Guy W. Farmer: Kanye West and ‘Groupthink’
May 12, 2018
Celebrity rapper Kanye West (Who?) ignited a political firestorm recently when he suggested it's OK for African-Americans to vote for Republicans, and offered a few kind words for his fellow "dragon energy" celebrity, President Trump, a former reality TV star. Hollywood immediately lost its collective mind and the "progressive" left went berserk.
"You don't have to agree with Trump, but the mob can't make me not love him," West tweeted (yes, that's a new verb). "… I don't agree with everything anyone does; that's what makes us individuals. And we have the right to independent thought." Another alleged celebrity, Chance the Rapper, added "black people don't have to be Democrats."
Of course that was too much for left-wing crazies, who generated a "tweetstorm" (another new word) lambasting West, Chance and Hollywood rebel Roseanne Barr. Pop stars like John Legend, Macy Gray, Snoop Dogg and late night comedians led the charge against the politically incorrect celebrities. Legend accused West of "letting down his fans," but the rapper responded Legend was using "fear to manipulate my free thought." This wasn't an illuminating intellectual exchange between two of the world's great minds, but it clearly shows how polarized our nation has become.
USA Today columnist Glenn Reynolds, a University of Tennessee law professor, explained the problem when he wrote "keeping people divided into tribes is an important part of politics, and making sure they don't say things that might make people reconsider their tribalism threatens the whole feedlot. Hence the overwhelming reaction to anyone who threatens the system with individual thought."
That's a sad commentary on 21st century American politics. But it reminds us how important freedom of expression is in a free society. In other words, there's no room for George Orwell's "groupthink" in a free society. The neoconservative Weekly Standard addressed the issue in a well-reasoned editorial, probably written by Editor Emeritus Bill Kristol. "Kanye West is a gifted showman, a provocateur of the first order, and an irrepressible jackass," the magazine opined. And yet, West "is a more articulate proponent of free speech and open inquiry than such strongholds of high-minded liberalism as the New York Times and the Atlantic." Amen!
I admire people who have courage to speak out and/or write against groupthink, people like my friend and fellow columnist Jim Hartman, who has written about mini-scandals in Carson City and Douglas County. While too many journalists and politicians prefer a "go along, get along" approach to controversial issues, Hartman illustrates the importance of free, independent thinking and the media's vital watchdog role in our communities. As the Aussies say, Good on ya, Jim!
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I'll be giving a 7 p.m. talk this coming Thursday, May 17, at the Gold Hill Hotel on the 1963 Frank Sinatra gambling license revocation case, which was a direct, and public, challenge to then-Gov. Grant Sawyer's "Hang Tough" gaming control policy. That's when I was press spokesman for the State Gaming Commission and Control Board. Make reservations at 847-0111. Hope to see you there.
Correction: My eagle-eyed friend Sue Morrow, the Appeal's longtime city editor, called my attention to a factual error in last Sunday's column. I wrote the Appeal ran a large blank space on the opinion page during the 1966 gubernatorial race between Gov. Sawyer and his Republican challenger, Lt. Gov. Paul Laxalt, due to political conflicts between the paper's former publisher, Donrey Media, and young Editor Ed Allison. Actually, the blank space appeared during the 1964 U.S. Senate contest between Laxalt and incumbent Sen. Howard Cannon, who won by 84 votes. I regret the error. Thanks, Sue.
Guy W. Farmer is the Appeal's senior political columnist.