On July 4, 2020, the nation celebrated its birthday with fireworks, patriotism, and a declaration from the Founding Father of modern hip-hop. Rapper, philanthropist, and Chicago native Kanye West announced a presidential bid on the Fourth of July, eliciting a surprised, yet the predictable response from Twitter and the media.
Pundits began debating whether Trump or Biden would suffer more from Mr. West’s intrusion into the November election, pitting Republicans, Democrats, and members of the Birthday Party against each other. Would Kim Kardashian make a better first lady than Melania Trump?
Would POWER become our new national anthem? When would he have time to drop his next album? But while Yeezy’s campaign may appear to be a publicity stunt, the campaign of Donald J. Trump should teach us otherwise. For someone whose debut album was The College Dropout, the curious case of Kanye provides us an intellectual opportunity to look at how we approach elections, mental health, and the development of policy in a pandemic.
While this should go without saying, it is unlikely that West’s Birthday Party will sway the election. For one, Ye’s late registration has proven to be the biggest obstacle to his candidacy, as filing deadlines in most states have passed.
West has also been accused of election fraud in New Jersey after the Division of Elections found many of the names and addresses on his petition to be fraudulent or nonexistent. However, the campaign is currently pursuing ballot options in 10 states and has already appeared on the ballot in Oklahoma as of July 16, 2020.
It’s important to note that as with all dealings in politics, there are always hidden interests at play, and Yeezy’s bid for president appears to be rife with mixed personalities. The New York Times recently released a thorough investigation into the supporting players providing electoral and delegate support to West’s campaign– many of which happen to be key Republican players and directly connected to the Trump campaign. Among the growing list of operatives include Republican strategist Rachel George, a former aide to Senator Cory Gardner who recently sent out an email asking for help to get West on the Colorado ballot.
“I have the most random favor to ask of you ever . . . would you help me get Kanye West on the ballot in Colorado? No, I am not joking, and I realize this is hilarious,” George added. Even the president weighed in on West’s run for office. After retweeting a report that claimed Kanye would “siphon black voters away from Biden,” Trump tweeted “That shouldn’t be hard. Corrupt Joe has done nothing good for Black people!”
Based on the Times’ extensive report, it appears that a number of GOP operatives, strategists, and ne’er-do-wells believe that Mr. West’s run will indeed attract voters of color, a claim that appears to be founded only on speculation and assumption.
“They assume Black guy, rapper — jackpot! It’s like that is their only association with Black people — the colour of skin and hip-hop music,” said Mandela Barnes, Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor. Barnes also condemned the Wisconsin GOP in a tweet, stating that “So you’re telling me that the Republican Party is using a black man’s labor, to meet their own goals, because they don’t want to do the work. We are all so shocked. This has deep roots.”
But while Democrats and Republicans may be more concerned about the effect of Kanye’s run on their candidate, we should instead be recognizing his run for what it is: a call for help. After a particularly contentious campaign event in South Carolina where West stated that Harriet Tubman “never actually freed the slaves,” much of the conversation surrounding his campaign began to shift towards Mr. West’s battle with his bipolar disorder, which is key in understanding many of his past actions. Mr. West was diagnosed as bipolar in 2017, and while he has been treated for it, he has opted not to take the medication due to its effect on his personality.
“This [condition]— it’s like a sprained brain, like having a sprained ankle. And if someone has a sprained ankle, you’re not going to push on him more. With us, once our brain gets to a point of spraining, people do everything to make it worse,” said West in an interview with David Letterman.
Kim Kardashian also voiced support for her husband, putting out a statement.
“He is a brilliant but complicated person who on top of the pressures of being an artist and a black man, who experienced the painful loss of his mother and has to deal with the pressure and isolation that is heightened by his bi-polar disorder. Those who are close to Kanye know his heart and understand his words some times do not align with his intentions.”
Depending on the severity of one’s individual mental state, those affected with bipolar disorder often go through manic episodes that can last up to several weeks, or even months. The resulting behavior is often impulsive, and empowering enough for the patient to believe themselves one with the universe. Because of Kanye’s money, influence, and power, his personal struggle has been magnified to the national level, but his affliction is not unique and should be treated seriously. Roughly 2.8% of U.S. adults were diagnosed with bipolar disorder last year, and roughly 4-19% commit suicide throughout their lifetime according to the NIH.
In the policy sphere, mental health has become a more prominent issue in the U.S. as thousands have struggled to remain positive as the added anxiety of health, economic, and social crisis has only been compounded by the social isolation of quarantine. For those suffering from depression, bipolar disorder, or other conditions, isolation often exacerbates their problem and can lead to higher rates of suicide.
While Mr. West’s campaign website does not have any solutions or policies that would address this national crisis, the U.S. is in desperate need of an actionable plan. In 2019, President Trump reduced funding for the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s (SAMHSA) budget by roughly $600 million, slashing programs across the country. Trump has also gutted the Affordable Care Act and has continued to challenge it in court despite a public health crisis where thousands have lost their employer-sponsored health insurance. Alternatively, Vice President Biden has promised to increase funding for the ACA and the coverage it provides for mental health.
As of late, Kanye West has spent most of July at his Colorado ranch, and has only recently put out policy positions on his website, namely vague statements such as “Restor[ing] faith and reviv[ing] our Constitutional commitment to freedom of religion and the free exercise of one’s faith, demonstrated by restoring prayer in the classroom including spiritual foundations.” He also named his running mate to be Michelle Tidball, a biblical life coach with no prior policy experience. Most importantly, Kanye’s campaign lacks a nationwide campaign apparatus, a key element in any presidential election.
But no matter what Kanye does or says, it’s important to keep in mind what we should be expecting from the politicians we elect, and that’s compassion. Compassion is what’s necessary during a time of suffering and crisis, and it’s how we should be structuring our policy. Months of protests have also reminded us that America has a long way to go to reach equality.
Black Lives Matter and our policy should reflect that by enfranchising voters of all colors, investing more in minority communities, and fixing the systemic racism that exists in our country. There are many ways to do this, but one way is through representation. Vice President Joe Biden recently picked Senator Kamala Harris to be his running mate, and although this decision won’t overshadow some of his past mistakes, it will give his candidacy an added perspective. Biden has also pledged that his cabinet and administration will be more inclusive toward diverse opinions and backgrounds, and will be far more reflective of America than the current administration. Without compassion, our government is simply a devil in a new dress. So think carefully about who you want to lead it, and keep your eye on the ball.