It’s hard to take Kanye West seriously, even when he swears he’s not kidding around.
On Thursday night, the rapper and reality TV husband shocked an arena full of fans with an extended, post-facto endorsement of Donald Trump—in California, no less. West, who knows just how to time an outburst for maximum shock value, told a booing crowd that, “If I would have voted, I would have voted on Trump.”
Consider the number of Facebook friends lost by fellow Americans who voted for a third-party candidate, or didn’t show up to the polls. Now picture all of that rage multiplied tenfold, trained on a wealthy celebrity who, despite being too lazy to vote, has the absolute gall to praise our current president-elect. Taken at face value, Kanye’s speech is an absolute betrayal of both his fans and his own politics. This is the Kanye West who shocked the country in the wake of Hurricane Katrina when he went off-script on live TV to tell America that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people.” That very same year, Kanye gave an interview to MTV News in which he disparaged widespread homophobia in the hip-hop community. The pre-Kardashian, pre-Yeezy Season Kanye spoke openly about his gay cousin and his own progressive agenda, insisting, “I wanna just come on TV and just tell my rappers, just tell my friends, ‘Yo, stop it fam. That’s discrimination.’”
If all of Kanye West’s past statements were distilled into a single, cohesive political vision, it would likely stand in stark contrast to Trump’s impending agenda. Even as he praised a man who has been attacked for his homophobia, racism, and sexism, West maintained, “That don’t mean that I don’t think that Black Lives Matter. That don’t mean I don’t think that I’m a believer in women’s rights. That don’t mean I don’t believe in gay marriage. That don’t mean that I don’t believe in these things because that was the guy I would’ve voted for.” So if Kanye’s budding bromance with DJT isn’t political, then what is it? The answer may come down to the many similarities and glaring differences between these two oversized personalities. Both Donald Trump and Kanye West have fluctuated between unfathomable wealth and bankruptcy. They both have wives who are considerably more attractive than them. They both have a colorful history of saying whatever they want, unencumbered by the usual chains of logic, truth, or common decency. Between them, Kanye West and Donald Trump have had a thousand horrible ideas. But they’ve both flourished, often in the face of doubt and adversity, on the strength of an oversized vision.
Kanye West has made a career out of pushing boundaries and crushing expectations. He initially struggled to convince Roc-A-Fella Records that he could be more than just a producer. In 2002, when his jaw was wired shut after a near-fatal car accident, he recorded his first single. He became an important fashion designer through sheer persistence and strength of will. He can’t really sing, but he does it anyway. It’s not hard to imagine why Kanye might relate to Donald Trump, the president-elect who was never supposed to make it through the primaries. West can’t hide his admiration for the political underdog, exclaiming, “Just look at the president. He wasn’t even in politics and he won!”
Of course, Kanye West and Donald Trump are separated by a chasm of lived experience. But they’re utterly united in their contempt for the media, which they both consistently perceive as out to get them. While West has spoken extensively on this topic, his thoughts can be summed up in another concert sound bite from 2014, when a disappointed Kanye complained, “Instead of embracing the moment, embracing the time, the era, the season that they’re living in—called Yeezy season—they [the media] always look for something negative to write about me.”
In the past, Kanye has been plagued by bad press. The most formative instance was in the wake of the 2009 VMAs, when West was widely criticized for interrupting Taylor Swift’s acceptance speech. In an era before the Kardashian-West union and Swift’s snake emoji outing, West was immediately cast as the villain. It’s a role that he’s returned to time and time again. Unlike Donald Trump, Kanye West often seems most comfortable when he’s hated. It’s a compelling argument for why he consistently chooses to say the worst thing at the absolute wrong moment—like last February, when he blasted out an unsolicited tweet claiming that Bill Cosby is “INNOCENT !!!!!!!!!!”
The narrative surrounding Kanye West—one that has been corroborated both by Kim Kardashian and Kanye himself—is that he’s perennially misunderstood. If Kanye truly believes, like our president-elect, that the media is out to get him, it’s no wonder he’s gone full-troll. If he’s destined to be mocked and misinterpreted anyway, he might as well give the haters—and the headline writers—what they want. West molds easily to the villain archetype, and clearly knows exactly what to say to rile up a crowd. Ironically, his professional trolling couldn’t be farther from his personal politics. According to Federal Election Commission records, West has made four individual contributions to Democratic campaigns since 2012, including a $2,700 donation to Hillary for America in July 2015.
Of course, it’s totally possible that West was rooting for Hillary, but couldn’t help but be inspired by Trump’s unexpected ascension. After all, Trump’s win sets a strong precedent for Kanye’s own proposed presidential run. In his Thursday night speech he explained, “I’m concerned not about the idea of being president or the actual job of it. I’m concerned about putting our concept of how to do the job in a new way. And if no one will do it in that way I will take position in 2020 and do it myself. ‘Aw you ain’t gonna get it now because of what you just said.’ It was proof that it didn’t matter what nobody just said! It doesn’t matter!”
So, there you have it: Either Kanye West wants to be president, or he’s just enjoying the freedoms of living in Trump’s America, where accountability is an afterthought and anyone can say whatever they feel like.