Kanye West has often been quoted over the years making proud boasts about his greatness and importance. Last week, he took things to the next level when he met with President Trump; a meeting that was supposedly intended to focus on prison reform and gang violence.
However, Kanye’s rambling half of the conversation quickly derailed into a pro-Trump monologue, in which his incoherence rivaled Trump’s own. His dismissal of Hillary Clinton’s campaign was a particular highlight.
“I love Hillary, I love everybody, but the campaign ‘I’m With Her’ just didn’t make me feel, as a guy that didn’t get to see my dad all the time, like a guy could play catch with his son,” said West.
At one point, West, who discussed his diagnosis of bipolar disorder on his recent album, Ye, told Trump that he’d been misdiagnosed. This amounted to a significant reversal after his recent public discussion of his mental issues. The cover art for Ye features the handwritten statement, “I hate being bipolar it’s awesome,” while Ye track “Yikes” references another identity, which West calls “Ye” and says embodies his “bipolar shit.” In the song, he calls being bipolar a superpower rather than a disability.
For West, who due to his own financial success now has the freedom to engage in volatile behavior in pursuit of creative ends, this is an easy call to make. But for most suffering from mental health issues, they are quite the opposite of a superpower. It would be more responsible for West to use his fame as a platform to open conversation and end stigma around disabilities, instead of merely profiting off a sense of community with his fans whose own struggles with mental illness remain a taboo subject in their lives.
West has since retracted all of his statements about bipolar disorder anyway, doing so for the first time in public while speaking with Trump.
“I wasn’t actually bipolar,” he told the president. “I had sleep deprivation, which can cause dementia 10 to 20 years from now.”
West seems to have backpedaled on his bipolar disorder to ensure his credibility with Trump. He apparently hoped to assert that he is, in fact, stable enough to discuss important issues with the president — not that mental stability has been much of a concern in the Trump administration so far. However, by doing so, he’s also given the world cause to wonder whether his, and by extension others’, admission of mental illness are valid.
West himself should understand why this is a dangerous thing to do. Earlier this year on Jimmy Kimmel, he said himself that it’s especially important for him to be open about his own mental health as a black man.
“We never had therapists in the black community,” he told Kimmel. “We never approached taking a medication.”
As a black man, West has confused and upset many fans and with his open support of Trump — especially given that Trump’s initial campaign was riddled with misogyny, racism, and general headassery. In the wake of his public conversation with the president, CNN’s Nia-Malika Henderson summed up this confusion.
“It’s quite an evolution for Kanye West. He was somebody who was very critical of George Bush particularly,” she said during a recent on-air appearance. “For him to be in the white house almost seeming to worship the president, saying that he loves him, that the hat gives him power, that it makes him feel like a man — it was so odd.”
West may not be a politician, but this does not diminish his influence over people in the United States. Since his following is mostly young people, they are easily encouraged to act upon their political beliefs. These choices will follow them the rest of their lives.
This abuse of his position as an influencer impacting young people, combined with his decision to align himself as the token black voice for conservatives, makes it that much easier for Republicans to pretend they value black people, while not actually speaking to issues that matter to them.
On CNN, Henderson pointed out this exact fact, saying, “This meeting [with Trump] was supposed to be about criminal justice reform, opportunity zones, African American employment and revitalizing some of these communities. You would think you’d want policy experts, people who know about these issues, but instead you’ve got Kanye West, who isn’t a policy expert in any of those things, and certainly doesn’t speak to the diversity and broad experiences of 40 million black people.”
Who better to represent black people in America than Kanye? When he isn’t vocalizing his opinion that 400 years of slavery was a choice black people made, he’s defending Trump by saying that black people need to be responsible for their actions, as they “kill each other more than police officers.”
West must not see the irony here. The contrast between his infamous criticism of George Bush after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and his support for Trump today could not be more glaring. For Trump, though, this is a win — he can now point to a high-profile example of “his African Americans” in the crowd when he campaigns for reelection in 2020.
Kanye West’s casual dismissal of the effects of mental illness hurts those who struggle with those illnesses. However, his decision to act as a convenient token for conservatives anxious to win over black voters without actual policy changes damages an entire marginalized community. For these reasons and many others, when he sat before Donald Trump’s desk, it would have been better that he stayed quiet.