Jampaign 2016 IV: Kanye West, Donald Trump and the Rise of the Unapologetic Narcissist

By Mandy Freebairn, Highlighter staff columnist

He’s remarkably off-the-cuff. His tweets rarely make sense. If what he says is true, he just might be our president one day. Now, am I talking about Donald Trump or Kanye West? It’s been a big year for both the musician and the businessman, with West releasing his eighth studio album, “The Life of Pablo,” and Trump becoming the GOP frontrunner. These widely disputed accomplishments have rendered both men media targets, so much so that they have essentially turned into caricatures of themselves. It seems both West and Trump demand polarity from their audiences; everyone has an opinion, there is no “eh.” Why is this true, however, for two men who share little besides their insatiable egotism?

Both Kanye and Trump have earned themselves a reputation for being “real.” Whether it be walking onstage that fateful VMA night or openly calling Mexicans rapists, both men are willing to say what others won’t, a quality that is valued among their supporters. This is more dangerous when applied to Trump than West, given that most of his outlandish statements are really just expressions of bigotry. A musician who says eccentric things gets a lot of followers on twitter. A president who condones racism starts wars.  It seems that candor is often read as honesty, and therein lies the problem. It’s unclear whether any of these statements are actually true, or just stunts to garner media attention.

Oddly, dispute over this sincerity does not seem to hinder their popularity. Kanye was notoriously criticized for his highly publicized indecision surrounding the release of “The Life of Pablo.” The album endured name changes, track list adjustments, and cover art tweaking, even after it was released on Tidal. In Trump’s case, many of his more terrifying positions have been widely scrutinized for their sincerity, especially since there is video footage of him expressing opposite opinions in past interviews. Not to mention the alleged off-the-record New York Times tapes where Trump supposedly tells an interviewer that most of his claims are facetious. The two men differ, however, in their response when challenged on their indecision. Kanye doesn’t see it as a problem, acknowledging it as part of the creative process. Trump, meanwhile, bullishly denies all claims that he is insincere, despite literal video evidence to the contrary. For both, their erratic actions seem not to dissuade public interest, but intensify it.

Of course, I don’t mean to say that Kanye and Trump are at all alike in opinions or moral content. Donald Trump is an undisputable piece of filth. Kanye is only a piece of filth in the eyes of a small minority, of which I am not necessarily a member. But the popularity of both in the face of character traits that are usually considered unappealing—excessive candor, indecision, narcissism—is fascinating. What does it mean that we love those who love themselves? Trump has gone from being the guy we love to hate to being the guy who might be the next Hitler. Could our obsession with the outrageous go too far? Music has always been a place for experimentation and new ideas. We’d like to think that the political sphere would be too. But when we allow terrible people to rise to political power simply because they’re fun to marvel at, we have to ask—was it worth it for the Instagram?

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