By Harry Sutton ’20
Hip-hop icon turned political speaker and frequent headliner Kanye West visited President Donald Trump at the White House on Thursday, October 10. West and Trump have been well-acquainted and friendly since 2016, when West told a crowd that he would have voted for Trump if he had voted.
West has seemed to be on the verge of becoming another entertainer-turned-politician for a while now, declaring that he wants to run for president in 2024 – the only reason he doesn’t want to run in 2020 is because he wants Trump to have a second term. While West’s potential run for president may seem laughable, many had the same reaction when Trump, a man with no political experience, announced his run in 2015. Trump has benefited himself with constant news media interaction, and his schemes for constant publicity greatly assisted him during his campaign. West has been using the media to gain coverage and publicity too, and if he does as much as Trump did and continues to do, he could certainly have a chance in the 2024 election.
West has gone on to say that he and Trump share a “dragon energy” and has called the 45th President a “genius.” While to many people, genius may be a slight overstatement when describing Trump’s intellectual ability, West is likely referring to Trump’s ability to appear in the headlines almost constantly by saying and doing controversial things, but never suffering major consequences.
The two protect themselves from major blame and punishment for their crazy actions by campaigning as advocates for the first amendment, and the ability to say what they think, framing the media and news sources as attempting to quiet the opinions of the people. Trump and West are able to keep their current base by framing the “liberal media” as an organization that is trying to mute the vocalization of their opinions. At the end of the day, there is no such thing as “dragon energy;” however, both Trump and West have figured out the formula to sustain relevance and notoriety in the age of 24-hour news and media coverage.
One way to figure out why Trump and West do what they do is to go into their past and decipher their actions and careers. Simply put, they are entertainers. They have both lived their entire adult lives in the entertainment industry, constantly pushing the borders by doing outrageous things that get people talking and gain attention in the media.
Although Trump and West have moved from rap and reality TV to politics, they are still going for the same goal: to entertain, and to be talked about. Hip-hop artist Chris Brown made this connection after West claimed that “slavery was a choice.”. In Brown’s words, “This is just entertainment to y’all… This man is a clown!” Brown hit it right on the head. West is doing what Trump did and, like Trump, he’s not suffering the consequences. He is saying and doing outrageous things that get people talking about him, trying his best to inject his name into the headlines on Fox, CNN and MSNBC.
While the two could be easily written off as fools, the mainstream media hasn’t yet quite caught on to how the two thrive on the publicity. These two are staples of show business, masters of drama, entertainers at heart. They shouldn’t be trusted to be the leaders of our nation, but political viability is handed to them when dozens of channels are talking about them 24 hours a day.
Ronald Reagan and Arnold Schwarzenegger were also famous entertainers-turned-politicians who had successful time in office, but the two were powerful politicians during a different age of media, when 24-hour news cycles such as MSNBC, CNN, and Fox weren’t the kings of the news media. The news cycle of the 21st century has changed the style of media reporting, as multiple channels, required to find an endless stream of news, are talking about figures like Trump constantly. Reagan and Schwarzenegger did not need to feed off the media with outrageous and entertaining comments and claims to gain publicity, but in the new era of reporting, Trump does. The system has been repetitive and predictable for years now. Trump makes a controversial claim, and the media explodes, Fox News supports, MSNBC rejects. Regardless of what channel or news source is being watched, they’re talking about Trump, and this is publicity. And, to paraphrase P. T. Barnum, all publicity is good publicity.
Trump was really the first politician to crack the code, to discover the formula for staying relevant in the age of media. As Andrew Postman, who visited our school, said, there is “a sea of irrelevance” where the truth can be drowned out. With the plethora of options for news sources available in the 21st century, Trump found that the way to be relevant and popular is to say things that will make everybody talk about you. It’s as simple that.
West has been using the same strategy for publicity, and it has definitely worked. In November 2016, West said “there were a lot of things I actually liked about Trump’s campaign. His approach was f—ing genius — because it worked.” West acknowledged that Trump’s actions and statements could be seen as ridiculous, but he also realized that Trump created a “genius” scheme for relevance and publicity. At this point, West started to walk in Trump’s shadow, with his own record of highly-covered statements and actions that have been seen as outrageous or unprecedented.
Trump and West have had very similar resurgences into the mainstream media and increases of popularity. Trump has been ridiculed as “a very low IQ individual,” “not smart enough to run for president,” and someone who is “a waste of time and energy,” by famous individuals such as Robert De Niro, Mark Cuban and John Oliver. West has been called “way too powerful and influential to endorse who he is and what he stands for,” with “brain chemistry issues,” and “a f—ing moron.” At the end of the day, the media is blind to the goal being strived for by Trump and West: publicity.
Although it may not be the obvious conclusion to come to, given the actions and statements made by the pair over the last few years, I believe the goal of West and Trump is to be talked about. They continue to do and say outrageous things, but due to their lack of real consequences, they show no sign of stopping anytime soon. West and Trump like being talked about, and reported on, whether it’s positive or negative. The two are trying to push boundaries. While their actions do get covered in the media, they always avoid consequences. They are never reprimanded or required to stop the crazy things that they say and do. Instead, they are just talked about.
When researching the many, many controversial and contested things that West and Trump have done and said over the past few years, it is difficult to find anything from later than a month ago, as the thousands of articles about the things Trump and West have done get drowned out by the hundreds of articles that come out each morning. Trump and West never suffer any major consequences for their actions because they are also deflecting and covering up the crazy thing that they said three days ago with the crazy thing that they said today. With the thousands of articles coming out each day about Trump, it is hard to keep track of all of the ridiculous things he does. You may have forgotten his role in the birther conspiracy, his mockery of a disabled reporter, his generalization of Mexicans as rapists and thieves, or even his support of the neo-nazis and white supremacists at the Charleston rallies, all due to the fact that dozens of news sources are talking about something Trump did today instead. By staying in the news, piling on more and more headlines, Trump is able to escape and deflect major consequences.
These people are entertainers, and their goal is to be in the spotlight. The only way to stop their rise in popularity and power in the age of media is to unplug the power cord, and turn off the spotlight. We cannot acknowledge their actions and continue constantly talking about them, because we aren’t going anywhere with the constant coverage. This cycle of media and publicity is how the guy who says “You’re fired” became president, and it may just be how a man who dresses up as a Perrier bottle on live television becomes president too.