Kanye West has always had a testy relationship with politics and politeness. But after his widely panned onstage monologue Thursday night at his show in San Jose, where he confirmed rumors that he supported Donald Trump, he may have finally alienated his fan base.
West's first, famous foray into American politics came in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he said on a live TV fundraiser that "George Bush doesn't care about black people." It was a stark, sad statement that sealed his reputation as an unfiltered verbal bomb-thrower.
As his wealth and fame grew, however, that same streak of contrarianism has led him down some unusual paths that sometimes put him at odds with contemporary liberalism.
He even eventually walked back the Katrina comments that had clearly rankled Bush. Fans who had cheered his candor in criticizing the president on live TV got a first glimpse of a Kanye who, in his many contradictions, seemed to always end up supporting whatever got him the most attention.
Now his knack for baiting audiences may have finally boiled over. But as always with Kanye, it's complicated.
West admitted onstage in San Jose that he didn't vote in this year's election. Almost all of his musician peers, including Jay Z, Chance the Rapper and Beyoncé, turned out at rallies for Hillary Clinton.
But West escalated his controversial views by saying that he personally supported Donald Trump. To boos from the startled crowd, West said, "I told y'all I didn't vote, right? But if I would've voted, I would've voted on Trump."
His reasoning, to judge from the onstage cajoling, centered around Trump's similarly unfiltered, purposefullyoffensive language and command of social media.
"There's nonpolitical methods to speaking that I like, that I feel were very futuristic. And that style, and that method of communication, has proven that it can beat a politically correct way of communication. And I [agree] with that," West told the shocked crowd. "I actually think that his approach was absolutely genius. Because it … worked!"
He went on to add that, in his view, America spends too much time talking about racism — "We are in a racist country, period. Do not allow people to make us talk about that so … long" — and that he felt victimized for being a black, celebrity Trump supporter.
In that, he had an ally in Ben Carson, the retired surgeon and former presidential candidate whom he had previously praised in Vanity Fair: "As soon as I heard Carson speak, I tried for three weeks to get on the phone with him. I was like, this is the most brilliant guy."
Those unexpectedly right-wing beliefs on race in America evoked those of his frequent collaborator Vanessa Beecroft, whose recent flippant and strange remarks on poverty and identity angered many of West's fans, who are usually quick to forgive such things from him.
West has now drawn the ire of at least two living presidents, one from each party, and sung praises for what may be the least-popular president-elect in history. Do West's fans care what he actually believes? They might now.
But his remarks onstage in San Jose would still be something of a departure if he actually believes in Trump and wasn't just stream-of-consciousness trolling his fans from atop a floating light platform. West has given notable sums to Democratic institutions over the years, including $2,700 to Hillary for America last year and $15,000 to the Democratic National Committee in 2014. He also sneaked into a photo that his wife, Kim Kardashian, took with Hillary Clinton and posted with her comment: "I really loved hearing her speak & hearing her goals for our country! #HillaryForPresident."
West also said that one silver lining of the election is that it "inspired racists to reveal themselves," a sentiment shared by the rapper YG, who penned the year's most furious anti-Trump single, "FDT."
West's Trump comments elicited wild boos at the San Jose show, but they also had some undertones that, at best, were extremely confused about what a Trump vote actually entailed.
"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," he said. "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," he said, despite the fact that Trump has explicitly targeted women and minorities for discrimination or outright assault in his private comments and public rhetoric.
West also reiterated that he very seriously intended to pursue a potential run for the presidency in 2020. President Obama, in a previous moment of jocularity that seems so very long ago now, said that, in the event West genuinely pursues it, "I do have some advice for him. … First of all, you've got to spend a lot of time dealing with some strange characters who behave like they're on a reality TV show."
At this point, West as stage-ranting president would be one of the least astonishing codas to this year in American politics.
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