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 reemerged 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.
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.
There were conflicting reports about the meeting. E! News, citing a source close to West, said the Trump team asked West to visit and discuss a potential role, perhaps getting involved in an “entrepreneurial leadership role” or as an “ambassador of sorts.”
But TMZ said West requested the meeting and that they didn’t talk about his involvement in the new administration.
West stood silently in the Trump Tower lobby as reporters shouted questions. “I just want to take a picture right now,” West said, cracking a smile and giving a thumbs-up.
The mix of celebrity and the presidency isn’t totally new. President Reagan was an actor who entertained all manner of famous people at the White House. President 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.