Look around at the big news of Kanye West's recent return to Twitter, and you might be convinced that Kanye West returning to Twitter was big news.
It's not. The real big news is that Kanye West is a fan of Donald Trump. (Remind me real quick: What is news again?)
A yearlong hiatus wasn't enough to weaken the devotion of the tens of millions of fans and casual observers drawn to West's oracle-esque Twitter presence; if anything, the delay since his departure from all social media has only intensified the attention his most recent crop of 250 or so tweets have garnered. One reason for this is West's discovery of his own reflection in an unlikely mirror: Donald Trump.
At first, West's return to the platform was marked by the same mix of self-promotion (tweeting photos of his avant-Crocs and proclaiming "Yeezy will become the biggest apparel company in human history") and runic musings that made him so followable. "You can say anything as long as you put the right emoji next to it," reads one quickly disproven example.
But within a couple of weeks, some of the bolts began to shake. "I love the way Candace Owens thinks," he tweeted of the rising young conservative writer who has called Donald Trump not just "the leader of the free world, but the savior of it as well."
Then came the retweeted videos from Dilbert creator and Trump-whisperer Scott Adams. Then came the (oddly dead-eyed) poses with bright red MAGA hats (or just the hat itself, emblazoned with a familiarly sloppy autograph), the calls for a meeting with right-wing Gawker-squasher Peter Thiel, and the tweet that had even the (other) savior's device trembling in his palm.
"You don't have to agree with trump [sic] but the mob can't make me not love him," West tweeted. "We are both dragon energy. He is my brother. I love everyone. I don't agree with everything anyone does. That's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought."
(In a separate tweet, West defines "dragon energy" thusly: "Natural born leaders/ Very instinctive/ Great foresight." Correct me if I'm wrong here, but that sure sounds like West copping Trump's flow.)
I don't have room here to reprint the three gazillion tweets capturing the global angst and tooth-gnashing that broke out over West's political revelations, but if I may adopt a contemporary mode of assurance, "many people" were saying this was "really sad," believe me.
"Don't let this be part of your legacy," reads a text sent from singer John Legend that West swiftly posted screenshots of. "You're the greatest artist of our generation." ("You bringing up my fans or my legacy is a tactic based on fear used to manipulate my free thought," came West's reply.)
And swaths of West's celebrity follower-base responded to his tweets by clicking unfollow, likely fearing the virtual transmission of career-threatening Trump cooties. (No love lost; the only person West follows on Twitter is Kim Kardashian-West.)
"He's a free thinker" she wrote in a string of tweets defending her husband, "is that not allowed in America?"
We tend to understand the concept of "free thinking" as encompassing an adventurously indiscriminate consideration of ideas; but West's version has slowly shifted away from the deftly dropped truth-bombs that made his name so central in pop culture — recall in 2005, his careful unpacking of his own homophobia or his fearless post-Katrina excoriation of the president on live television.
Lately, West's free thought seems more akin to parkour: stunt after stunt after stunt, executed with high risk and speed at great heights. This approach means he must stick the landing to survive, and he does — to the point that a popular meme affixes his tweets as captions to "New Yorker" cartoons. ("Iterations of ideas are how culture evolves," says one snail to another as they observe a tape dispenser.)
But it also means he attracts the most attention when he almost stumbles over the edge into the void — another example of West lifting Trump's flow.
Given Trump's history of racial animus as well as his vaporization of Republican politics in favor of conservative passions, and given West's continuing difficulty articulating which of Trump's policies he agrees with (so far his clearest motive for supporting Trump is that others have told him not to), it's natural to question what one could possibly see in the other, when the answer is quite clear. He sees himself.
In both men we can observe the same defensive mechanisms of narcissism snapping into action at any perceived slight or challenge. We can hear the same complete conviction in instinct and brute gut, the same unceasing voicing of self-awe. Trump and West are in many ways and across vastly different lives, birds of a feather. (More specifically, manakins, the males of which team up to draw more attention to themselves.)
If there is a political divide to plumb here, it's a more fundamental divide in how we understand what "politics" means: Is it the process by which we establish the policies that directly affect people's wealth, health, and well-being? Or is it an amorphous, smooshy term for how well we get along with one another?
As Trump takes full advantage of the former definition, West — who regularly toys with the idea of a presidential run in 2020 (so we'll see how long this friendship lasts) — favors the latter. But all the empathy in the world isn't much use if you can't see what others are up against. I'd start by following a few more accounts.