Guest piece from America’s History Teacher, Larry Schweikart
I know. I get outright laughter when I say this (which I first did in 2018 on Brandon Voght’s radio show in New Mexico when asked who would be the GOP nominee in 2024 assuming Trump wins in 2020. (First, there is no doubt in my mind that Trump not only will win in 2020, but will do so even far more convincingly than in 2016—perhaps between 320 and 340 electoral votes and win the popular vote. But it could be even better for Trump depending on who the Democrat nominee is).
Anyway, back to Kanye. “This is ridiculous. A rapper in the White House?” No, he likely would not have the electoral expertise of a Ronald Reagan, who had eight years as California governor to keep him from being “just an actor.” Nor does he have Trump’s decades of experience in physical construction, though he began his career as a music producer for Roc-a-Fella Records by producing stars such as Jay-Z, Ludacris, and Alicia Keys. But he also has been a fashion designer with his “Yeezy” collaboration with Adidas, founded the creative content company DONDA, founded the record label (in 2004) called GOOD Music (“Getting Out Our Dreams”).
In some ways, West has surpassed Reagan’s “second life” achievements. As an actor, Reagan never achieved greatness—in large part because he never really wanted to. As I showed in my recent biography, Reagan: The American President, he never put in the time of “method actors,” or immersed himself in a role to the extent that it changed his body (the way Matthew McConaughey or Christian Bale have), not to mention changing his mental stability as Heath Ledger did with the “Joker” role. Reagan said of himself, “You know that guy that grabs the phone and says, ‘Hold on! Have I got a story for you?’ That’s me!” He would not play a villain, finally agreeing to in his very last film, The Killers.
While Trump’s achievements dot the skyline, West’s dot the annals of pop culture. He has sold over 100 million records, won 21 Grammy Awards, and had three albums make the Rolling Stone top 500 albums of all time list. Twice Time magazine has called him one of the 500 most influential people in the world.
Probably most people know about West more through his controversies than through his music. In 2016 he was convinced to admit himself into UCLA Medical Center for depression, paranoia, and other undiagnosed issues. Many think he is bipolar, which he confirmed on David Letterman’s show in 2019. One thing is certain: anyone looking at photos of Kanye prior to his conversion to Christianity and since can only notice the change from angry and isolated to a man happy and full of life.
Daniel Boorstein, over 50 years ago, predicted that the future of American politics would be celebrity. In a study of the modern age, Olivia Laing noted that Andy Warhol perhaps embodied the shift from sexual desire as the most animating force to the desire for attention. “Keeping up With the Kardashians” was merely the inevitable outcome of that movement.
In politics, name recognition is no small thing. Take the 2018 Senate elections in Ohio or Michigan, for example: both Republican challengers (Jim Renaicci and John James) spent the vast bulk of their campaign trying to raise name awareness. Yesterday, Tom Steyer dropped out of the Democrat primary campaign because, despite spending over $200 million (!) in ads, the first word most people uttered when they watched a Steyer ad was “Who?” The collapse of political awareness (or historical knowledge for that matter) among modern young people exacerbates this. Any Jesse Watters’ man-on-the-street video in which he questions college students shows that the vast majority of them can’t name a single Supreme Court Justice, say what job Nancy Pelosi holds, or identify Mike Pence. But you can get they know Kanye. Does anyone seriously wish to argue that this situation will improve in the next 4.5 years? By 2024, celebrity will be a requirement for public office if only because it is the only way to get uneducated/ill-informed voters to the polls.
Reagan found that his celebrity Hollywood status still worked against him in 1980, making it hard for some people to take “an actor” seriously. But in the Greta Thunberg age, where children are viewed as deep-thinking saviors of the world, Reagan’s concern no longer exists. Quite the contrary, it is now a requirement.
Barack Obama dabbled at being the first celebrity president, leveraging a single national speech into the presidency (along with the trademarked “first African-American president”). But he never quite pulled it off. Obama did not dare put himself in the midst of too many celebrities who were bigger than he was, otherwise he would vanish. But Trump?
Trump thrives on celebrity. It’s his oxygen. Who needs press conferences when Trump can do his own? Need a photo-op? Just bring up the most beautiful first lady in history. If Trump needs to get his message out, it’s only a Tweet away. And if it’s a bigger message than Twitter can handle, he schedules an American pride celebration on the Mall complete with tanks and the Blue Angels. He is the celebrity president.
This will be the norm from now on, and explains in part why existing Democrat candidates are having difficulty getting traction against him (besides the fact that their policies are flat-out insane). Anyone who thinks Mike Pence, as good as he is, can capture this lightning in a bottle is sorely mistaken.
Oh, and did I mention Kanye said he would be president? He told the British tabloid the Sun he would be president, and later said “when I am president.” West has shown he can accomplish incredible things. His rehab and conversion to Christianity is a major step, as suddenly he has gone from the object of evangelicals’ ire to a redemption story like none other.
His ascent as a major GOP candidate (which seems his likely party of choice, given his friendship with President Trump) means that the only Democrat who could possibly defeat him would have to similarly be a celebrity. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson hasn’t announced his political leanings, but he is one of the few who could match Kanye’s omnipresence in culture. As strange as it may sound in 2020, the phrase “President West” may not seem nearly as odd in four years.
Larry Schweikart is the author of Reagan: The American President and the co-author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States. He currently runs the Wild World of History (www.wildworldofhistory.com) history curriculum business.
That is all.
Today’s news moves at a faster pace than ever. Whatfinger.com is my go-to source for keeping up with all the latest events in real time.