by James Billot
Monday, 6
July 2020
Explainer
07:00

Briefing: what are Kanye West’s politics?

by James Billot
Kanye West meets President Trump in the Oval Office, White House in 2018

So, as all the world knows by now, rapper Kanye West has tweeted that he is running for president. 

https://twitter.com/kanyewest/status/1279575273365594112?s=20

It just so happens that West is launching new music and shoes at the same time as this announcement, and the deadline has already passed to run as an independent in many states including New York and Texas.

But let’s suspend disbelief for a moment and imagine a world in which the rapper does manage to mount a campaign for president. On the evidence of West’s previous comments and lyrics, what sort of platform would he run on? There are three themes that emerge clearly.

Economic Nationalism

West has been a long-time critic of the Forever Wars, which he has been rapping about for over a decade. In Power (Remix) (2010), West argues: “Been a don, praying for the families lost in the storm / Bring our troops back from Iraq, keep our troops out of Iran”. This final clause sounds more definitive than Donald Trump, whom West admires, but both share a dovish, non-interventionist attitude towards foreign policy.

What’s more, the pair strike a similar note of caution about the rising threat of China, and the importance of re-shoring jobs to America. When West met with the President in 2018, he said: “We have to bring jobs into America, because our best export is entertainment and ideas, but when we make everything in China and not in America, then we’re cheating on our country.”

Suiting his words to actions, West is vowing to bring jobs back to the US by opening his Yeezy HQ in Wyoming later this year.

Evangelical Christianity

West’s faith has long been a feature of his music, but over the last two years his born-again evangelism has taken on a new force. With songs like ‘Follow God, ‘Use this Gospel’ and ‘Jesus is Lord’ in his latest album ‘Jesus is King’ and a weekly Sunday Church Service, West has excited the Christian Right in America — a key constituency that the rapper will have to win in November. 

In a possible pitch for their support, West went so far as to attack “woke” Americans for trying to eliminate religious freedom from the public square late last year:

Who told you that my career would be over? The same people who are telling you that you can’t have a right to say who you would vote for, those same people will be soon to take Jesus out of school. Those people will be soon to remove Jesus, period, from America, which is the Bible Belt.
- Kanye West

West’s pro-life, pro-family agenda chimes with large swathes of the Trump base but he faces an uphill battle in convincing social conservatives to back him over the president. White evangelicals have been among Trump’s most loyal supporters, though polling suggests that this support has been falling. 

Liberal flourishes

Although West himself dropped out of college — something that he discusses at length in his debut album — the rapper believes that the school curriculum needs an “update”, tweeting that teachers should be paid more and that textbooks should cost less. In his meeting with President Trump, West also touted the idea of mixing basketball with maths, particularly for children with learning difficulties. 

More recently he showed his support for the Black Lives Matter movement, marching in Chicago, and donating $2 million to George Floyd’s daughter for a college education.

So while West holds conventional Republican views on guns, abortion and religion, he deviates from conservative orthodoxy on issues like education, criminal justice reform, and support for BLM.

Whether the American public would be receptive to this kind of heterodox thinking in 2020 remains to be seen…

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