So last night, Kanye proved once and for all that he has no class through a single action which demonstrated an unbelievable lack of grace. Taylor Swift looked so demoralized and her speech had been all about feelings of being surprised to be accepted by this particular voting bloc, when he insulted her by implying plainly that she didn’t deserve the award. It was remarkably cruel of him to do this to her. I really thought he learned his lesson from this, when he wrote this, but apparently not.
UPDATE: In the comments section, Jim agrees with me (and I imagine most of America) when I say that what Kanye West did last night was disgraceful. But he worries from perusing the internet so far that racism will make the condemnation against Kanye more severe and wider spread than the condemnation of the comparably rude Congressman Joe Wilson last week:
I’m saying that the disdain towards Kanye is 1000 fold what it was for Wilson. Just as you can attest here, it’s turned into a race thing. While I don’t have solid evidence of such, I’d bet that many of the same people that are asking for Kanye’s head and shouting for boycott are the same people that stand up in support of Wilson’s loud mouth. Show me any good press that Kanye gets out of this and compare it to the good press that Wilson has had since then. I bet that you will not find a single good word about Kanye – not one.
I agree that racism will be a factor in the assessment of Kanye West from racists. And obviously the same racists who hold President Obama in contempt will viscerally support Wilson and hate on Kanye out of their own predisposition to see blacks disgraced and humiliated whether it be through their being unjustly called a liar (Obama) or justly called a miserable, self-absorbed, petty, petulant, cruel narcissist megalomaniac (West).
But, nonetheless, Wilson’s support will come from the fact that he’s on a team with much more at stake. Republicans stick by Republicans just like Democrats stick by Democrats. Not that it makes anything any better but Wilson’s support will be from those invested already in defeating the health care proposals in Congress right now. And they will support him because they’d rather not throw overboard someone on their side who was standing up for their opposition.
In other words, if there weren’t larger public policy and party stakes or even if supporting Wilson obstructed their larger public policy and party stakes, they’d hang him out to dry in a heartbeat. In other words, right wing support for Wilson isn’t (for the most part) just double standard racism or sympathy for him individually—it’s political alliance. To the extent that Wilson got inflamed and out of order precisely on Obama’s attempt to dispel hate-sewing xenophobic rumors, then yes, those who support him may be a little more racially motivated. And, yes, there is a dark, disquietingly sizable, ugly portion of the Republican core that seethes with deep racial hatred and sees everything through that lens. But for the most part, Wilson’s support is political.
But Kanye also will have his own defenders, I assure you. I have already read just among my Facebook friends support for Kanye. One of them (a white friend, if it matters) took Taylor Swift’s victory or career success in general as in some way signifying white privilege and Kanye’s snub as a wonderful rejection of that. And I imagine it’s likely that much of the hip hop world will support Kanye over the country girl—again, not out of racism, but out of loyalty to alliances within the music world.
I think the litmus test of Kanye denouncers’ motives will be whether they are equally as uplifted by Beyonce’s class and Barack Obama’s class as they are by Kanye’s lack of it. Because I know I sure am and for those of us judging these events by the content of the characters of the people involved, that’s all that matters.My own thoughts on Joe Wilson and Barack Obama were strong and I was waiting for a chance to address the issue, so what the hell, why not now?
During the 2008 presidential run as I obsessively watched speech after speech from all the 16 “major” candidates, including numerous from the most prominent ones, I was amazed when they paused campaigning a night for the State of the Union. And I remember watching Obama listen as George W. Bush had the floor. And I was struck with the nobility of it all as he sat silent. Here was someone I was watching give impassioned speech after impassioned speech against the man he was listening to. He commanded the enthusiasm and support of millions of people, including thousands at single events.
And, yet, this night he sat silent as one senator among 100, one congressman among 535, one citizen among 300,000,000. Because this was a democracy and his challenge to the man in the speaker’s podium that night was still the elected leader. And Obama’s campaign was not any illegal insurgency. The millions he was rallying to his cause were not to lay siege on the existing powers. This was a free and open struggle for power through debate and speech and non-violent mobilization of voters rather than troops. And he could nobly sit by and watch the duly elected leader he sought to replace and defer for the evening. He would have his own podiums, he would have his own turn to speak and he would be heard. But in a democracy, you have to respect your opponent’s turn.
And then I remembered almost exactly a year later, watching now former president George W. Bush and former vice president Dick Cheney sit peacefully behind Barack Obama as he addressed billions worldwide and countless thousands in front of him. And as Obama denounced Bush’s president, here Bush sat silent, respectful, deferring to his successor and deferring to law. (If only he had respected the law so much while in office, but that’s another gruesome story of course).
This all embodied to me the noble sense of democracy as an arena of contests of ideas and persuasion, rather than one of force and obliteration. In democracy you recognize your opponent’s right to be your opponent, his right to speak and to challenge you and to mobilize his own peaceful resistance to you. And you get your turn too. What is noble about our democracy, for all its crass machinations and appalling demagogic manipulations is that it is an arena in which opponents are not destroyed but where they are free to continue to challenge us and to continue to force us to be our best.
They are fearful people who are threatened by their enemies so much that they think they must be utterly eradicated and if they cannot be eradicated they must be shouted into silence. Noble, powerful people appreciate their enemies as those who motivate them to overcome themselves and become more powerful through their perpetual contest.
And so when Joe Wilson spoke out of turn a few nights ago, I heard the voice of petulance and ignobility. He was dishonest, crude, and vulgar. He had no respect for the decorum that makes the contest so noble. He showed the heart of a crass and petty little man who does not respect his enemies and who does not deserve the respect of his enemies. And the same goes for Kanye. They’re a pair of petty pusillanimous people in realms of power and influence and honor where only the magnanimous who know how to win and lose honorably and how to honor their worthy rivals as such belong.
But not all is lost for our culture when for every pusillanimous Joe Wilson, there is a far more esteemed, clearly and famously gracious, dignified and magnanimous Barack Obama, who makes his vanquished rival his secretary of state; and when for every pusillanimous Kanye West, there is a magnanimous Beyonce Knowles, who wins the highest prize of a contest and gives the floor to her unjustly insulted runner up to give a speech instead. Let’s hope the Obamas and Beyonces are the ones who inspire the character of our future generations rather than those wound-nursing, rancorous cry babies represented by the likes of Joe Wilson and Kanye West.