Comment by Andrew Brown
It may or may not be true that the musician and shoe salesman Kanye West is running for president of the United States this November. He has announced that he is — he had originally planned to run in 2024 — and that he is consulting unnamed experts as well as Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, about the technicalities of his bid.
On the other hand, he has no organisation working for him on this plan and has already missed many of the deadlines even to get his name on a ballot.
He has yet to register as a candidate in Florida, for instance, and to do that he needs 132,781 signatures within the next fortnight. Although 1.8 million people have so far looked at his rambling interview with Forbes magazine, in which he announced his candidacy, this looks more like morbid curiosity than political support.
West’s announcement looks like the same blend of politics and celebrity culture that brought us Trump, so the fact that his policies range from the ludicrous to the nonexistent is not in itself a guarantee that they will not find supporters.
More interesting to the Religion Media Centre is the crossover between entertainment and religion in his announcement and, indeed, in his life.
As a wonderful article on the news website Tortoise last autumn explained, West was brought up attending a prosperity gospel church. His lyrics in I Am a God reflect that sensibility: “I just talked to Jesus / He said, ‘What’s up, Yeezus?’ / I said. ‘Shit, I’m chilling, / Trying to stack these millions’./ I know he the most high / but I am a close high.”
Clearly, the Jesus to whom he was talking was not the man who said that thing about the rich man and they eye of the needle — but he is the God to whom millions of Americans pray today.
The economic model of the prosperity gospel depends on merchandising and the cultivation of a committed fan base, though they might prefer the term “followers”. That model is now the template for the whole music industry in the wake of file-sharing. When you look up an artist on Spotify their merchandise is displayed below the list of albums, and its the merchandise that brings in the money.
In the same way, West gives free performances to vast audiences (his wife, Kim Kardashian West, has 147 million followers on Instagram) and sells “Jesus Walks” socks for $50 a pair, or “Holy Spirit” jumpers for $225.
The Forbes interview, cut down to a page and a half of snippets from a four-hour conversation, is loaded with religious references of unclear import.
“So that was a plan by the Devil to have our kids committing suicide at an all-time high by removing God, to have murders in Chicago at an all-time high because the human beings working for the Devil removed God and prayer from the schools. That means more drugs, more murders, more suicide.”
“So many of our children that are being vaccinated and paralysed . . . So when they say the way we’re going to fix Covid is with a vaccine, I’m extremely cautious. That’s the mark of the beast. They want to put chips inside of us, they want to do all kinds of things, to make it where we can’t cross the gates of heaven . . . Clean up the chemicals. In our deodorant, in our toothpaste, there are chemicals that affect our ability to be of service to God.”
This is not in itself much crazier than many of the other ideas floating around the world these days. It uses many of the same building blocks as the QAnon theories, although without the belief in Trump as a saviour.
In the Kanye mythos, it is West who is God’s anointed who will save America, and it is God who told him to run. “God appoints the president. If I win in 2020 then it was God’s appointment. If I win in 2024 then that was God’s appointment.”
Some people have speculated that this is a record of a psychotic breakdown; others that it’s just drug-crazed ramblings. Whatever the truth of his mental state, what is significant, and easily missed by the secular culture, is that millions of people, millions of American voters, will understand the language that he uses and really believe both that God has a plan for them and for their country, and that if this plan fails, and the country stays sick and poor, that must be the fault of the Devil, and his helpers who are all on the other side politically.