As the president promotes and excitedly tweets about a potential for peace between the two warring Koreas, he has displayed almost as much excitement over the recent overtures of one of America’s most acclaimed rappers.
But it wasn’t just about Kanye this week.
President Donald Trump and his allies once again plunged feet first into the pop-culture wars, riffing on Canadian singer-songwriter Shania Twain, YouTube celebs Diamond & Silk, and, of course, his bizarre bromance with Kanye West.
It’s a sign that shows how vanishingly little has changed about Trump’s priorities and character ever since assuming the highest office in the land. As has been the case for decades now, there is barely anything that Donald J. Trump relishes more than basking in the praise of A-list—and sometimes decidedly D-list—celebrities.
Over the past several days, West has been very publicly proclaiming (as the recording artist has done in the past) his intense, brotherly affection for President Trump. And the president—more starved now for A-list celebrity friends than he’s ever been in his public existence—almost immediately took notice.
Beyond repeatedly communicating with West on Twitter this week, Trump has asked associates and aides if he should invite the rapper over to the White House for an Oval Office photo-op or for dinner, according to two sources close to the president. One of those sources noted they couldn’t tell if Trump was “kidding” or not, and also recalled that Trump reiterated how much he enjoys that West has “always said wonderful” things about Trump.
That last point is, however, debatable. The award-winning rapper’s 2010 song “So Appalled” includes the line, “Donald Trump takin’ dollars from y’all.” The year prior, Trump had told TMZ that West’s behavior toward Taylor Swift was “disgusting,” and even advocated boycotting West “so this kind of thing doesn’t happen” again.
But the bond between the two wealthy, egotistical icons appeared to strengthen during the presidential transition in late 2016, when West met with the then president-elect at Trump Tower in New York City. According to veterans of the campaign and transition, that meeting had caught many senior Trump staffers at the time completely off-guard—they learned the summit was occurring as they saw tweets get tweeted, or saw the livestream of West walking into Trump Tower with his entourage on cable news.
“One morning, it was just suddenly, ‘Well, I guess Kanye is here to meet [President-elect] Trump today, what is going on, what is this,’” a senior Trump transition aide recalled to The Daily Beast.
At the time, West had just told fans in San Jose, on the second leg of his Saint Pablo tour, that he would have voted for Trump in the 2016 election, had he actually cast a ballot. Shortly afterward, the rapper was hospitalized for what was reportedly a mental breakdown.
Nowadays, it’s not just the president trying to capitalize on West’s MAGA affinities. Members of the Trump clan, including Donald Trump Jr. and White House senior staffer Ivanka Trump, enthusiastically boosted the rapper on social media this week, and the Trump re-election team started fundraising on Thursday off of West’s comments, and there is serious talk within the campaign of trying to involve West personally in the pro-Trump fight.
In a very short span of time, the upper echelons of Trumpworld had aggressively and loudly embraced Kanye West. It was a perfect reflection of the man they all serve and work for—someone who, even as the most powerful person in the world, has yet to shed his decades-long obsession with celebrity, gossip, media, and name-dropping.
West wasn’t even the only famous singer this week to capture President Trump’s attention.
During a dizzying, revenge-fantasy-fueled call-in to one of his all-time favorite TV shows Fox & Friends on Thursday morning, President Trump vented about Shania Twain on live television.
That’s right, Shania Twain.
“Shania, who I think is terrific, but she made a mistake by sort of saying I wish I didn’t, you know, go public with [her vaguely pro-Trump comment], but we know how she feels,” the president, between talking to the Fox hosts about Kanye West and the Electoral College. “But people have done that and they’re amazed at what happens to their business because we have tremendous support. We have tremendous fans. If I ever called for a rally in Washington, D.C., we’d have millions of people coming into Washington because they love what’s happening.”
According to aides, Trump thought the interview went well and considered it a slam-dunk—even as many senior officials remained dismayed at the potential legal and political damage that the president can cause with these types of freewheeling, grievance-filled live interviews that often resemble private phone calls to friends and confidants. (For instance, on that same Thursday morning, Trump’s comments on Fox & Friends were immediately used against the president’s embattled personal attorney and fixer Michael Cohen in court.)
Two White House officials independently referred to the Fox & Friends appearance as “therapy” for the president—therapeutic sessions that, apparently, Trump intends to call in for many more times during his presidency.
On Friday morning, Trump’s White House counselor Kellyanne Conway announced on Fox & Friends that the president says he is now considering calling into Fox at least once a month. Before becoming leader of the free world, Trump used to have a regular segment on the program, and this move would afford him more ample opportunity to discuss the news of the day and his other preferred popular-culture and culture-war fixations.
One of those fixations is the Trump-boosting YouTube duo and Fox News guests Diamond & Silk.
“We have people—Diamond & Silk are warriors, by the way, how about Diamond & Silk?” the president asked, rhetorically, during the Fox & Friends interview. “They’ve become amazing. You know, that started off like somebody was talking about them on the internet. They were these two women—these two beautiful, wonderful, women. And I said, well, let me check it out. It took me about two seconds to say stardom, it’s incredible. So, Diamond & Silk, these are all warriors.” (“Warrior” is one of President Trump’s favorite terms to use to denote top media surrogates and other people he regularly sees defending him on TV.)
Shortly after Trump’s words of praise for them, Diamond & Silk—whose real names are Lynnette Hardaway and Rochelle Richardson—appeared on Capitol Hill on Thursday to testify before the House Judiciary Committee regarding their (patently false) claims of being censored by Facebook for being too right-wing.
It did not take long for the hearing to devolve into a surreal foodfight, that included potential instances of perjury. There were many moments during the hearing where there was barely a person in the room—including and sometimes especially Democratic and Republican lawmakers—who wasn’t actively trying to suppress laughter or glancing at each other trying to figure out what the hell was going on.
The hearing was, in a way, a microcosm of the Trump era itself—loud, pugnacious, social-media-focused, and post-truth.
“Facebook censored our free speech!” Diamond shouted at lawmakers, before alleging that President Trump is also a victim of alleged social-media censorship and possible “dictatorship.” (The pair gave no evidence for the assertion that @realDonaldTrump, of all accounts, has been in any way silenced.)
For its part, the Trump campaign is, much like the president, getting in on the Diamond & Silk love, too.
“I’m proud of the work that Diamond & Silk have been doing since the 2016 campaign,” Katrina Pierson, a senior adviser on the Trump re-election effort, told The Daily Beast. “I knew that when I posted their video and [Matt] Drudge catapulted the sisters into viral prominence that they would be famous and well deserved.”