2020, The Founding Fathers, and Kanye West
American politics is the story of binary choice. On one side, we have the Republicans. The GOP, as it is often called. On the other side, we have the Democrats. There have been several versions of this conflict between two parties, but these two parties have been the status quo since 1854.
Now, there are other parties, of course. There is the Libertarian Party, as well as the Green Party, and the Constitution Party. However, to call any of these parties relevant to serious electoral politics is simply false. The Libertarian Party is the most successful out of the three, but it only polls around 2–3% nationally for its presidential nominees. It is also possible to run without a party, as an Independent, but this is even less appealing to most voters than running with a third party.
Thus, as it stands, and has stood for many years now, there exist only two political parties of any importance. You may have your pick of one or the other.
Now, 2020 has been a year of strange and unprecedented events, so it is no surprise that the election would contain its own surprises as well. This surprise has been Kanye West. West is a famous and renown music producer and artists, with 21 Grammy’s and 69 nominations, making him one of the most acclaimed singer/songwriters of all time.
With all of this success in the music industry, West apparently felt this was the year to get involved with presidential politics. On July 4, 2020, West posted an announcement on his Twitter account announcing his intention to run for President. Now, this is highly irregular in the realm of modern politics for several reasons. First, West made his announcement only 4 months before Election Day. Most candidates declared their intention to run up to a year and a half in advance, sometimes longer. The road to the presidency for most candidates starts years in advance, as there is much groundwork to lay before even announcing one’s intention to run! West apparently decided to forgo much of this and just cut in line, as it were.
Secondly, this announcement is coming long after primary season. This is because West is running with his own party, the Birthday Party. When asked why he chose the name for the party, he replied, “Because when we win, its everyone’s birthday.” Making a new party for your campaign is out of the ordinary, but it certainly fits in with the theme of West’s campaign.
Lastly, West has been unable to get on the ballot in many states, as a result of registering to run so late in election season. As a result, many who are voting for West are writing him in, as opposed to choosing his name on the ballot. Again, very unusual, but West seems to have not shied away from unusual methods in politics.
On top of all of this, he has run no advertising at all, or created any of the usual political bumper stickers, yard signs, etc. that politicians traditionally use to help gain campaign recognition and support. He has done very few interviews about his stances on issues, and has held only one campaign rally. As far as marketing goes, West seems to be relying almost exclusively on social media and name recognition to garner votes.
All of this combined has resulted in one of the strangest bids for office in recent memory. West appears to be the anti-politician, rejecting nearly every tenant of traditional campaign strategy. However, it is exactly this factor that makes the Kanye West 2020 campaign so staunchly and unabashedly American.
The founding fathers of the United States were clear in their opposition to political parties. George Washington famously warned against their dangers in his farewell address at the end of his second term:
“I have already intimated to you the danger of parties in the State, with particular reference to the founding of them on geographical discriminations. Let me now take a more comprehensive view, and warn you in the most solemn manner against the baneful effects of the spirit of party generally.
This spirit, unfortunately, is inseparable from our nature, having its root in the strongest passions of the human mind. It exists under different shapes in all governments, more or less stifled, controlled, or repressed; but, in those of the popular form, it is seen in its greatest rankness, and is truly their worst enemy.
The alternate domination of one faction over another, sharpened by the spirit of revenge, natural to party dissension, which in different ages and countries has perpetrated the most horrid enormities, is itself a frightful despotism. But this leads at length to a more formal and permanent despotism. The disorders and miseries which result gradually incline the minds of men to seek security and repose in the absolute power of an individual; and sooner or later the chief of some prevailing faction, more able or more fortunate than his competitors, turns this disposition to the purposes of his own elevation, on the ruins of public liberty.”
Hamilton referred to political parties as “the most fatal disease”. Madison wrote about the topic in Federalist 10:
“It will be found, indeed, on a candid review of our situation, that some of the distresses under which we labor have been erroneously charged on the operation of our governments; but it will be found, at the same time, that other causes will not alone account for many of our heaviest misfortunes; and, particularly, for that prevailing and increasing distrust of public engagements, and alarm for private rights, which are echoed from one end of the continent to the other. These must be chiefly, if not wholly, effects of the unsteadiness and injustice with which a factious spirit has tainted our public administrations.”
The warnings against the dangers of political parties was not without reason. The founding fathers knew that political parties are good for little more than inciting tribalism, encouraging feuds, and tearing people apart. They are little more than label-creators, useful only for branding candidates.
As an intellectual exercise, I would encourage the reader to think of a single substantial benefit from having political parties. I suspect that the reader will find that few in any benefits can be found.
Political tribalism is certainly detrimental, but there has been a recent development in society which has magnified this problem considerably. This is the advent of social media websites. Social media, and more broadly the internet as a whole, has become increasing important in the way that people communicate. This includes communication about politics. Social media has proved effectively at enflaming the underlying problems of political discourse in America and making the problem that much worse.
Interaction on the internet takes away any human traits in the interaction itself. There is another human being hiding behind a username, although we often don’t remember that fact. When this is removed, there are few barriers left as to what behavior might be deemed unacceptable. This fosters feelings of resentment and bitterness among those on opposite sides of the political aisle.
In sum, the modern political landscape, along with the advent of the internet, has turned into exactly into the toxic environment the founding fathers warned us against.
One of the few exceptions to this landscape is Kanye West. He is running with a party, granted, but the party was created just for his campaign, making him effectively independent. West ran his campaign essentially on his own, outside the entire political system.
Furthermore, he was subject to no primary process whereby political parties select the candidates they would like to put up for election. Even the third parties fall prey to this sort of behavior. By running effectively as an Independent, West avoided primaries altogether.
The founding fathers never wanted politics to become what it is today. His campaign is much closer to the kind of campaign the founding fathers envisioned. Someone decides to run for office, so their name is put on the ballot. If they get enough votes to win, they win. That is the limit to how complex the political process should be.
This is what makes West’s campaign, for all its various quirks, the most truly American presidential campaign in recent memory. He wasn’t subject to any party-exclusive primary. He was not subject to a political label, branding him as being on one side of the issues or the other. He wasn’t subject to the system. He stayed out of the partisanship and the politically-driven tribalism.
The platform he ran on, the way he conducted his campaign, and the ultimate result of the campaign are secondary to the fundamental point that there was something very different about the way West decided to run for president. Of course, he did not win, but the intrigue was not in the destination, but in the journey. Should the American people ask for more campaigns like the one conducted by West? I would hope so. Political parties lead to little good, as the founding fathers knew. It is long past time for a new norm in political campaigns. But first, the American people must ask for change.
Originally published at https://www.thejwrich.com on November 8, 2020.