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Kanye West and the rise of celebrity candidates trash the US presidency

On Wednesday, local time, the situation became a little bit more real when at the eleventh hour a statement of candidacy was filed in Oklahoma in his name. Mind you, there are also applications for “Your Mom” and “Big Chungus” (according to The New York Times) so there’s a possibility it’s not him at all.

I’d afford myself the luxury of having a little chuckle at the idea of President Chungus if I wasn’t so afraid of what the rest of 2020 has in store for us.

Illustration: Reg Lynch

Illustration: Reg LynchCredit:

These times are not unprecedented.

In a television interview from the year before Trump became president, journalists and a Democratic candidate laughed out loud at the suggestion he’d become president. They literally LOL’d.

To do what they scoffed at, he vanquished 16 Republican opponents, forced a reluctant House Speaker (Paul Ryan) to back him as the party candidate and was eventually elected President of the United States of America.

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And what a ride that’s been. There’s not much use running through the detail, because we’re all painfully aware of it. Headline by headline, it’s dominated world media for the last three and a bit years.

Notwithstanding Zoom rallies, it seems like the Democrats have been pushing forward with a “normal” campaign. But in this day and age, you have to question what qualifications for president and successful campaigning really look like.

I’ve already seen headlines like “Is Kanye West richer than Donald Trump?” as though that’s some sort of measure of how successful he’d be at running the place.

Admittedly, it’s going to take a lot more than money for his campaign to be successful. Major structural and logistical hurdles make it virtually impossible for him to be a viable third candidate so let me be clear: I don’t think he’s going to be president in several months’ time.

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Cynics would say that he’s just released some new music and the $US35,000 fee to enter the race in Oklahoma is a small price to pay for the press this generates.

In a week when we’ve seen members of the President’s family/advisory team, namely his daughter Ivanka, potentially violate ethics standards by spruiking Goya beans on her official Twitter account, the last thing we need is another candidate detracting from the many important debates we should be having as the world grapples with the COVID crisis and using the office as a marketing platform.

But there are similarities between Trump and West, and the media covers every move West makes, in the same way it did when Trump took a tilt at the presidency in 2016.

Maybe Kanye is playing the same game – but a long one. Trump first floated the idea in 1987 but didn’t launch his successful campaign until 2015.

Trump flirted with the idea in nearly every presidential election over the last three decades (the exception is 2008 when he was busy hiring and firing on his reality TV show The Apprentice). He even ran as a candidate for the Reform Party at the turn of the millennium, winning 15,000 votes in California. He named Oprah Winfrey as his “ideal running mate”. LOL indeed.

It was a process of grooming and socialising the voting public over nearly 30 years. What started out as a joke ended up making fools of everyone.

Racism, sexism and COVID response aside, the most concerning aspect of the rise of the celebrity presidential nominee is the denigration of the office. To see a once great nation led by a man who seriously suggested disinfectant and UV light as a treatment for a virus should make us all question whether US democratic processes really do allow for the cream to rise to the top.

You don’t need to have #2020Vision to see that men who talk openly about having “dragon energy” and “alien level super powers” as West does likely aren’t the best for the job.

One has to question a system that favours bolshy, brash and brutish candidates over those with the intellect and civic mindedness required to navigate the most challenging of times.

Let’s hope West’s beautiful, dark, twisted fantasy never becomes our grim reality.

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