An Oval Office gathering was light on policy but did cover sleep deprivation, alternate realities and a hydrogen-powered airplane.
The universe threw together Donald Trump, Kanye West and the Oval Office on Thursday afternoon, a collision that resulted in what may be the Trump era’s greatest mashup yet.
Ahead of a planned lunch meeting, West embraced Trump in a hug at the Resolute Desk and expounded for 10 minutes straight on sleep deprivation, “male energy,” liberals, gun rights, alternate realities and much else while Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump, football legend Jim Brown and a crowd of stunned journalists looked on.
Officially, the purpose of Trump’s meeting with West, Brown, Kushner and the first daughter was to discuss prison reform, urban revitalization, violent crime in West’s hometown of Chicago and other priorities for black Americans. But its only sure result will be to briefly focus the attention of a confused nation on the awesome spectacle offered, free of charge, by its government.
As for policy, West did, at the prompting of a reporter, voice his opposition to stop-and-frisk. And Trump — who on Monday said police should implement the controversial tactic in Chicago — did say that he was “open” to looking at police reforms. West spoke repeatedly about bringing manufacturing operations back to the United States, and about police shootings, and he advocated land ownership for black Americans. “We want a brand more than we want land,” he said.
But the rapper also declared that “time is a myth,” making the prospect that Thursday’s meeting would have some future effect on governance appear remote, if not absurd.
“Let’s stop worrying about the future. All we have is today,” West said in response to a question about any future presidential ambitions. “Trump is on his hero’s journey right now. He might not have thought he’d have a crazy motherf—– like [me].”
West opined on Hillary Clinton’s campaign slogan, saying that “I’m With Her” did not resonate with him as a man who did not see much of his father growing up. In contrast, donning a “Make America Great Again” hat, he said, “made me feel like Superman.”
“My dad and my mom separated, so there was not a lot of male energy in my home. And also I’m married to a family where, you know, there’s not a lot of male energy,” he said, referring to his in-laws, the Kardashians. “It’s beautiful, though.”
West meandered from topic to topic in a free-association monologue reminiscent of Trump’s extemporaneous stump speeches. “I don’t answer questions in simple sound bites,” West warned reporters. “You’re tasting a fine wine. It has multiple notes to it.”
Much of what he said was unintelligible, including a long discussion of his mental health.
“I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder,” he said. “I was connected with a neuropsychologist that works with the athletes in the NBA and the NFL. And he looked at my brain. I’m going to go ahead, drop some balls on you. 98 percentile IQ test. … I had sleep deprivation, which can cause dementia. Ten to 20 years from now, I wouldn’t even remember my son’s name. So all this power that I got, and I’m taking my son to the [Chicago White] Sox game and all that. I wouldn’t be able to remember his name from a misdiagnosis. What we need is, we can empower the pharmaceuticals and make more money.”
Late last month, West stoked controversy when, in a tweet, he called for abolishing the 13th Amendment, which ended slavery. He later clarified his comments to TMZ. “Abolish was the wrong language,” he told the outlet. “I misspoke by saying abolish. Amend is the right language.”
On Thursday, West again brought up the 13th Amendment, though it was difficult to follow his reasoning as he asked, rhetorically, “Would you build a trapdoor that if you mess up and you accidentally, something happens, you fall and you end up next to the Unabomber?”
At one point, West whipped out his iPhone, and in full view of cameras punched in his passcode, 0-0-0-0-0, in order to show Trump an image of a hydrogen-powered airplane.
At another point, Trump piped in to praise West’s performance. “I’ve never seen Jim Brown impressed before,” the president mused as he evaluated the reaction of the former Cleveland Browns fullback, who sat quietly next to West throughout the surreal scene.
During his remarks, West said he had met recently with Chicago financier Michael Sacks, a confidant of Mayor Rahm Emanuel, to talk about crime and policing.
West has also been discussing Chicago’s violent crime epidemic with Brown and Brown’s wife, Monique, in recent weeks, according to Bruce Zoldan, CEO of Phantom Fireworks, who works with Brown on the football legend’s philanthropic endeavors.
Zoldan said Brown — who remained mostly silent during West’s Oval Office remarks — hoped the lunch would move the administration closer to finding funding for inner-city revitalization work.
“He’s going in a little bit concerned about it being just a publicity luncheon,” Zoldan said ahead of the meeting.
While it is unclear what policy outcomes might result from Thursday’s meeting, Darrell Scott, a Cleveland pastor close to Trump who is working with the White House on an urban revitalization initiative, said those plans were close to fruition.
Scott said a private-public partnership pushing the initiative was close to acquiring land for development in Cleveland; Bridgeport, Conn.; Louisville, Ky.; and South Carolina. Scott said the initiative would kick off with a tour of American cities sometime after the midterm elections, and that Trump had told him he intended to participate in some part of the tour. A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to questions about the initiative.
Scott also said West had expressed interest in the Urban Revitalization Initiative. Scott showed POLITICO a text message exchange from August in which he sent West a video about the initiative and asked the rapper to help with an aspect of the initiative called Youth Empowerment Centers. Scott said the centers would include music studios where inner-city youth could learn about music production.
“Let’s do this for the entire country,” West wrote to Scott via text. “I’m in full support. We can use my celebrity and voice for positive change. I’m here to listen to your ideas.”
Gabe Tesoriero, who has worked as a publicist for West, did not immediately respond to questions about the text exchange.
At one point in the Oval Office, West, who goes by the nickname Yeezy, said, “I think it would be cool to have Yeezy Ideation Centers, which would be a mix of education and empowers people and gives them modern information.” The idea may or may not be related to Scott’s youth empowerment centers.
Asked by a reporter about what Thursday’s meeting would lead to, Trump was noncommittal.
“From my standpoint, this was set up to be a lunch,” he said. “Two people that I like. And I guess they like me. We’re going to have lunch. We’re going to talk.”
Andrew Restuccia and Lorraine Woellert contributed to this report.