Kanye Westâs politics are political, not electoral. Heâs made contributions to political campaigns occasionally -- $2,000 to Barack Obama in 2012, $15,000 to the Democratic Party in 2014, $2,700 to Hillary Clinton in 2015. Itâs not clear, though, that heâs ever actually voted. The only person named Kanye West registered to vote in California (where he lives) or Illinois (where heâs from) is a 35-year-old woman who lives in Chicago.
West famously announced that he hadnât voted in the 2016 election during an election stop in San Jose a few weeks after Donald Trump won that contest.
âIf I would have voted, I would have voted on Trump,â West said. âThat donât mean that I donât think that black lives matter. That donât mean I donât believe in womenâs rights. I wanted to say that before the election, but they told me, âWhatever you do, donât say that out loud.â Not only did I not vote, but there were a lot of things I actually liked about Trumpâs campaign. His approach was . . . genius - because it worked.â
The subtext to that comment explains a lot about why West has increasingly embraced the controversial president, including in a speech after his appearance on âSaturday Night Liveâ this weekend.
West repeated the idea heâs offered before about how he wants to break the long-standing link between black voters and the Democratic Party. He claimed that people backstage at the show had tried to bully him into not coming out onstage wearing a âMake America Great Againâ hat.
âFollow your heart, and stop following your mind. Thatâs how weâre controlled. Thatâs how weâre programmed,â he said. He then went on to criticize cultural forces that tend to be more liberal.
âI think the universe has balance,â he said. âNinety percent of news are liberal. Ninety percent of TV, L.A., New York, writers, rappers, musicians -- so itâs easy to make it seem like itâs so, so, so one-sided.â
West has a years-long friendship with Trump, as Trump mentioned in an interview with Howard Stern in 2014. When West made an appearance at Trump Tower the month after Trump won the election, the president-elect noted that the two had âbeen friends for a long time.â The meeting included discussions of âbullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago,â according to West. Earlier this year, West tweeted a criticism of Obamaâs handling of violence in Chicago.
Some part of Westâs political stance, clearly, is intentionally contrarian. His fame was elevated in 2005 with his critique of former president George W. Bushâs handling of Hurricane Katrina. By criticizing Obama and Democratic politics, West is both separating himself from expectations and earning praise from a different subset of the electorate.
âI wanted to say that before the election, but they told me, âwhatever you do, donât say that out loud,ââ he said in San Jose. âThey bullied me backstage,â he said this weekend. Whether or not itâs his intent, West embraces the idea that his embrace of Trump makes him something of a martyr in his social circles. Trumpâs approach was âgenius,â West said, âbecause it worked.â That approach was to shove a finger in the eye of the establishment.
A CNN poll in May found that most Americans thought Westâs comments praising Trump were specifically an effort to seek publicity. Most Trump supporters, though, thought he was being sincere in expressing his beliefs.
Thatâs where West becomes useful to Trump. On Sunday, the president praised Westâs post-SNL speech (while swiping at the show itself).
Since West came out in support of Trump (personally, if not politically) earlier this year, Trump has held up the musician as an example of his own appeal to black Americans. Trump has repeatedly claimed that Westâs embrace led to a spike in his popularity with black Americans, which didnât happen. Both West and Trump find their alliance useful.
For West, it reinforces his position as a cultural independent. For Trump, it lets him argue that he has more black support than is often understood.
Westâs contribution to Hillary Clinton coupled with a photograph of Clinton, Kim Kardashian and himself taken on the campaign trail would seem to have established his political views in 2016 in a way that a vote wouldnât have. His actions since the election have distanced him from what that donation and that photo might suggest. Itâs a reminder of another way in which the Trump-West relationship does something potentially useful for each.
It expands their fan bases.
Philip Bump is a correspondent for The Washington Post based in New York.