To a generation of rap enthusiasts, the Kanye West that stormed into President Trump’s Oval Office on Thursday cloaked in a red MAGA hat, ranting and raving about everything from superheroism to the Unabomber, too power-drunk to notice he’s being used, is a stranger.
Gone is the rabble-rouser who inveighed against police brutality on “Jesus Walks”; who called out homophobia in hip-hop way back in 2005; who denounced former President Bush on national television over his heinous response to Hurricane Katrina; who helped the Kardashian clan accept Caitlyn Jenner’s transition; and who once rapped, “I’m so appalled, Spalding ball / Balding Donald Trump taking dollars from y’all.” In its stead is a man kneeling at the feet of a demagogue who virulently opposes the peaceful protest of police brutality against black Americans, wants West’s hometown of Chicago to initiate stop-and-frisk, supports “traditional marriage,” claimed his administration did “a fantastic job” handling Hurricane Maria (2,975 dead), and has repeatedly tried to ban transgender people from serving in the military.
So, who knows exactly why West has gone all-in on Trump. Is it his appreciation for the mogul’s branding prowess? An affinity with those cast out by the media, severity be damned? The yearning for a presidential co-sign after Obama called him a “jackass?” Your guess is as good as mine.
There are two things we know for sure about the Kanye West that showed up at the White House: He suffers from bipolar disorder and is off his medication.
“The Ye is fully out and off medication. I am fully being myself,” West told TMZ last week. “These pills that they wat me to take three of a day? I take one a week, maybe two a week. Y’all had me scared of myself, of my vision.”
And hours after the Oval Office episode, People magazine reported that those in West’s inner circle “are telling him that he needs to get back on his medication, that he’s not doing well, that he’s not making any sense.” They further alleged, “No one close to him can tell him that he’s sounding unhinged because his answer is that the president of the United States doesn’t think so.”
While there are legitimate gripes to be had with West and his puzzling contradictions (see above), late-night comedians and cable-news pundits have resorted to cruelly mocking West’s mental health and even invoking his dead mother.
On Thursday night, Jimmy Kimmel gleefully branded West “an irrational madman,” describing the Trump-West exchange as “the kind of conversation that would typically be held between people wearing hospital bracelets.” The Daily Show’s Trevor Noah called West “a ranting lunatic.” And CNN’s Don Lemon said that “Kanye’s mother is rolling over in her grave.” These comments echo the ugly criticisms lobbed West’s way back in April, when The Late Show’s Stephen Colbert argued that the music legend had “finally lost his mind,” and New York magazine somehow involved his young children.
West’s political about-face is confusing and frustrating for many—myself included—and in the age of Trump, it’s tough to know how far you can go. But no matter what you think of his politics, shaming West over his mental illness or bringing his late mother (or young children) into the equation is crossing the line. Y’all can—and should—do better.