Over the past few days, two deeply damaged celebrities have injected themselves into the public discourse (again), pledging their support for another deeply damaged celebrity, who happens to be president of the United States.
Kanye West appeared in a truly bizarre meeting with Donald Trump at the White House last week, where he expounded upon alternate universes he exists in, Trump masculine energy, and the super powers MAGA hats give him.
“I love Hillary, I love everyone,” said Kanye. “But the campaign “I’m With Her” just didn’t make 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 us Superman, that’s my favorite superhero, and you made a Superman cape for me.”
Roseanne Barr, who was kicked off of her own show for comparing black people to monkeys, went on the Joe Rogan podcast days later where she claimed Donald Trump was the “anti corruption” candidate and went after social justice warriors and “their patronizing shite” for believing she was “a racist and a scumbag”.
These appearances were not coordinated or even overtly related, but the fact that both celebrities are getting so much attention is a sign that something in America is deeply, deeply wrong.
I am not a fan of censorship for the sole reason that I do not believe one group of people should ever have the power to stop another from airing their views. Once a precedent is set, everyone becomes fair game and it is only a matter of time before governments begin to suppress political opposition. I support Roseanne Barr, and Kanye West’s right to speak their minds, and every other bonkers conspiracy theorist out there as long as they are not inciting violence or trying to stop other people from speaking out.
That being said, one of the major problems with America, a country with virtually unparalleled freedom of speech laws, is that every lunatic gets a spot in the public discourse. This amazing yet extremely dangerous aspect of American democracy means that the system can be destroyed by itself. And that might just be what we are witnessing under Donald Trump.
Just as completely deregulated financial markets collapse after the biggest players destroy all the competition and rig the system to benefit themselves, too much freedom ultimately means no freedom for everyone in the end. This flaw in the system was mercilessly exploited by Donald Trump, a master showman and grifter who understands the power of celebrity and the disproportionate influence famous people wield in American society. Trump was famous for being famous, and he translated that into tangible political power. It should not be remarkable to anyone who has studied history that Trump has gone after the press so rabidly. He has threatened to revoke the license of “Fake News Networks” (ie. the outlets that do real journalism) because he doesn’t like what they say about him. This is how democracy end, and those fighting Trumpism tooth and nail are doing so to prevent the end of what we all know to be America.
It is crucial that we try to understand how we found ourselves in this predicament. The mere fact that a large percentage of the population voted for an obvious conman like Donald Trump during a soaring economy is extremely troubling. Yes, there are deep economic problems in America that went unaddressed by the Obama administration (largely because Republicans wouldn’t allow the President to tackle them), but America was not a country on the brink of collapse as say, Germany was when Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933.
So what the hell happened?
There are a myriad of reasons why Trump rose to power, all of them worth exploring seriously. From racism to economic disenfranchisement, there was a perfect storm that allowed Trump to be successful with his populist rhetoric. But a large factor that many Americans do not want to look at too closely is the extraordinary narcissism that exists in mainstream culture — a culture that is promoted by celebrities and milked by greedy corporations for profit at almost any cost.
American style capitalism is built on the axiom that greed is good, that profit is moral and anything that makes money can be justified. Roseanne Barr has been mentally unwell for years as anyone who has followed her on Twitter can attest to. She made horrifically racist comments before her show was rebooted (she tweeted in December of 2013 that “Susan Rice is a man with big swinging ape balls). ABC knew this and yet still decided to pay her millions of dollars to revive the popular 90’s sitcom. Barr is a controversial character, and controversy sells in America like nothing else.
Kanye West is another seriously psychologically damaged celebrity whose talent has been exploited by everyone around him despite the very obvious signs he is unwell. West is hugely talented, yet his public meltdowns and incomprehensible ramblings indicate he suffers from a number of personality disorders that clearly need addressing.
Trump, Barr and West have all made their fortunes in a society that has encouraged their limitless narcissism, bad behavior and dysfunction. The more outrageous they are, the more money they make and the more power they accumulate. It is a sordid complex that continues to feed off of itself with no end in sight. Trump continues to push the boundaries on what is politically acceptable, knowing that there is no punishment for what he says. Roseanne Barr is making a comeback of sorts because a right wing network of anti-PC media outlets excuse her racism in the name of fighting social justice warriors. Kanye West will continue to make hundreds of millions of dollars while descending further into an abyss of narcissistic delusion because everyone around him is still making money.
This tragic aspect of American society will not disappear any time soon because it requires painful self examination that cuts to the heart of what it means to be an American. In a country where everyone wants to make a fortune in as short a time as possible by any means necessary, thinking about long term issues is simply not a priority. The country is stuck in a perpetual state of adolescence that, as of now, it does not have the tools to transcend.
Perhaps the election of Donald Trump will finally spur the country into action and help it live up to the ideals laid out by the founding fathers who so desperately wanted to create a Republic that would stand the test of time. There are too many problems facing America for it to exist in this liminal for much longer, and it really is time to grow up.
Ben Cohen is the editor and founder of The Daily Banter. He lives in Washington DC where he does podcasts, teaches Martial Arts, and tries to be a good father. He would be extremely disturbed if you took him too seriously.