The last week provided two entries in the ever-growing “celebrities and dictators” romance genre. First: Donald Trump, the lizard-brained miscreant who I refer to as a celebrity so I can remember a time when he was merely that, received an endorsement from Russian president and aspiring Bond villian Vladimir Putin. In keeping with his normal behavior, Trump defied the laws of common sense and human decency, endorsing Putin right back. When one of his interlocutors remarked that Putin kills journalists (and lots of other people), Trump responded with “America kills a lot of people, too,” a strangely Chomskyan aphorism from The Face of the American Right™. Trump said of Putin “at least he’s a leader,” which is like saying Dr. Frankenstein was just a surgeon.
If anyone doubted the authoritarian bent of Trump’s self-indulgent campaign, now is the time for certainty. What is infuriating about this is the refusal of his supporters, many of whom trumpeted their love for the Constitution a mere five years ago, to acknowledge that they have backed a would-be despot. They have only to cast their votes, and their journey toward the Dark Side will be complete.
The Donald was not to be outdone. “What’s that?” you ask. “No one can best Trump in an ignorance-themed Celebrity Deathmatch.” Au contraire. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Nicki Minaj.
Minaj performed Saturday at a “Christmas Festival” in Luanda, Angola, organized by the Angolan government and sponsored by Unitel, its state-run telecommunications monopoly. Unitel operates like most state-run enterprises in that it is an obscenely corrupt organization whose purpose is to strengthen the ruling regime at the expense of the rest of the country. In this case, the regime is that of Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, whose administration recently jailed 17 activists. Their crime? Hosting discussions about nonviolent resistance, presumably occasioned by Dos Santos’s habit of slaughtering civilians.
The concert in question was for the Angolan government, for attendees with more blood on their hands than a crowd of Juggalos. Minaj’s paycheck came from a man who plunders the wealth of his people through incestuous corruption and predatory economic policy, maintaining his revenue stream through arbitrary imprisonment and cold-blooded murder.
Minaj was undeterred. Here is part of the caption from her Instagram picture with Dos Santos’s tremendously wealthy daughter, Isabel:
“Oh no big deal . . . she’s just the 8th richest woman in the world, (At least that’s what I was told by someone b4 we took this photo) Lol. Yikes!!!!! GIRL POWER!!!!! This motivates me soooooooooo much!!!! S/O to any woman on a paper chase. Get your own!!!! Success is yours for the taking!!!!!”
Isabel has indeed gotten her own, and more besides, and she has done plenty of “taking” to get there. Much of her wealth is derived from Angola’s blood-diamond trade, which has made her one of the Transparency International’s premier examples of “grand corruption.” Taking, indeed.
Considering that she, unlike Trump, is only a celebrity and not a political figure, Minaj is entitled to some ignorance. She is not the firstcelebrity to carouse with killers, in Angola or elsewhere. Her case is nonetheless irritating, for multiple reasons.
First of all, Minaj is well aware of the criticisms directed her way. Her response: “Every tongue that rises up against me in judgment shall be condemned.” That’s Isaiah 54:17, and it describes “the servants of the Lord”. Minaj applies it to herself, because apparently God is totally cool with lending moral support to blood-soaked tyrants.
Compounding the annoyance here is Minaj’s own political preening, which mostly consists of support for Black Lives Matter. Fair enough, but surely black lives still matter when they’re suffering from AIDS (300,000 Angolans in 2014) or living on less than two dollars a day (68 percent of Angola’s population and 94 percent in rural areas) under the the thumb of a brutal dictatorship. Minaj, however, has no problem praising that dictatorship in exchange for a paycheck.
The lesson here is not that Minaj is uniquely irresponsible or that you should boycott her music. She is not and you should not, though it would be appreciated if some of her more sycophantic acolytes would take it down a notch. The point is that whether they are flamboyant rappers or presidential candidates, our celebrities are not our betters. Peel back the layers of image and they are just as ridiculous as the rest of us. This makes our obsession with celebrity in politics all the more irresponsible.