Trigger Warning: This article contains reference to Bipolar Disorder. If you or someone you know is affected by the mental health issues or content discussed here, please call the Samaritan’s 24 hour hotline on 116 123.
By Rhianna Hurren-Myers
“We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States. #2020VISION”.
It was deemed impossible, but 2020 has just become even crazier.
On the 5th July 2020, just four months before the vote, rap superstar Kanye West announced via Twitter his bid to become President of the United States. It’s a long-anticipated political move dating back to the 2015 VMAs, but Kanye seems determined that his ‘Birthday Party’ are up for the job. Why? “Because when we win, it’s everyone’s birthday”.
He may be the underdog (check out his odds if you don’t believe me) but Kanye’s #2020VISION of Jay-Z as Vice-President and Kim Kardashian as First Lady may well become a reality this November. With that somewhat terrifying thought in mind, it’s time to unpack the true personal and political implications his presidential campaign could have.
On Sunday 19th June, at the Exquis Event Center in North Charleston, South Carolina, Kanye walked onto the stage of his first campaign rally wearing a bullet-proof vest with “2020” shaved into his hair. His audience, who had all signed a COVID-19 liability release form, were forced into total silence as Kanye unleashed an hour-long speech on topics including making marijuana free to all, religion and abortion. At best, he announced that every American having a baby will receive one million dollars. At worst, he claimed that abolitionist Harriet Tubman never really freed slaves, just “had the slaves go work for other white people”.
The core of Kanye West’s branding has always revolved around his outspoken and chaotic personality, stemming as far back as the 2009 MTV Music Video Awards when he grabbed the mic off of Taylor Swift. He has met twice with Donald Trump since 2016 – supposedly about prison reform, but really both men spent the time showering one another in compliments.
More recently, he compared his mother-in-law Kris Jenner to Kim Jong-Un, revealed that him and Kim K nearly aborted their first daughter North, and claimed that African-American slavery was and still is a “choice”. As such, his ‘stream of consciousness’ tweet-storms and sporadic statements have garnered serious cause for concern from both his family and his fans.
“I hate being bi-polar, it’s awesome”
His controversial decisions have almost always guaranteed him front-page headlines, but Kanye’s personal mental health issues are buried much deeper beneath the surface of public awareness.
In 2016, Kanye was diagnosed with bipolar disorder which is linked to extreme mood swings. Since announcing his bid for presidency, many have suggested that we are witnessing one of his “manic periods”, which, according to the NHS website, can include having lots of energy, ambitious plans and ideas.
The Wednesday following his South Carolina campaign rally, Kanye’s wife Kim Kardashian released a public statement via Instagram about her husband’s mental health disorder.
“As many of you know, Kanye has bi-polar disorder. Anyone who has this or has a loved one in their life who does, knows how incredibly complicated and painful it is to understand. … Those who are close with Kanye know his heart and understand his words sometimes do not align with his intentions.”
Whilst she gave no mention of the specific, harmful comments Kanye had made, her comments do shed some light on what it’s like to live with a loved one with the condition. Kim discussed this further in her 2019 interview for Vogue, where she revealed that Kanye does not take any medication for his bipolar disorder – “being on medication is not really an option, because it just changes who he is.”
This becomes more complicated when considering Kanye’s conversation with David Letterman in 2018, where he compared bipolar disorder to having a sprained ankle.
“This is like a sprained brain, like having a sprained ankle. And if someone has a sprained ankle, you’re not going to push on him more. With us, once our brain gets to a point of spraining, people do everything to make it worse…they do everything possible. They got us to that point and they do everything to make it worse.”
With this pressure metaphor in mind, it is incredibly concerning how much attention his bid for presidency has just given him. Since his announcement, many have questioned the true costs of his presidential campaign, not only on his career, but on his personal life too.
A ‘Cult of Personality’ gone too far?
Beyond his mental health conditions, however, there are serious political implications to his campaign which cannot be overlooked. Kanye West is not the first celebrity to run for president, and he definitely won’t be the last, but in the words of CNN:
“This isn’t a game. We aren’t at an MTV awards show. Nor are we living in a time where West could be seen as a fun distraction. Rather, we are living in dangerous times that demand thoughtful, informed leadership — not another celebrity fueled by his own ego to get attention”.
So what exactly are Kanye’s true intentions with a presidency campaign? At this stage, it’s probably worth pointing to the history books – there has never before been an elected US president from a third-party. This makes his chances at being the next POTUS all the more slim, especially given the timing of his announcement having left him four months to do the work that Biden and Trump have been doing for four years.
However, as Neil Sroka explained to Hollywood Life, the true damage of independent presidential campaigns falls on the candidates’ opponents. Given Kanye’s open support of Donald Trump, some say he’s attempting to steal away Biden’s Democrat voters. Others, however, feel like Kanye has a good chance of damaging Trump’s campaign by attracting Republican voters himself.
Could Kanye be genuinely trying to split the vote, or, as is perhaps more likely, are we simply witnessing a publicity attempt to self-promote his long-anticipated album?
On Tuesday, 3rd November, I guess we’ll find out.