Perhaps you weren’t expecting this. That the spectacle of the Trump transition — potential Cabinet picks parading before television cameras in Trump Tower, itself once the set of a reality-TV show — would lead to the future commander in chief shaking hands and hugging Kanye West.
This is the rapper whose 2005 declaration that “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” was, for Bush, “an all-time low” and the worst moment of his presidency. The one who President Obama called a “jackass.” Now, the embattled musician and fashion designer has re-emerged in the public eye to stand next to President-elect Donald Trump, who described the pair as “good friends. ”
“We’ve been friends for a long time,” Trump told reporters Tuesday. “We discussed life.”
It’s an apt image for this moment, as celebrity has fully melded with our politics in the most bizarre of ways.
Hours later, West tweeted that he “wanted to meet with Trump today to discuss multicultural issues.”
West has chosen to place himself in the spotlight after weeks of keeping an extremely low profile following onstage rants, a tour cancellation and hospitalization. During those rants, recorded by audience members, West declared before a booing crowd that he would have voted for Trump — had he voted at all.
TMZ said West requested the meeting and there was no talk about his involvement in the new administration.
West tweeted that they spoke about “bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.”
“I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future President if we truly want change,” he added. Then West, who has repeatedly floated a 2020 presidential run, tweeted “#2024.”
— KANYE WEST (@kanyewest) December 13, 2016
The mix of celebrity and the presidency isn’t totally new. President Ronald Reagan was an actor who entertained all manner of famous people at the White House. Obama has wielded his pop-culture currency for political gain unlike any previous president, in part thanks to social-media platforms that allow the White House to circumvent traditional media.
But if Obama’s a celebrity president, it’s more in the mold of a Beyoncé: an extremely high-profile figure whose every move is scrutinized, one whose words are carefully crafted for public consumption. He plays along with gags, but on his own terms. He is “no-drama Obama” — just as Beyoncé does not seek notoriety through personal problems getting into the limelight.
Trump’s different. He’s more a Kanye West kind of celebrity. They have both redeemed their public images through reality TV. Trump, like West, isn’t precise with his words. He speaks off the cuff and sometimes makes controversial remarks. For West, that’s resulted in blowback and years spent as a pariah. For Trump, this meant bucking every political convention of what presidential candidates can say and get away with.
West referred to this dynamic last month on stage in San Jose, when he said that during the election “it was proven that it didn’t matter what nobody had just said. It doesn’t matter,” and that he “loved” Trump’s approach in the debates.
At the time, West said he was still thinking about running in 2020, but not “out of disrespect” to Trump.
“I’m just saying I’ve got some ideas about the way we should connect our ideas,” West said. “I’m not concerned 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, then I will take position in 2020 to do it myself.”
West — whose wife, Kim Kardashian, publicly backed Hillary Clinton — understood that vocal support for Trump would bring the kind of backlash seen shortly after on social media. He had been cautioned by those close to him to keep pro-Trump comments to himself, West said.
“That don’t mean that I don’t think that black lives matter. That don’t mean I don’t believe in women’s rights. That don’t mean I don’t believe in gay marriage,” West said of his feelings about Trump. “That don’t mean I don’t believe in these things because that was the guy I would have voted for.”
Trump and West meeting makes sense if you consider the premium the president-elect places on loyalty. At a 2015 rally, Trump explained his feelings toward West, who had recently said he may consider running for president one day.
“I’ll never say bad about him,” Trump said during a 2015 rally. “You want to know why? Because he loves Trump. He goes around saying Trump is my all-time hero. He says it to everybody.”
“So to Kanye West, I love him. Now maybe in a few years I might have to run against him, I don’t know, so I’ll take that back,” Trump added. “But you know what, he’s been so nice to me. You people have sort of seen, I’ve been a counterpuncher. I only hit people when they hit me. Only. Kanye West has been so great. I would never say bad about him, because he says such nice things about me.”
A year later, West’s rambling, onstage remarks — which covered everything from Beyoncé to Mark Zuckerberg — fueled speculation about his mental state. He ended his Saint Pablo tour early and was hospitalized in Los Angeles, reportedly for stress and exhaustion.
TMZ said that West came to New York this week to interview East Coast psychiatrists to add to his West Coast medical team.
His meeting with Trump drew criticism. The president-elect hasn’t held a news conference since July and reportedly receives intelligence briefings weekly, rather than daily. “I get it when I need it,” Trump said Sunday.
“Donald Trump believes it is more important to meet with Kanye West, than receive security briefings,” VoteVets, a veterans organization that describes itself as progressive and has been critical of Trump, said in a statement. “Our troops deserve better than that from a Commander in Chief. This is not funny, it is not OK.”
After their talk on Tuesday, Trump bid goodbye to West and told him to “take care of yourself.”
He added, “I’ll see you soon, all right?”
[This post has been updated.]