With Donald Trump’s meeting with Kim Jong-un still up in the air, the president has secured a power summit with the world’s other most notorious Kim. Kim Kardashian, of course. Apparently, after months of back-channel talks shuttled through White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, Trump and Kardashian have agreed to sit down sometime today in the Oval Office to discuss the very specific issue of prison reform, according to Vanity Fair. Though one not need spend much time building a case that any association with Trump and his White House has proven to be a toxic move for most, Kardashian just needs to look to Roseanne or, more conveniently, her own husband for that evidence (never mind the Steve Bannons or Sean Spicers of the world). So what, exactly, is Kardashian hoping to get out of a move that could tarnish her relatively safe and mainstream nonpolitical-to-vaguely-liberal brand, and can she maneuver in such a way to come out unsullied and free of any backlash?
Yes, folks, not only are we discussing the ramifications of a serious meeting between the president of the United States and a popular reality star, but we’re also actually more curious if the reality star is the one who comes out of the meeting with dignity intact. We never had to ask if Snooki could come out scot-free after a meeting with Barack Obama, and, yet, here we are.
In any event, while Kardashian hasn’t fashioned herself as a political nerd in the sense that she constantly tweets about current events à la her friend Chrissy Teigen, she does have a long history of getting behind certain issues and causes she believes deeply in. Her activism résumé includes everything from gun control to seeking recognition of the Armenian genocide. More recently, she’s developed an interest in prison reform, or at least the cases of individual women caught up in the United States’ onerous and unfair prison industrial complex (see her championing of the Cyntoia Brown case). Her latest mission comes on behalf of Alice Marie Johnson, a 62-year-old great-grandmother who has been locked away for life since her 1992 conviction on a first-time drug charge. Her only hope of not dying in jail is a presidential pardon. Though Barack Obama granted clemency to hundreds of nonviolent drug offenders serving onerous terms when he was president, Johnson, for unclear reasons, was not among them. Since learning of her story earlier this year (through a social video from Mic.com of all places), Kardashian has stepped up as the celebrity face for Johnson’s cause.
Lets take a look at the major players in the summit, and break down what they have to gain and lose.
Is she “normalizing” the president? Well, there’s really nothing normal about a reality star talking to our (reality star) president about a serious topic and a possible presidential pardon. So this is something of a paradox, one that boils down to a wash.
What will Democrats think? Well, prison reform has been a longtime major cause of the left. And by “the left,” we don’t mean the mainstream Democratic party, but rather the kind of people who proudly refer to themselves as “the left.” Though, as Americans slowly wake up to the fact that the United States imprisons a higher percentage of our population than any other developed nation on earth at an enormous cost, the idea of prison reform is now, perhaps, at its most mainstream visibility since our prison system began turning into the monster it is now. Even Democrats who would never think to refer to themselves as “the left” are on board. Whatever the case, the choice of Kardashian’s mission may help shield her from the worst of the criticism, and may win her some points among some.
What’s the best-case scenario for Kim? Remember, this is the president who asked for loyalty from the former head of the FBI. This is also the president who sees everything as a “deal” rather than doing things just because they’re wrong or right. Who knows what he might attempt to coax out of Kardashian in return; Kardashian might be best advised to simply state her case and leave it at that. Hopefully, for her and Johnson, Trump will see things their way, but there’s really no upside to making things more complicated than that.
Jared Kushner (and Ivanka Trump)
It’s been clear for over a year now that Jared and Ivanka are basically on an island by themselves in the White House. There was once hope that they might provide something of a moderating influence on the administration, but that’s long been out the window. Kushner was also supposed to be the point guy for the administration’s Peace in the Middle East department, but that hasn’t exactly been going too well either. Now, the pair is stuck having months worth of secret talks with Kim Kardashian. Through a certain lens, this is nothing short of embarrassing.
Though, in the madhouse world of the current White House, it might actually work out for them. Trump loves attention-getting headlines, and Ivanka and Jared have handed him a whopper of one. He’s also long been fixated on celebrities and glamour, something he hasn’t seen a lot of of since beginning his campaign (unless you count, uh, Ted Nugent). If the meeting goes well, it could curry the couple some much needed favor.
We should note that Kushner does appear to have a heartfelt interest in some type of prison reform stemming from the two years in jail his real estate developer father served after an illegal political contribution scandal—though white-collar criminals like Kushner’s dad aren’t exactly the kind of cases most activists have in mind. Here is also where we should insert the joke that a certain White House official may have an interest in prison reform stemming from the fear he might end up in prison himself one day.
As mentioned, he gets another ridiculous news cycle of which he’s the center. He also gets some of that celebrity attention he so dearly craves (reportedly, he was upset that his inauguration wasn’t a star-studded affair). Assuredly, he’ll also be angling for a picture with Kardashian or at least some sort of content to fill his Twitter feed. Of course, as we alluded to before, we wouldn’t be surprised if he somehow tried to spin this into a Kardashian-West family endorsement for his reelection.
The Actual Issue of Prison Reform
All that appears to be on the table right now is clemency or a pardon for Johnson, and there’s no indication this could lead to any wider repercussions—at least immediately. Still, it does bring attention to the issue and, in a strange way, further mainstreams it.
When Khloé appeared on a celebrity season of The Apprentice, Trump reportedly made cruel comments about her appearance and referred to her as “the ugly Kardashian.” No word on whether a formal apology is on the table.
Maybe he’ll get another signed hat out of it?