“Kanye 2020” was once a rallying cry among fans of Kanye West. The Chicago-born rapper spent the first few decades of his Grammy-studded career promoting a future presidential run, and die-hard listeners looked forward to casting ballots in his name — never mind that aside from Jesus, his mother, and a quip that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people,” nobody knew what Kanye West believed in.
That is, until he appeared at an early Trump rally, and “Kanye 2020” became “Kanye 2024.”
(Kanye still wrote his own name on his 2020 ballot, but we’ll address that later.)
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Since then, conservative thought leaders haven’t known what to do with Kanye, who recently rebranded himself as just “Ye.” (Sure.) Obviously, the GOP would never actually nominate him for president — even Tucker Carlson notes that Ye’s campaign speeches are mostly disjointed ramblings. Still, some pundits saw value in having such a prolific contemporary on the GOP’s side in the cultural fight and were eager to merge their platforms with his: he and Candace Owens posed in matching shirts at a recent Paris fashion show; his Oct. 6 sit-down with Tucker continues to make headlines.
Things took a turn on Dec. 1, when Ye appeared on Alex Jones’ radio show Infowars — the self-proclaimed “most banned network in the world” — with friend Nick Fuentes, a notable Holocaust-denier. When the most moderate person in the room is the guy who spent over a decade publicly denying the Sandy Hook shooting, you know you’re in for a wild ride.
And what a ride it was. For those who don’t want to bleach their brains by slogging through the entire two-and-a-half-hour conversation, here are some highlights, all courtesy of Ye:
- “Obama wasn’t the first black president; he was another Jewish president.” (What?)
- “Every human being has something to offer, especially Hitler.” (Key word: especially.)
- “We got to stop dissing the Nazis all the time.” (Do we?)
- “I don’t like the word ‘evil’ next to Nazis.” (Okay. You get the picture.)
Trust me, these lines are much worse in context.
For every ten minutes of hate speech, there was a nugget of truth. Ye spent much of the interview promoting his Christian beliefs: “It’s time to put Jesus first in the way we run our families, our businesses, and our country.” (Do you realize Jesus Christ was a Jew, Ye?) He talked about the dangers of pornography and the horrors of abortion. Even a broken clock (a very, very broken clock) is right twice a day.
But it doesn’t matter how many times Kanye is right, because he’s dug himself too deep a hole to ever be taken seriously again — nor should he be. I’m sure the political pundits who rushed to adopt him are sweating profusely right now.
Kanye hates our Jewish brothers and sisters. Kanye is also having a mental breakdown. In this case, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. In 2018, comedian Pete Davidson said about Kanye, “Being mentally ill isn’t an excuse to act like a jackass.” That remark is even more applicable today. (Davidson, in a brilliant twist of irony, later dated Ye’s ex-wife, but that’s neither here nor there.)
It would be easy to dismiss Ye as a mentally ill man in need of help and move on. Why should we care about what some billionaire rapper has to say? Well, because our liberal neighbors do. Because we rushed to welcome Kanye onto our side of the culture war — because we shared him with our audiences, invited him onto our platforms, and built a parasocial relationship with him — we’re now being asked to answer for his dangerous, antisemitic beliefs.
It’s not worth it to be able to say “See? Black rappers can be conservative, too!” when that rapper has already proven himself to be a loose canon.
No individual can speak for the entire GOP, not even the GOP’s presidential candidate. We shouldn’t have to individually denounce every crazy, hateful person who claims to be one of us. And let’s be clear — Kanye isn’t one of us. Ultimately, his loyalty is only to himself. He’ll get bored and abandon his MAGA hats in a few months. Maybe he’ll even convert to Judaism.
Still, in a time of rising antisemitism, it’s important to let our Jewish neighbors know we stand with them. Share posts to your social media stating that you condemn antisemitism. Donate to an initiative that supports Jews in need. Buy from Jewish-owned businesses. The list goes on.
So, is there anything we can learn from the Ye fiasco? Yes: to proceed with caution when an established artist starts promoting conservative beliefs. Yes, President Reagan was an artist, too, but Reagan worked hard to earn the trust of the GOP by fighting for the interests of We, the people. There’s just no comparison between him and Ye.
Ultimately, we never should have exploited Ye for points in the culture war. It’s not worth it to be able to say “See? Black rappers can be conservative, too!” when that rapper has already proven himself to be a loose canon. Our Hispanic brothers and sisters have gone purple, and if we want the same to happen with our black brothers and sisters, we need to prove to them that we are the party of life and liberty. We don’t need icons like Kanye to prove that black Americans can vote red. Instead, we need to meet ordinary citizens where they already are.
And, I get it: all your favorite actors, rappers, and singers are liberal (oh, Barbra Streisand, why must you hurt me so?), and you want representation, too. Be patient. The right conservative mainstream artist will work hard to earn our trust, and won’t act solely in their own self-interest.
When that person emerges, I’ll be happy to cast my ballot for their presidency.
Leslie Sattler is an editor and Gen Z columnist from New York. She has a degree from NYU. She denounces antisemitism, by the way. @LeslieASattler