Perhaps you werenât expecting this. That the spectacle of the Trump transition â potential cabinet picks parading before television cameras in Trump Tower, itself once the set of a reality TV showÂ â would lead to theÂ future commander-in-chief shaking hands and hugging Kanye West.
This is the rapper whose 2005 declaration that âGeorge Bush doesnât care about black peopleâ was, for Bush, âan all-time lowâ and the worst moment of his presidency. The one who President Obama called a âjackass.â Now,Â 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 âgood friends. â
âWeâve been friends for a long time,â Trump told reporters Tuesday.Â âWe discussed life.â
Itâs an apt image for this moment, asÂ celebrity has fully melded withÂ 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 crowdÂ that he would have voted for Trump â had he voted at all.
There were conflicting reports about the meeting. E! News, citing a source close to West, saidÂ the Trump team asked West to visit and discuss a potential role, perhaps getting involved in an âentrepreneurial leadership roleâ or as an âambassador of sorts.â
But TMZ said West requested the meeting and that they didnât talk about his involvement in the new administration.
WestÂ stood silently in the Trump Tower lobby as reporters shouted questions. âI just want to take a picture right now,â West said, cracking a smile and giving a thumbs-up.
The mix of celebrity and the presidency isnât totally new. President Reagan was an actor who entertained all manner of famous people at the White House.Â President Obama has wielded his pop-culture currency for political gain unlike any previous president, in part thanks to social-media platforms that allow theÂ White House to circumvent traditional media.
But if Obamaâs a celebrity president, itâs more in the mold of a BeyoncÃ©:Â 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.Â He is âno-drama Obamaâ â just as BeyoncÃ© does not seek notoriety throughÂ personal problems getting into the limelight.
Trumpâs different. Heâs more aÂ Kanye West kind of celebrity. They have both redeemed their public images through reality TV. Trump, like West, isnât precise with his words. He speaksÂ off-the-cuff and sometimes makes controversial remarks. For West, thatâs resulted in blowback and years spent as a pariah.Â For Trump, this meant bucking every political convention of what presidential candidates can say and get away with.
West referred to this dynamicÂ last month on stage in San Jose, when heÂ said that during the election âit was proven that it didnât matter what nobody had just said. It doesnât matter.â
West said he âlovedâ Trumpâs approach in the debates and thatÂ he was still thinking about running in 2020, but not âout of disrespectâ to Trump.
âIâm just saying Iâve got some ideas about the way we should connect our ideas,â WestÂ said. âIâm not concerned about the idea of being president or the actual job of it. IâmÂ concerned about putting our concept of how to do the job in a new way. And if no one will do it in that way, then I will take position in 2020 to do it myself.â
West â whose wife, Kim Kardashian, publicly backed Hillary ClintonÂ â understood that vocal support for Trump would bring the kind of backlash seen shortly after on social media. He had been cautioned by those close to him to keep pro-Trump comments to himself, West said.
âThat donât mean that I donât think that black lives matter. That donât mean IÂ donât believe in womenâs rights. That donât mean I donât believeÂ in gay marriage,â West saidÂ of his feelings about Trump. âThat donât mean I donât believe in these things because that was theÂ guy I would have voted for.â
Trump and West meeting makes sense if you consider the premium the president-elect places on loyalty. At a 2015 rally, Trump explained his feelings toward West, who had recently said he may consider running for president one day.
âIâll never say bad about him,â Trump said during a 2015 rally. âYou want to know why? Because he loves Trump. He goes around saying Trump is my all-time hero. He says it to everybody.â
âSo to Kanye West, I love him. Now maybe in a a few years I might have to run against him, I donât know, so Iâll take that back,â Trump added. âBut you know what, heâs been so nice to me. You people have sort of seen, Iâve been a counter-puncher. I only hit people when they hit me. Only. Kanye West has been so great. I would never say bad about him because he says such nice things about me.â
A year later, WestâsÂ rambling, onstage remarks â which coveredÂ everything from BeyoncÃ© to Mark Zuckerberg â fueled speculation about his mental state. He ended his Saint Pablo tour early and was hospitalized in Los Angeles, reportedly forÂ stress and exhaustion.
TMZ said that West came to New York this week to interview East Coast psychiatrists toÂ add to his West Coast medical team.
His meeting with Trump drew criticism. The president-electÂ hasnât held a press conference since July andÂ reportedly receivesÂ intelligence briefings weekly, rather than daily.Â âI get it when I need it,â Trump said Sunday.
âDonald Trump believes it is more important to meet with Kanye West, than receive security briefings,â VoteVets, a veterans organization that describes itself as progressive and has been critical of Trump, said in a statement. âOur troops deserve better than that from a Commander in Chief. This is not funny, it is not OK.â
On Tuesday, Trump bid goodbye to WestÂ and told him to âtake care of yourself.â
He added: âIâll see you soon, alright?â