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What Kanye West’s bid for president says about America

President Donald Trump hugs rapper Kanye West during a meeting in the Oval office - Credit: Getty Images

BONNIE GREER says the 2020 election in America could make it the year of the ‘third party candidates’.

Section One of Article Two of the United States Constitution sets forth the eligibility requirements for serving as president of the United States:

‘No Person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.’

So if you fit those criteria, you could become president of the United States and the most powerful person in the world. The beauty of the Republic is that anyone can lead it.

It is easy to see where this idea of the citizen-president came from. The Roman republic was a high ideal for some of the Founding Fathers. And their ideal hero from that republic was Lucius Quinctius, better know as Cincinnatus.

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He was a patrician farmer who, despite his age, came off his farm to save Rome in its hour of need. He gained complete control of the state and, when it was clear to him that all was in good hands, he returned quietly to his farm.

An example of humility, civic virtue, modesty and service to the greater good, his leadership was the ideal. George Washington was seen, in his day, to be a kind of Cincinnatus, a soldier and a wealthy man, who left his life of luxury to fight for his country.

Several organisations took their inspiration from the Roman farmer-turned-dictator, including the Society of the Cincinnati, of which George Washington himself was the first president. Its motto is: Omnia reliquit servare rempublicam (‘He relinquished everything to save the Republic’). Its members have included notable political and military leaders, including 23 of the 39 signatories to the Constitution. The Ohioan city of Cincinnati was named after the society.

The American Dream is not about some prince taking the levers of power, but of a Cincinnatus. A guy who comes out from the political equivalent of nowhere to save the nation. Somewhere in himself, even Donald Trump must have seen Cincinnatus when he looked into the mirror. And ‘Drain the Swamp’ might have even been a suitable rallying cry for the old Roman himself.

Deep inside every American lies the belief that even he – and increasingly she – can become president. This ideal is a necessary part of the American mythos, and has led, no doubt, to Kanye West’s apparent decision to run for president in November.

His tweet in the early hours of July 5 could have been sent by Cincinnatus himself: ‘We must now realize the promise of America by trusting God, unifying our vision and building our future. I am running for president of the United States ! #2020VISION’

There exist photographs from a visit by West to the Oval Office in 2018 which shows him hugging and grasping Trump – an experience the notoriously germaphobe president must have found terrifying.

But in a sense the fawning and jumping up and down that West did that day seemed to fit both him and Trump – Trump, because he could demonstrate that he would allow an African American person to put his arms around his neck in solidarity; and West got to show that he was welcome at the highest levels.

It is really not enough to say that my fellow Chicagoan is a member of ‘the church of always be closing’, always be looking for that next opportunity.

West sees himself as a rebel, and a bit of a cut above.

Through the Wire, his brilliant debut single from 2003, is a kind of incantation of black history that West rapped with his jaw wired following a car accident. It demonstrates his erudition, as befits the son of a university professor.

And Donald Trump has certainly demonstrated that anybody, from anywhere can be elected president. But the questions for West – if his candidacy is genuine – are many.

First, he must register his intention with the Federal Election Commission (FCE) and must meet state-specific guidelines to appear on the ballot as a candidate. He has already missed some states’ deadlines.

The states run the presidential election because it is the states that elect the president through the arcane electoral college. People who intend to actually win the presidency usually do not enter the race four months before the election.

West has said he did not vote in 2016 but that if he had, it would have been for Trump, and he wore a Make America Great Again hat when the pair met in the Oval Office in 2018.

But he has lost confidence in the president during the coronavirus pandemic, especially after reports that he fled to an underground bunker during recent protests outside the White House. ‘It looks like one big mess to me,’ West told Forbes when discussing his presidential bid. ‘I don’t like that I caught wind that he hid in the bunker.’

West has said that if Trump drops out, he will run as a Republican. The big problem here is that the party would have to select him.

Otherwise, he will have to run as an independent, even – if he misses deadlines – as a ‘write-in’: a candidate whose name does not appear on the ballot but for whom voters may vote by writing in their name.

No write-in has ever won the presidency. But no reality TV star had ever won either.

But the real question is whether ‘Ye’ can ruin it for Joe Biden and in effect re-elect Trump. Or vice-versa. If Biden and Trump are running close in, for example, the battleground state of Michigan, West could be the decider as to who gets the final tally. Often in the US the third party candidate has effectively helped the Republicans and hindered the Democrats.

Ralph Nader ran as a Green candidate in 2000 against then vice president Al Gore and the governor of Texas George W. Bush. Bush won the key state of Florida by less than 600 votes. If even a small percentage of Nader’s 100,000 Floridians had voted for Gore, he would have been president of the United States.

Many voted for the Green candidate Jill Stein in 2016 when it looked like Hillary Clinton would be elected – effectively making their own ‘plague on both your houses’ gesture to the Democrat and Republican candidates.

It looked like 2020 would be much of a year for third party candidates. This year was supposed to be effectively a referendum for the US, the question – ‘Do you want four more years of Donald John Trump?’

The fear of many is that West – if he is serious – gives voters another anti-Trump choice and could hurt Biden. But 2020 still feels like a year when voters will really want to make their vote count decisively – for or against Trump.

So can West hurt Trump? Although he has renounced his previous support of Trump, West is no progressive. He is against ‘choice’ for women and describes himself as a Christian. Many older African Americans tend to be culturally conservative. They resonate to ‘bootstrap’ capitalists like West. If they and their white counterparts see a redemption story here, it could be very interesting for Kanye Omari West, for the world, and above all for the United States. Again.

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