It isn’t clear what prompted Kanye West’s tweetstorm Tuesday night, in which he declared, “I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in,” and “I never wanted any association with Blexit” — the nascent, fairly niche movement of mostly younger African Americans on the political right who gathered at the White House last week — so soon after his cringe-inducing Oval Office soliloquy with President Trump looking on.
West may not have intended to express common cause with Barack Obama, someone with whom he’s exchanged rhetorical barbs over the years. (Obama famously called West a “jackass”; earlier this year, West tweeted “Obama was in office for eight years and nothing in Chicago,” their mutual hometown, “changed.”) But West’s proclamations land him squarely in Obama’s camp.
West’s new program lines up with several issues Obama championed:
On criminal justice reform, Obama signed the Fair Sentencing Act, reducing the sentencing disparity between crack- and powder-cocaine crimes that, he said, “disproportionately filled our prisons with young black and Latino drug users.” He granted 1,715 clemencies — either commutations or pardons.
On guns, during his first term, Obama signed legislation permitting Amtrak passengers to pack firearms in their luggage and to allow gun owners to carry firearms in national parks. At the beginning of his second term, in the wake of the Sandy Hook massacre, Obama’s gun control proposal included background checks for all gun sales, including between private parties, reinstating a federal ban on military-style weapons and limiting the size of ammunition magazines. It was rejected by a Republican Congress.
On jobs, over the course of his presidency, the official unemployment rate went from 7.8 to 4.8 percent. The black unemployment rate went from 12.7 to 7.8 percent. Obama can’t take full credit for job gains that took place during his presidency, but he can take at least the same amount of credit for them that Trump routinely takes for the current robust economy.
Obama regularly praised the efforts of law enforcement, telling the 2015 International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, in Chicago: “I reject any narrative that seeks to divide police and communities that they serve. … Your work and your service really has helped make America safer than it’s been in decades, and that’s something for which every American should be proud.”
Obama’s record on immigration was mixed. His administration deported more immigrants than any previous administration. His Department of Homeland Security implemented the more-popular Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, known as DACA, to protect dreamers. His less-popular executive order for Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents, or DAPA, was blocked by the Supreme Court, and he was unable to enact comprehensive immigration reform. But if West’s tweets are a guide, he’d be heartened by Obama’s 2014 prime time immigration speech, in which the then-president said: “Scripture tells us we shall not oppress a stranger, for we know the heart of a stranger. We were strangers once, too.”
In two tweets, West co-signed all these Obama priorities.
Take West’s posture with a grain of salt, of course. When someone’s roster of pronouncements ranges from “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” to “Beck needs to respect artistry and he should have given his award to Beyoncé” to the “How, Sway?” interview, in which he said: “I am Warhol. … I am Shakespeare in the flesh. Walt Disney. Nike. Google,” his political stance can probably morph at any moment. And, it’s worth noting, West’s tweets don’t seem to be a repudiation of Trump personally, as much as an effort to distance himself from Trumpism and the Trump-loving “Blexit” movement.
Maybe a Washington Post op-ed by his ex-mother-in-law, Caitlyn Jenner, chastising Trump, caused West to rethink. West and his team have waved off speculation that flagging sales of his Yeezy shoe line has anything to do with the change.
Whatever it was, this week, West underscored just how undercooked his Obama critiques really were.