I don’t care what Taylor Swift thinks about politics. I like her music well enough, but I look elsewhere for my political analysis. The same goes for Kanye West (although, truth be told, I don’t listen to his music at all). However, I care a lot about the public reactions we’ve witnessed to both stars’ recent political comments and what it says about the state of our body politic.
Swift has been cheered for her supposedly enlightened decision to abandon political neutrality and publicly support Tennessee’s Democratic nominee for Senate — a man who is, notably, running against a conservative woman. (A woman The Sisterhood would likely be supporting wholeheartedly if her politics looked different.) Meanwhile, Kanye has been publicly thrashed for enthusiastically supporting Donald Trump.
As you might have guessed, I relate much more to Kanye’s side of this story. Having grown up as a Jew in deep-blue New York, the daughter of a social worker, who studied at ultra-liberal Harvard University, I’m accustomed to strangers making assumptions about me and my politics. TL;DR: people who don’t take the time to ask always assume I’m a down the line liberal.
And why shouldn’t they? According to countless mainstream media outlets, women are a monolithic demographic. Unlike men, we supposedly all think alike about major political and cultural issues and are reliable Democratic voters. Those of us who dare to dissent are dubbed “gender traitors,” lest we be tempted to stray again.
Of course, I’m perfectly happy to stray if it means standing up for my own strongly held beliefs. So when self-identified feminists accused me of not being “a real woman” for expressing conservative opinions back in college, I decided the only thing I wasn’t was part of the organized feminist movement.
That said, standing up to peers on a college campus is one thing. Expressing unusual or unpopular opinions when you’re an internationally famous performer raises the stakes to a whole new level. So while I didn’t support the president in 2016, I have respect for Kanye doing so. It takes real guts.
Apple used to urge us to “think different,” but most people don’t. Standing apart from the crowd is hard. It can be uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking. Mockery, public shaming, and social isolation are not just theoretical; they’re likely. And here Kanye is vocalizing his love for President Trump anyway, in the face of an endless onslaught of negative comments from the hip-hop types, many of whom are furious with him.
T.I., for example, posted on Instagram that “the meeting was ‘next level’ sh-t and ‘the most repulsive, disgraceful, embarrassing act of desperation & auctioning off of one’s soul to gain power,’ he’s ever seen.”
West was further attacked by CNN commentators as anti-intellectual and “the token negro of the Trump administration.” People magazine ran an article claiming the Kardashians—a family he’s married into—are worried about West being “unhinged,” and referencing a previous bipolar diagnosis. CNN’s Don Lemon called West’s meeting with Trump “a minstrel show” and asserted “Kanye’s mother is rolling over in her grave.”
Now, first of all, when did it stop being tacky to bring up other people’s deceased parents, particularly while criticizing them? Second, how does Lemon know that? Perhaps West’s mother would have been proud of her son’s meeting with the president. Or perhaps she would have agreed with his political sentiments, or at least cheered his right to publicly express them.
In my mind, that’s the central point here. No one has to like Kanye’s music or agree with his political views. As a general rule, I don’t care what any celebrity thinks about current events or policy.
But as things have become uglier in the public square, disagreeing with socially sanctioned views becomes harder both for public officials and everyday people. Fewer people are likely to raise their hands and identify themselves as dissenters, lest they be hounded out of restaurants or doxed. But Kanye is.
Through his actions, Kanye is modeling courage. He’s creating more space for all of us to hold and voice unpopular positions. For that, I am grateful.