After donning a flak jacket and working vainly for nearly four years on Mideast peace, the opioid crisis, the federal bureaucracy, the criminal justice system, the second Great Depression, the novel coronavirus pandemic, and the United States’s relations with leaders of China, Russia, and Apple, it has come to this: Jared Kushner has been put in charge of This Kanye Thing.
The American death toll from Covid-19 had just topped 160,000 souls last weekend when these two precious sons—a man who once proclaimed himself to be Yeezus and a man who once owned a skyscraper with a giant red “666” emblazoned on its side—hunkered down together in Telluride, Colorado, to discuss “Black empowerment” and also possibly how to rig the reelection of Donald Trump.
We are by now familiar with these two phenomena separately: noted idiosyncratic rapper Kanye West’s “incredibly complicated and painful” struggle with bipolar disorder—as his wife, Kim Kardashian, put it—and noted nepotism hire Jared Kushner’s comically incompetent evil plans. American culture, in which we are content-consumers rather than citizens, now shows us these phenomena colliding in a horrifying fashion.
One month and several lifetimes ago, West announced he would no longer shock people by supporting Donald Trump, opting instead to shock people by running for president himself. In virtually no time, reporters were able to establish which pro-Trump Republican politicos were attempting to get West on the presidential ballot in Wisconsin, Ohio, Arkansas, Vermont, and Montana—Montana!—among other states.
“We have no knowledge of what Kanye West is doing or who is doing it for him,” the Trump campaign’s spokesman said at the time. But last weekend, indefatigable Trump cheerleader and former aide Sam Nunberg had no qualms about bragging to The Washington Post that he’d introduced Trump in 2014 to the GOP pol who got West on the ballot in Arkansas last month. To Nunberg, running West was a coup for Republicans. “Does the Biden campaign want Kanye West campaigning in Cleveland, in Cincinnati, in Milwaukee?” he asked. “I don’t think they do.”
Into this maelstrom of racial animus and nihilism strides Kushner, a bloodless man possessed of a singular genius for locating new petards with which he can hoist himself. Last Thursday, Kanye got on Colorado’s ballot; within 48 hours, he’d gotten a private audience in the state with the permanently wincing White House senior adviser, who started his political career by trying to establish backchannel Trump communications with Russia and who most recently was excoriated for completely fucking up the U.S. coronavirus response—possibly, it was reported by Vanity Fair, because he reasoned the virus “was going to be relegated to Democratic states” and Trump “could blame those governors” for the resulting mass deaths.
If one could bracket out the immediately obvious evils of manipulating a man in a mental health crisis for maximum political gain, using Kanye to halfheartedly rig an election would be the perfect Kushner tasking. He has grand ideas about his abilities, as we’ve seen. But this is probably closest to his sweet spot: chumming with celebrities and concocting the stupidest scheme imaginable to keep his extended family’s grift going just a bit longer.
And stupid it is. West clearly can’t file in enough states to be president: He can’t even muster the energy or the organization to appear as serious as joke presidential candidates like Vermin Supreme, the Naked Cowboy, and Tulsi Gabbard. (His campaign reportedly missed Wisconsin’s deadline for signatures by 14 seconds and is now arguing that the 59 seconds after 5 p.m. do not, in fact, occur after 5 p.m.) The states where he qualifies aren’t even all battleground states, and it’s not assured in any way, shape, or form that West will peel off voters who might have otherwise cast ballots for Joe Biden against Trump: The meager polling suggests the rapper barely registers in the race, polling at 2 percent with all registered voters as well as with African-American voters, and notably does not diminish Biden’s 9-point national lead over Trump.
But in their cynically white point of view, Kushner and the GOP still imagine West can pull votes that will be significant to Trump—not enough to tip battleground states, perhaps, but maybe enough to keep the popular vote close and contest the results in decisive states and precincts. On one hand, this is completely unnecessary, given that Republicans have lost the popular vote in four of the last five presidential elections but held the White House for 12 of those 20 years. On the other hand, this is Jared Kushner we’re talking about, the heir to a vast fortune amassed by his father, Charles, who went to federal prison for trying and failing to blackmail his own family, utilizing a video of his brother-in-law in flagrante delicto with a prostitute that Kushner had provided—a crime that even Chris Christie, himself a corruption-filled New Jersey delicacy, called “one of the most loathsome, disgusting crimes” he had ever prosecuted.
Nevertheless, the Kushners and Trumps have won unlikely victories before in spite of their self-sabotaging greed and stupidity. “I have to say it would be perfectly dystopian if 2020 ended with Trump as president thanks to Kanye,” my editor said to me as we discussed this topic. Of course it feels dystopian now; this time next year, though, it may feel like the inexorable march of history towards glorious Trumpism-Kushnerism.