By Kate Andrews
With foreign affairs in flux, Trump made time to meet American sensation Kim Kardashian West, to discuss the serious issue of prison reform.
According to the reports, the reality TV star spoke with the President and his special advisers at the White House, where she encouraged them to do what they could to relax sentencing and increase pardons for non-violent offenders, especially when such offences relate to drug crime.
Kardashian West is not the first of her family to reach out to the President; her husband, the rapper Kanye West, has been cosying up to him since his election, and made his support for Trump well-known in a Twitter revelation just a few weeks ago.
Unlike many celebrities in recent years, Kardashian West has not made her political views a defining characteristic of her public life. While she’s certainly been involved in – and sometimes the topic of – cultural debates, the socialite turned reality TV star turned international celebrity has never played much of a political game.
Plenty of politically and culturally sensitive issues have been highlighted on her family’s show (recently, homelessness and gun rights make the list), but her visit on Wednesday was a notable moment for her, taking the issues off-screen and into the Oval Office.
I find myself torn – impressed, and yet horrified by the spectacle at the same time.
On the one hand, Kardashian West has picked an important and noble issue as her entry into political activism. She is using her social media feeds – which on Twitter alone includes 60m followers – to highlight the stories of decent people who are paying a ridiculously high price for poor decisions made in their past.
Countless people, who have not engaged in any kind of violent activity, have become collateral damage in America’s failed war on drugs.
On this issue, the President himself deserves some credit. It was announced just weeks ago that he is working on legislation that would roll back the hostile actions of the federal government towards states that are legally growing and selling cannabis.
His meeting with Kardashian West could be seen as a further signal that he is taking the issue of drug reform seriously, and has plans to address the injustices that many communities – particularly ethnic minorities – face.
And yet, what are we to make of the fact that celebrities now dictate US public policy?
In any other lifetime, a meeting between Kim and Donald would be aired on a reality TV programme. In fact, it probably will be; I’d be shocked if Kim’s journey to the White House didn’t feature on an episode in Keeping Up With The Kardashians in coming seasons.
But their meeting wasn’t a reality TV stunt; it was a serious engagement in public policy. Mainstream news channels are reporting on something that would be better suited to air on the Lifetime network. It’s a spectacle that would have been unimaginable just a few years ago.
This is not Kardashian West’s fault. She’s used her platform to bring an important issue to light, and that’s nothing to criticise. But the meeting of the two media giants can’t help but symbolise how far our public discourse and process of decision making has fallen. Long gone, it seems, are the days of valuing experience or evidence-based policy.
If President Obama brought the aura of celebrity into the Oval Office (sitting for late-night talk shows, dining with Beyonce, shooting three-pointers with the Nicks), Trump has dowsed it wall-to-wall.
It may be entertaining to watch, but it’s no way to lead a nation.
Kate Andrews is news editor at the Institute of Economic Affairs and contributed this piece to City A.M.