Kanye West’s two year fling with Donald Trump’s populist Make America Great Again (Maga) movement appeared to come to an end on Tuesday, with a short series of tweets distancing himself from American politics and vowing to devote himself to creative endeavours again. He claimed to have been “used” by others to spread messaging he didn’t support. In one of the tweets he also implicated the ultra-conservative activist Candace Owens in this deception.
My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in. I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative !!!
October 30, 2018
Owens had received a considerable profile boost back in April when West unexpectedly declared his admiration for her on Twitter. Those familiar with her online brand of dogmatic Trump apologism, one steeped in rhetoric about the so-called “Democratic Plantation”, were dismayed by West’s use of his social media platform to praise someone linked with conspiracy theorists and apparent white nationalists such as Mike Cernovich and Milo Yiannopoulos. Even taking into West’s Maga-hatted antics up until then, it seemed an escalation.
Kanye says ‘I love this guy right here’ as he walks over and gives Trump a hug – video
Thus, the news of West’s latest move may come as a relief to fans who’ve spent Trump’s presidency thus far infuriated by his descent into distressing photo ops and incoherent pro-Trump rants.
Though we have yet to see a deluge of celebrities or hip-hop notables praise this apparent reversal, longtime associate and rap paragon Talib Kweli extended an olive branch West’s way on Instagram, using the hashtag “#welcomeback” and asking him to finish working on a song about Charlottesville they had begun together.
Considering the toxicity of West’s association with Trump, we should be careful not to overstate the meaning of Tuesday’s tweets. Kanye didn’t offer anything constituting an apology, with most of his tweets coming off as self-serving rather than self aware.
I support creating jobs and opportunities for people who need them the most, I support prison reform, I support common-sense gun laws that will make our world safer.
October 30, 2018
He asserted his support for causes like gun control and prison reform while thanking those who have stood by him. Then he divorced himself from #Blexit, Owens’s latest regrettably named campaign aimed at getting black people to leave the Democratic party, over the bad optics and fallout that came from his name being attached to it. West denies having designed the logo for Owens’s Blexit merchandise, leaving the name of the actual designer respectfully anonymous while calling out Owens by name.
I introduced Candace to the person who made the logo and they didn’t want their name on it so she used mine. I never wanted any association with Blexit. I have nothing to do with it.
October 30, 2018
Owens’s response to West’s tweets the following day inadvertently revealed just how open to interpretation they are. Rather than a condemnation of Trump or Maga, she framed his comments in the narrowest of terms, specifically limiting them to the botched #Blexit rollout. She said that hearing he felt misled by her felt like how she imagined it would be to have a “bullet pierce my heart” and apologised to him for the confusion over the logo.
Both West’s tweets and Owens’s subsequent offer of apology to West and, for extra credit, to Trump too, smell not just of public relation spin but also that this exchange is more personal in nature than political.
Therein lies the problem of presuming that West’s dalliance with the far right has actually ended. An egotist and proud of it, West boasts a documented history of outspokenness with more than a few regrettable gaffes. But his motivations here matter. Online speculation about these tweets suggest soft sales of his latest line of Yeezys or strategic repositioning ahead of the November release of a previously bumped new album.
Forgiving West shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion, not at least without him putting some actual work in. His remarks about slavery being a choice, his opportunistic smiley-faced meetings with Trump, his empowering of the likes of Owens and her following: all of this needs to be reckoned with, not merely by words but by action.
Nobody expects West to stump for Beto O’Rourke, and frankly, few progressives would want that now. That said, his massive platform presents countless opportunities to do good. His highly-publicized recent Uganda visit was tarnished by his politics, but his intentions appeared positive. Charitable giving and advocacy, applying his entrepreneurial spirit to the non-profit sector, and other such works can exist outside of the American left-right spectrum.
His vow to stay out of politics doesn’t preclude him from addressing and rectifying the folly of his far-right partisanship. An apology might be nice, too.
Gary Suarez is a freelance music journalist