Kanye West visited the White House on Thursday to speak with President Trump about prison reform, manufacturing jobs, and violence in West’s hometown of Chicago. It wasn’t a surprising move — Kanye has spent the last few months complimenting Trump on Twitter and making pro-Trump speeches on Saturday Night Live, and he’s already met with Trump once before.
But even though the most headline-grabbing moments from the meeting involved Kanye’s extended rant about everything from mental illness and the 13th Amendment, the bizarre event shed further light on the rapper’s admiration for the president: Namely, that Kanye idolizes Trump not for what he believes or what he’s done, but because of how he looks when he’s doing it.
During the meeting — and as he’s done in public often recently — Kanye wore the most famous marker of a Trump supporter: the red MAGA hat. It’s a hat that’s now come to symbolize white rage and racial violence, but one that remains popular, even among young teenagers.
Kanye defended his decision to wear it by claiming that it gave him a certain kind of power. “They tried to scare me to not wear this hat. My own friends,” Kanye told Trump and the flurry of reporters around them. “But this hat, it gives me power in a way. My dad and my mom separated, so I didn’t have a lot of male energy in my home. And also I’m married to a family that — not a lot of male energy going on,” he added, referencing the Kardashians. “It’s beautiful though.”
He then compared the difference between a MAGA hat and Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan.
I love Hillary. I love everyone, right? But the campaign “I’m With Her,” that just made me feel as a guy, that didn’t get to see my dad all the time, like a guy that could play catch with his son. It was something about when I put this hat on, it made me feel like Superman. You made a Superman — that’s my favorite superhero — and you made a Superman cape for me also as a guy that looks up to you, that looks up to Ralph Lauren, that looks up to American industry guys.
Kanye has clearly bought into the in-your-face machismo that Trump’s campaign merchandise represents, but that wasn’t the only element of Trump’s aesthetic Kanye showed admiration for.
At one point in the meeting, Kanye showed Trump a rendering of a potential hydrogen-powered plane that he said would be built by Apple and called the “iPlane 1.” “This is what our president should be flying in,” he said.
What I need Saturday Night Live to improve on, and what I need the liberals to improve on, is if he don’t look good, we don’t look good. This is our president! He has to be the freshest, the flyest, the flyest planes, the best factories, and we have to make our core be empowered. 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.
A rapper who has previously criticized one president by saying that he “doesn’t care about black people” suddenly sidling up to one who has refused to condemn white supremacists is disorienting, but it’s not entirely surprising that Kanye has found a hero in Trump.
Trump is a man best known for slapping his name on anything he possibly can, from skyscrapers to steak sold at Sharper Image. His $100 million penthouse is a marble-and-gold mess, a vulgar knockoff of the Palace of Versailles that one writer called “dictator chic.” (In a Trumpian coincidence, Kanye held his rehearsal dinner at the real Versailles.) Trump’s overarching aesthetic is artifice — beneath every crystal chandelier and structurally unnecessary Greek column is very little of actual substance.
But to Kanye, this doesn’t make Trump a phony — it makes him a master of personal branding. As Bijan Stephen wrote in a recent piece for the Nation, “Kanye’s love of Trump grows out of his inability to process Trumpism as an ideology of real consequence, as something more than aesthetics.”
When Kanye encourages Trump to be the “freshest” and travel in the “flyest planes,” it’s because of his unique interest in image control. It’s a through-line in the narrative about his marriage to Kim Kardashian — he is in total control of what she wears, how she does her hair, and what she posts to Instagram. His fashion brand Yeezy made headlines when Kanye seemed to value minute choreography over the safety of his models and the experience of his guests.
It isn’t just the fact that both Trump and Kanye are pop-culture celebrities hungry for the spotlight that binds them. It’s that both are obsessed with grandiosity, or rather the appearance thereof. The fraudulent prestige that won over the average Trump voter has, strangely, also captivated one of his peers.