What Kanye West’s Trump Phase Meant

As the rapper steps away from politics, he finally clarifies his policies.

Kanye West in a "Make America Great Again" hat at the White House
Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Kanye … recants? “My eyes are now wide open and now realize I’ve been used to spread messages I don’t believe in,” the rapper tweeted Tuesday night. “I am distancing myself from politics and completely focusing on being creative !!!”

His tweet has been taken as a disavowal of Donald Trump, which it may or may not fully be: The “messages” West doesn’t believe in aren’t specified. But remarkably, all of a sudden, he’s announced what he does stand for. “I support creating jobs and opportunities for people who need them the most,” he tweeted. “I support prison reform, I support common-sense gun laws that will make our world safer … I support those who risk their lives to serve and protect us and I support holding people who misuse their power accountable. I believe in love and compassion for people seeking asylum and parents who are fighting to protect their children from violence and war.”

The episode comes after the conservative pundit Candace Owens claimed that West had designed a logo for the “Blexit” campaign to get black people to leave the Democratic Party. “I introduced Candace to the person who made the logo and they didn’t want their name on it so she used mine,” he said in his tweets. “I never wanted any association with Blexit. I have nothing to do with it.”

It’s fitting that the breaking point may have been a dispute over product design: All along, West’s flirtation with the “Make America Great Again” machine—which started after the 2016 election but bloomed into a headline saga in April—centered on aesthetics. For West, supporting Trump just felt right. He loved the president’s “very futuristic” “nonpolitical methods to speaking,” praising his “dragon energy” and savoring the cognitive dissonance implied in George W. Bush’s iconic critic embracing the right. He took a special interest in Trump’s signature red hat, delivering a redesigned version to the White House earlier this month and at one point sporting it along with a Colin Kaepernick sweatshirt.

The rapper’s juxtaposition of Kaepernick and Trump was telling: West really did want the NFL’s great dissident to make sweet with the president who’d called him a “son of a bitch.” The childish surety that the country’s divides could be healed through openhearted outreach came with an even more childish disregard for history. West suggested slavery was a “choice”—a state of mind, rather than a system enforced by violence—and during his visit to the Oval Office, he said that time is an illusion, that there might be multiple universes, and that this explains why racism shouldn’t be seen as a big deal.

As substance, West and Trump’s dialogue at the White House last month was sickening like an overstuffed and undercooked dish is sickening. Welfare, unemployment, taxes, stop-and-frisk, prisons, and school curricula all got brief mentions, but West emphasized that he admired Trump for reasons beyond policy. Yet as spectacle, the sit-down really was a triumph. There’s something deeply trippy—West might say “futuristic”—about viewing his 10-minute ramble captured from cameras arrayed around the Resolute Desk. Some feeds show West’s mutating expressions as he bounced between topics, some spotlight the president’s perplexed head nods, and all lay bare the media machine amplifying the nonsense. Put it in MoMA.

A few plausible theories explain why West is supposedly ditching politics now. His wife, Kim Kardashian, was being pestered to defend him, and this past week his mother-in-law, Kris Jenner, publicly wished he’d quiet down. West’s mental-health issues, too, will be scrutinized: The radio host Charlamagne tha God recently canceled a planned appearance with West because the rapper is allegedly off his meds. Music and money must be considered as well. The promo cycle for West’s recent album(s) has been swallowed by politics, and maybe he wants to shift the focus back to his art for his upcoming album, Yandhi.

One other possibility, far-fetched as it may sound: an earnest awakening by West. The president’s agenda was never hidden, but this week brought news of Trump’s plan to end birthright citizenship, his callous reactions to bomb threats and mass shootings, and his increased militarization of the border. “West calls his struggle the right to be a ‘free thinker,’ and he is, indeed, championing a kind of freedom—a white freedom, freedom without consequence, freedom without criticism, freedom to be proud and ignorant,” Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote earlier this year. Maybe at some point—as fans and peers and family members implored West to remember what he once stood for—that ignorance became impossible to maintain, and the consequences unavoidable.

Certainly, if West didn’t seem that interested in Trump’s specific ideas previously, the fact that his new tweets include his own policy positions—some of which clash with Trump’s—suggests he’s paying more attention now. “I would like to thank my family, loved ones, and community for supporting my ACTUAL beliefs and my vision for a better world,” he wrote. It’s good to learn, after so much talking and so little saying of anything, what those beliefs are.