As such, West, in all of his admitted political amateurishness and his poignant lack of coherent plans for leadership, has become the topic of a serious debate about the implications of a third-party candidate on the general election, as thinkers including actor Debra Messing called his run a plot to filch young Black voters from Joe Biden to help Trump win again. It’s a misunderstanding of the reasons Black voters would consolidate behind a centrist candidate — like, say, force of habit, or Republicans’ inability to even seem invested in the issues plaguing the community — and of the way Black hip-hop heads view Kanye in his Christian conservative years — which is either begrudging nostalgia, self-flagellating support, indifference, or open contempt — to treat it like an inevitability that people will march out in the middle of a pandemic to pull the trigger on a Kanye West presidency. It takes him at his word that he’ll see this thing through in his fifth year of proposing and delaying political plans. It falls into the common trap of sensationalizing what is likely another case of a billionaire spitballing fantastical plans for the future, like Elon Musk promising to put humans on Mars in 2022. (Even Elon thinks #Kanye2020 is far-fetched.) The cycle continues: Kanye says a thing, we all go the long way believing it, the idea proves untenable, and his sense that people are out to get him is reinforced, while the belief that he is coolly orchestrating loud drama for financial gain persists. What if we’re wrong, and what we see as promotional stunts is actually something much darker?
At some point, there needs to be a reckoning about the toxic relationship between Kanye West and the vox populi, how he pokes at it knowing it’ll overcorrect in response, how sometimes he is stirring the pot a little to keep his name warm, and how often it’s clear that he doesn’t even enjoy it. Last week looked a lot like the old-school tabloid days, where figures like Michael Jackson’s eccentricities were blown up and scandalized in service to the inevitable gasps and guffaws from audiences ever hungry for fresh drama. That ended badly, and this one has dark potentiality. This isn’t to say that West isn’t really planning to run for president or that his recent antics are some kind of a veiled cry for help. When the subject has a history with bipolar disorder and addiction, when he spent portions of 2018 railing against social media as a system of mind control, it behooves us to move more carefully when he appears to be acting in a way that seems counterintuitive to his peace of mind. There’s a way to say this bid seems like a bad idea without treating the subject like a circus bear, more fodder for giggles, gossip, and chatter. Last week wasn’t it.