Perspective: Kanye West and the politics of expedience
Some Republicans have ignored Ye’s antisemitism because he had other views they like. But conservatism must adhere to its foundational principles
Kanye West’s antisemitic statements are the least interesting thing about what has happened in the past two weeks. As a Jew, I’ve heard them repeatedly, and there’s nothing new here.
What makes West’s comments consequential are the dominoes that they set off across the American conservative world. Soon after West tweeted his intention to go “death con 3” on Jewish people, The Daily Wire’s Candace Owens rushed to defend him from accusations that he crossed a line.
“If you are an honest person, you did not think this tweet was antisemitic. You did not think he wrote this tweet because he hates or wants to genocide Jewish people,” Owens said on her show. “If you’re an honest person, when you read this tweet, you had no idea what he was talking about.”
That may be true for some people; West, who now goes by “Ye,” says a lot of nonsensical things. But because of other comments he has made, most people saw the hateful tweet (since deleted) for what it is, and numerous companies have severed ties with him. Not Owens, who has had her own controversy over saying in 2019 that Adolph Hitler’s strategy would have been OK if he’d stuck to making “Germany great and have things run well.”
What is contemptible about the West saga and Owens’ unflinching defense is that Ben Shapiro, her Daily Wire boss, let it go as simply a difference of opinion. “Let me just say this: Candace and I disagree about a wide variety of topics. One of the features, not the bugs, of Daily Wire+ is the fact that we openly disagree about all of this stuff,” Shapiro said, after denouncing West’s comments as “pure rote antisemitism.”
Also caught up in this row was Tucker Carlson of Fox News who featured West after he wore a “White Lives Matter” shirt at a Paris fashion show. Despite West’s well-known instability — he has said he has bipolar disorder — Tucker ran a much-hyped interview with him that had been shorn of several antisemitic bits later revealed by Vice.
In the leaked excerpts, West says he would rather his children celebrate Hanukkah instead of Kwanzaa because “at least it will come with some financial engineering.” In another, West accuses Margaret Sanger of creating Planned Parenthood, alongside the Ku Klux Klan, “to control the Jew population,” parroting the conspiracies of antisemitic extremists who say that African Americans are the true descendants of the 12 tribes of Israel.
Carlson hyped the interview with no mention of West’s most outrageous departures from reality. It was easier (and better for ratings) to take on political correctness and identity politics than to focus on the most important thing the interview revealed, which is that this celebrity many conservatives admire is a deeply unstable person who holds loathsome views.
Similarly, Shapiro’s equanimity in the face of the controversy is a tremendous letdown. He inspired a generation of young Jews across college campuses, myself included, to proudly stand behind our religion and helped many of us thoughtfully articulate positions about Israel, Zionism and antisemitism on campus. Shapiro’s do-nothing approach with Owens, beyond saying essentially “agree to disagree,” is an abrogation of views he’s challenged for years.
It’s hard to see how the latest controversy ends well for either West or his supporters. Meanwhile, the saga is highlighting a tension pulling American conservatism apart at the seams.
Many of the relationships conservatives have forged to combat political incorrectness and wokeness were built on foundations of expedience, not principle — West included.
Conservatives lined up to embrace West pinching their noses at his more noxious beliefs because he mouthed the right words when it came to condemning liberalism and progressive ideology. They have ignored West’s antisemitism because they believe it is offset by what the singer brings to the fight against their common liberal enemy. We’ve seen this before within conservatism: The enemy of my enemy is my friend.
That is not a sustainable basis for nurturing and growing the conservative movement at a precarious time in American politics.
American conservatives must think long and hard about which bedfellows they are choosing and at what cost.
Ari Blaff is a news writer for National Review and contributing writer at Deseret. His work has also appeared in Tablet, Quillette, City Journal and Newsweek. On Twitter, he is @ariblaff.