And yes, as you probably could have guessed by this moment, I have decided in 2020 to run for President.
Kanye West’s speech at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards was lengthy, meandering and scattered, at best. At times he was humble, particularly as he stumbled through an expression of nuanced regret over his infamous interruption of Taylor Swift. Invariably, however, he swung back to the heightened dignity for which he is so well-known and oft criticised. There were glimpses of profundity, though often followed by the address ‘bro!’ perhaps scuttling the likelihood of some viewers to take his comments seriously.
Despite, or perhaps because of all this, I don’t think anyone saw that bombshell coming.
It’s not like America isn’t familiar with the leap from celebrity and entertainer into the political sphere. Schwarzenegger was quite successful as California’s governor from 2003 to 2011. Bizarrely, even Hunter S Thompson came within a hair’s breadth of being elected sheriff of Pitkin County in 1970, on a campaign of drug decriminalisation, turning streets into grassy malls and renaming Aspen ‘Fat City’ in order to deter investors. Others include Clay Aitken, winner of American Idol Season 2, Sonny Bono of Sonny & Cher, and Clint Eastwood.
It’s not easy to traverse the distance from entertainer to politician. Arguably, there are upsides. Name recognition means that there is already some foundation of popularity with the voters. Fame often means a pool of personal wealth to draw on, too. Or, as Trump said when announcing his campaign for Republican nomination: ‘I’m using my own money. I’m not using lobbyists. I’m not using donors. I don’t care. I’m really rich.’
A lot of suspicion geared towards career politicians stems from the fact that policy often dovetails with the interests of those who donate to campaigns. Using personal funds, then, makes things feel more transparent.
But is it unfair to rule out West as a serious contender?
I will die for the art what I believe in and the art ain’t always gonna be polite.
Arguably, the size of West’s ego isn’t a far cry from that of Trump. However, as many people of colour have said before me, to have an ego at all is in direct contradiction to sly racist expectations that people of colour should be subservient – a hangover from the days of slavery. Not only that, West’s dignity is loud, abrasive and often wholly irreverent.
For this reason he will always be a polarizing figure in a white supremacist setting as he doesn’t fit into Anglo structures of ‘acceptable’ modes of self-confidence. The world of politics – certainly in the west – is largely dominated by white people in a structure they created, so West’s access to it is limited. It’s doubtful as to whether or not voters will give him credit enough to temper his impulsiveness and up his diplomacy.
I’m not no politician, bro!
It is debatable whether outsiders make better politicians than those who are in it for the long haul.
The upside of being an outsider is that they are a wild card. Many seasoned voters become jaded after watching elected officials abuse power, renege on pre-election promises and fail to meet the expectations of the public. Career politicians are constantly viewed as being out for themselves and, as such, the perception of them suffers.
Entering top-level positions without decades of dealing and compromise means that outsiders automatically start without the assumption of corruption. There is space there, too, for such figures to more easily navigate and traverse deals with multiple parties as there is no history hindering negotiations. However, like any person who gets thrown in the deep end, outsiders suffer from the instant elevation to power without the experience that comes with the slow building of profile.
Ricky Muir was a surprise outcome at the Australian federal election in 2013. His maiden speech was thoughtful, critical and on point. His party, the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party, got into power through the complicated workings of the preferential system.
Because of his working-class background, the public seems to have taken a liking to Muir. This may also have been bolstered by the fact that, before reaching Parliament, he turned down an invitation to speak with the Prime Minister because he couldn’t get time off work. He represents a more authentic, relatable version of the ‘true blue Aussie’.
However, Muir has suffered from his lack of experience, most notably succumbing to pressure from the Coalition to restore temporary protection visas in exchange for laws stating that children no longer be held in detention.
We the millenials, bro. This is a new mentality.
In the most recent UK election, Ed Milliband found himself in a position usually reserved for boy bands and Twilight actors. Young girls, in particular, began fawning over him en masse. The younger generation created and trended ‘Milliband af’ which, while it didn’t have much impact on the election results, may be because this generation can’t vote. It’s remiss to think this sort of involvement won’t factor hugely in later elections.
Scott Ludlam is an instance, closer to home, of the power of the shifting landscape. Though his final Senate speech before WA’s Senate re-election in 2014 was to a largely empty Senate, it struck a chord with people on the internet and its recording subsequently went viral. The impact on his public profile was huge.
Similarly, Mhairi Black, a 20-year-old lawmaker (the youngest in 350 years) made waves with her maiden speech. Politics being a profession that has often favoured men over women, this sort of public upsurge of support is one way in which marginalised and largely unrepresented groups will be able to access validation and support outside of the traditionally, very oppressive political sphere. This sort of follower base will ensure that women and marginalised groups will gather more clout as the more entrenched politicians will be increasingly less able to ignore it.
Watching a YouTube video or following someone on Twitter isn’t unlike voting. Every action – though small – adds to an accumulation of social capital. More and more, public figures are being held accountable via social media as it has the capability, more so than ever before, of effectively and somewhat democratically gauging the social consciousness. In the future, I can easily imagine politicians being launched by their longstanding YouTube commentary and campaigns run by a combination of Kickstarter equivalents and social media. If this is true, it will be a genuine shake-up for entrenched two party systems around the world.
Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.
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