding new ways to launder Democratic-party talking points can implicitly argue, “Hey, we’re only reporting what was said! These people enjoy large followings. Even if we are too smart to take them seriously, their legions of fans might think differently.”

That nearly all A-list show-business personalities vote the same way as the A-list news personalities renders the decision a no-brainer. When all else fails, run the “Celebrity X Endorses Democrat Y” story. It takes no effort whatsoever to put together such a story. And since we’re in the realm of glitz and fantasy, the fact-checkers and policy analysts take the day off. Often the story runs in the entertainment section anyway.

It had been only three days since the national media fell over themselves amplifying Taylor Swift’s thoughts on why she was backing the Democrat in the Tennessee senate race. Then Mr. Dragon Energy came rolling into town. Kanye West is perhaps an even bigger and more influential celebrity than Ms. Swift. Few would call her a genius. Many have called him one. If any celebrity truly has a following, i.e. a large group that listens intently to what he has to say and takes it to heart, it is Kanye.

Moreover, the politics of Ye, or Yeezy, or Yeezus, proved to contain a lot more entertainment value than Swift’s written offering, which offered all the swagger and sizzle of a small-market liberal newspaper op-ed. West, in his instantly legendary Oval Office appearance, said, “People expect that if you’re black you have to be a Democrat.” But not he: “Something about putting this [MAGA] hat on, it made me feel like Superman.” He suggested we all have a stake in Trump’s success and said, “What I need the liberals to improve on, is if [Trump] don’t look good, we don’t look good. This is our president.” He made a case for protectionism: “When we make everything in China and not in America, then we’re cheating on our country.” He referred to the 13th Amendment as a “trapdoor” that was dropping black people in prison next to the Unabomber.

Mr. West has made a career out of bringing us reality as he sees it, with much artful embellishment and shameless subjectivity, which makes him a kind of CNN anchor of the street. Except West likely enjoys a better reputation for telling it like it is, and a greater reach, than all CNN anchors and talking heads combined. Put it this way: If you conducted a poll in which you asked black Americans whom they respect more, with the possible answers being Kanye West or Don Lemon, the result would not be close.

MAGA Superman’s unruly performance in the Oval Office turned Lemon a bit sour. Lemon couldn’t very well ignore West because he made for such excellent live television. He could hardly call for pulling back on covering entertainers as if they’re oracles or point out that West is like virtually every other celebrity in that his political rants don’t add a lot to public discourse. He couldn’t plausibly argue that it was infra dig for a president to welcome rappers into the White House, not after President Obama hosted Jay-Z and Kendrick Lamar and Rick Ross.

So Lemon and other talking heads — the newsreaders who consider themselves newsleaders — quickly formed a Race Police squad. West was brought up on charges of betraying black people. Lemon said West put on a “minstrel show,” convening a panel for the purpose of denouncing West’s treason. One panelist, Tara Setmayer, called West the White House’s “token Negro” and an “attention whore.” She added, “This is ridiculous and no one should be taking Kanye West seriously. He clearly has issues. He’s already been hospitalized. Not to trivialize mental health issues; obviously, Kanye has taken a turn in a very strange way.” Former South Carolina state representative Bakari Sellers said, “Kanye West is what happens when Negroes don’t read.” So black people who like West are stupid? Not nice.

Over on MSNBC, New York Times columnist Michael Eric Dyson tagged West this way:

White supremacy by ventriloquism. A black mouth is moving, but white racist ideals are flowing from Kanye West’s mouth. Kanye West is engaging in one of the most nefarious practices yet. A black body and brain are the warehouse for the articulation and expression of anti-black sentiment.

West had suggested that generous welfare policies are the reason blacks vote for Democrats, which for the media is as near to heresy as to make no difference. Also on MSNBC, Stephanie Ruhle said “that was an assault on our White House.” Actually, Kanye was an invited guest, not a criminal committing an assault, but perhaps Ruhle gets easily confused when she spots a black man. Ruhle also said, “If you think you’re going to get a thoughtful play-by-play and political analysis, you’re not.” Fair enough; but why stop with Kanye? That could just as easily be MSNBC’s motto.

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