In hindsight, I should have never doubted Kim Kardashian West’s ability to get the result she wanted. I didn’t question whether or not she had the right as a celebrity to step into the arena of activism with respect to justice reform, but merely whether or not she could garner any substantial assistance on such endeavors from that tyrant currently occupying the White House. It was my belief that Kardashian, no matter how well-intentioned, would ultimately do nothing but give President Trump a photo op. Nothing more, nothing less.
She told me.
Following her success in getting Donald J. Trump to commute the sentence of Alice Marie Johnson, Kardashian West quickly shot down any claims that she was a political pawn. Speaking with CNN’s Van Jones, Kardashian noted, “I think Kanye [West]’s already given him legitimacy in that way.” Kardashian West went on to add, “I was working on this before. I don’t think I would be used. At the end of the day, he heard me out. We got the job done. What could he really use me for?”
The answer lies in Kardashian West’s subsequent interview with Johnson on Today. Speaking with Hoda Kotb, Kardashian West claims she “saw compassion” during her meeting with Trump. “I saw a different side,” she said on Wednesday. “And I think that this is just the beginning of something greater. … The reality is people change their mind.”
Well, a co-sign of Trump’s purported compassion from an A-list celebrity is pretty much the kind of thing he’d want. And the reality TV star gave him just that. Even if for a good cause, it’s what she delivered to him.
Kardashian West was indeed able to secure Alice Marie Johnson’s freedom, but when it comes to the issue of criminal justice reform, Trump is still the same man who as recently as March promised to “seek the death penalty against drug traffickers, where appropriate under current law.” The man who still believes the long proven innocent Central Park Five are guilty. The man that has provided such a boon to the private prison industry that they have moved their annual conference to one of his golf courses.
Is this someone you’d consider to be “compassionate?”
Sure, I was wrong about Kardashian West managing to get Alice Marie Johnson out of prison, but not about how awful the Trump administration is with respect to locking up Black and Brown people or how there is little reason to believe much reform will get down with an administration in bed with the private prison industry. Even so, I do not intend to piss on Kardashian West’s parade. It’s more so a matter of proper contextualizing.
You can’t help but be happy for Alice Marie Johnson and proud of Kim Kardashian West. This was a very good thing. It is a glowing example of the benefits of someone with a huge platform exploiting in service of those in need. To wit, Kardashian West revealed that she has assembled a large legal team and is pursuing clemency for several other nonviolent offenders. “This is like, ‘OK, we did this,'” Kardashian West explained. “Let’s open up this conversation.” Johnson will be joining Kardashian West for the campaign.
While I salute this woman for continuing her work, it makes me weary about the pardon and clemency process under this administration.
Following his choice to commute Johnson’s sentence, Trump expressed his plans to ask kneeling professional athletes to recommend “friends of theirs or people that they know about” who they think should be pardoned. You know, because every Black person has a friend that is serving federal time or whatever.
“I am going to ask all of those people to recommend to me — because that’s what they’re protesting — people that they think were unfairly treated by the justice system,” Trump babbled at reporters. Trump also teased a pardon for Muhammad Ali. Though, one major fact was lost on him: Ali doesn’t need a pardon.
Under the Trump administration, the United States ping-pongs back and forth between a kakistocracy and kleptocracy; celebrity-led criminal justice reform is an indicator of the latter’s budding rise. Thus far, Trump has only pardoned folk heroes of the right fringe — Joe Arpaio, Scooter Libby, Dinesh D’souza — or people advocated for by celebrities. Sylvester Stallone was the first example of this, but Trump has even gone as far as to tease pardons for stars like Martha Stewart.
So, when I read pieces like “Liberals ought to learn from Kim Kardashian,” which cite me among the “liberals” who need to take cues from Kardashian West, I am jousting between irritation and laughter. What exactly am I supposed to be learning from this? Trump is a narcissistic bigoted simpleton who deals with every single person transactionally. For him, the underlying question is always, “What can you do for me?”
It is a repulsive trait, but one that can be exploited for good cause by the right person. Kardashian West was shrewd enough to use her celebrity to convince a man with an insatiable need for it to do a good thing. Kudos to her for that, though one can’t help but also consider this means those who have long been trying to rally for criminal justice reform will never have similar opportunities because they are not famous. Kardashian West is exploiting a broken system, but it remains very much broken.
That makes me happy for every person she’ll be able to help, but terrified for those without famous new friends.