I’m going to make a prediction; if Donald Trump manages to win the election for president of the United States, it opens the door for Kanye West to become president in the future. It may seem a large stretch of the imagination, but events of late have confounded notions of what is probable and what isn’t in American (and global) politics. Indeed, who could have imagined that Donald Trump would prove to be the clear frontrunner in the Republican race, and would receive the largest ever endorsement from the Republican Party as its nominee for president? All the pundits and statisticians (yes; even Nate Silver) got it wrong, and badly!
The truth, it seems, is stranger than fiction. It is a new century, and a new era is beckoning. As the complexity of transition has taken hold, the 21st Century is defying the political logics of the 20th Century. In colloquial terms, as the obsessions with all things “extreme” became popular in the late 20th Century, many who occupy the ranks of the traditional establishment failed to notice that ‘extreme politics’ was busy rooting itself in societies across the world. And it is not just the emergence of an anti-globalisation sentiment, however, even though globalisation is widely viewed as presenting an existential threat to many traditional groups and societies around the world. Rather, what is emerging, is a profoundly anti-establishment sentiment.
Twentieth century politicians, analysts and commentators, who drew on increasingly outdated ideologies to assess society’s political trends failed to read the undercurrents. Consequently, they were unable to adequately frame what has been emerging as a profound and sizable anti-establishment sentiment in societies across the world. People all over the world appear to have grown disillusioned with the establishment’s politics, politicians and institutions – as well as the leadership and governance modalities – of the late 20th Century.
In democracies, this means that leaders are chosen without much thought, and crass populism “goes viral” very quickly and effectively. In authoritarian states, the powers that be crack down heavily on dissent and any emerging diversity of sentiment and opinion. In some democracies, which dangerously straddle both worlds, a combination of the two take root irrespective of their incompatibility (e.g. President Erdogan in Turkey, Putin in Russia, Duterte in the Philippines).
Anti-establishment sentiment, however, has had few viable political vessels through which to find expression. The reason for this is how rigid, staid and disconnected from social reality conventional politics has become. All who are party to it are expected to “play the game”. Yet this is exactly what is undermining the political sphere and opening up the gaps for extremists and populists to capture large swathes of disgruntled electorates and groups all over the world. The “game” it seems, is undergoing some profound changes.
Yet there is cause for concern. The last time the United States reacted without adequate and sufficient analysis to a political crisis it went to war on Iraq in 2003. The consequences, over a decade later, have proved disastrous not just for America but for the Middle East and the rest of the world. The decision to go to war on Iraq not only boosted Al Qaeda’s ranks, it led to the formation and expansion of Daesh or “ISIS”. ISIS’s extremism has devastated Muslim-dominated countries and thrown the entire region into crisis. The “blowback” from the war on Iraq may yet last for many decades to come.
The lesson in all of this is simply that short-sightedness often has dire long-term consequences. Frustration with the status quo, or with intractable challenges, should never be cause for rash action. Action, especially political and military action, is not always superior to ‘inaction’. Pausing to reflect can often prove to be the most important and critical action that individuals, groups and nations can take. More recently, the departure of the United Kingdom from the European Union (i.e. “Brexit”) took everybody (the British included) by surprise. Many took the referendum as a “protest vote” on the European Union and woke up surprised at the result they voted for. Voting in contemporary society, it seems, has taken on the significance of reality-television game shows i.e. it has become a way to express sentiment rather than actual political will.
When one considers the very likely prospect of a dystopian future characterised by superficial reality-television styled politics, with politicians pandering to the lowest common denominator within the electorate for quick and easy votes, spouting all manner of invective and prejudice in a circus enactment of ‘realpolitik’, it is not difficult to imagine that politics as we know it may become seriously derailed, but not in service of the emergence of a new, more relevant politics.
Instead of leaders who present new, bold visions for society, and plan meticulously and adapt intelligently to changes in global and local contexts, the future may well prove to be one where politicians and power pivot between entirely contrary positions and collude to spin counter-narratives in the corporate media to great effect (much like the capricious Mr Trump). The result of this is likely to be a confused, divided and thoughtless society that cannot effectively rally against the very establishment it sought to dethrone, effectively swopping one form of establishment for another more entertaining but ultimately less desirable and more dangerous one.
Both Kanye and Donald Trump are celebrities whose celebrity and public appeal have been greatly expanded and multiplied by reality-television. Donald Trump broadened his celebrity significantly through his well-known role on the reality show “The Apprentice”, where he became known globally for his delivery of the phrase, “you’re fired!” Kanye being linked to Kim Kardashian has broadened his celebrity and public appeal in a vastly more mainstream space than he would have enjoyed purely as a rap-artist and musician, no matter how famous he became for his music. His persona has become familiar to society at large in the US. Even his music and clothing line have no doubt been boosted by being on the Kardashian show.
And it is precisely the preoccupation with and desire to be entertained that may effectively hijack politics for a good few decades. It is not unimaginable that Kanye West, with his extraordinary gift for speaking and engaging people, and working off an already large and secured audience and social media platform, may one day find himself in the oval office. Even though he proclaimed that he would run for election next time round, it may take a few elections before he ascends to power, as was the case with Trump. Indeed, it may be that – as was the case with Bush senior and junior – Trump and his son may yet create a dynasty of their own, and as was the case with the Bush’s, leave the United States indebted and the regional and global economy in tatters, before a candidate like Kanye West begins to reach the ears of American voters.
The model is already being put in place. It consists of using media celebrity, self-aggrandisement, glamorous lifestyles and wives, and exhibitionist reality-television credentials to transition into public office. Packing arenas and eliciting applause takes precedence in the realm of entertainment. Principles, ideology and track record fade into the background in this model, where the ability to hog the limelight and the attention of the media and the electorate become more important than actual politics. In this arena, Kanye can outdo the best, and to be fair to him, his understanding of the world is far more hopeful and visionary than Donald Trumps could ever hope to be.
Perhaps after the Trumps are done with the US, voters who have become conditioned to the new political norms that are emerging may actually come to view Kanye as an inspiring and viable option. Should he harness the imagination of the youth of today, as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn (in the UK) have managed to, by leveraging social media and widespread dissatisfaction with the establishment, as well as presenting a desirable vision for society, he may yet emerge as a worthy leader.
Kanye West is only 39 years old; he has plenty of time to chart a course towards the presidency, and to lay the foundation for a political career. And should the emerging political norms of the 21st Century set in over time, it may just become a reality. In the end, the President Kanye West of the future may actually have more to thank Donald Trump for than he may yet imagine!