Kanye and the Overton Window on Antisemitism
Much ink has been spilled of late discussing the topic of antisemitism and how the political right has rapidly mainstreamed it within their political discourse. A dramatic shift in the Overton window has blurred the boundaries delineating acceptable discourse about Jewish people, largely as a result of antisemitic comments made by celebrity entertainer Kanye West and former president Donald Trump. After images surfaced of Kanye West donning a shirt emblazoned with the white supremacist slogan “White Lives Matter,” West was interviewed and endorsed by the far-right Fox News host Tucker Carlson on his television program. On Carlson’s program, West expressed his belief that the Kushner family, who are Jewish, acted as “handlers” holding back Trump and his presidency because they’re “just about making money,” and joked that he would prefer his children learn about Hanukkah over Kwanzaa because “at least it would come with some financial engineering.” Afterward, West took to social media to accuse fellow rapper Sean “Diddy” Combs of being under Jewish control and declared that he is going “death con 3” on “JEWISH PEOPLE” and asserting that his ex-wife Kim Kardashian had sexual intercourse in front of a fireplace with her boyfriend as a result of the malign influence of “Jewish Zionists” seeking to destroy Christian culture in America.
In a sign of the extent that antisemitism has been mainstreamed on the American political right, the GOP House Judiciary tweeted an endorsement of West and Indiana’s Republican Attorney General, Todd Rokita, hailed West’s “independent thinking” and exclaimed that West’s “message in this instance is fair and accurate.” Not long afterwards, Trump posted on his Truth Social account that Jews “who are living in the U.S… have to get their act together… Before it’s too late!” Elon Musk, the new owner of Twitter and open supporter of the Republican Party, was also endorsed in the same GOP House Judiciary tweet while he himself expressed his support for Kanye West through a now-deleted meme. This comes at a time where the increasingly ubiquitous antisemitic content on social media has moved into everyday GOP discourse of a Great Replacement, but has also provided the impetus for historic levels of antisemitic hate crimes in America that have included numerous instances of mass murder like that at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018. It is existentially disconcerting for the American Jewish community that the selfsame beliefs that inspired and drove an individual to commit the worst terrorist attack on Jews in American history four years ago has now come to characterize the default rhetoric of the former president and his party, a global music icon, and the chief mouthpiece of cable news’ most-watched programming.
In response, the political left has sought to instill a renewed sense of urgency and responsibility to understand and fight antisemitism as a form of racism through full-throated condemnations of these comments. Time and time again, be it a terrorist attack on the Tree of Life synagogue or former president Trump’s diatribes on social media, the unifying thread in the byzantine web of prejudices and conspiracy theories that define fascist and white supremacist thought is a conspiratorial view of the Jewish people as a malign influence on society.
However, while this response to West certainly is welcome in societal efforts to root out racism, it it is nevertheless stymied and offset by a community that is far more explicit with its antisemitism and no longer hides behind code words such as ‘globalist’ or ‘Soros’. This exposes an increasingly large number of people to antisemitic conspiracy theories and hate-based narratives that previously led to thousands of years of murderous anti-Jewish oppression culminating in the Holocaust that wiped out nearly 40% of the world’s Jewish population. The global Jewish population, a shade under fifteen million, has still not numerically recovered from the Holocaust, Jewish life has been irrecoverably extirpated from Europe and much of the world, and as a result people overwhelmingly get their information about Jews from those who not only hate them, but have never met a Jewish person.
Kanye West has been dropped by Adidas and thoroughly condemned, though his endorsement of these views has still done its damage, justifying the tenets of antisemitic conspiracy theorizing in the eyes of many Americans that view him as someone to respect and emulate. While the ongoing effects of the shifting Overton window are yet to be seen in their totality, the descent of one of America’s two main political parties into the depths of such vile hate must sound the alarm on the dangerous precipice upon which American democracy sits. Kanye West may have faced ramifications for his words and actions, but Trump, the GOP, and Fox News which platforms their views have not, and have only profited off the proliferation of hate. The history of World War II and the Nazi Party’s ascent show us what can happen when antisemitism becomes a central rallying cry to nationalist politics. To ensure our democratic resilience as a nation, we must remain vigilant in identifying where the threat of antisemitism comes from and where the main advocates and proponents of it sit. In interwar Germany that was the nascent Nazi movement; today, that is in the Republican Party, their benefactors, and the celebrities they will instrumentalize as scions of “anti-woke truth.”