As Donald Trump prepares for Friday’s inauguration, press coverage of the event has been dominated by a single story: Trump has struggled to book A-list entertainment to perform at his inaugural celebrations. The recently released slate of performers for the festivities boasts a few country stars, like Keith Urban, but no one with the star caliber of Beyoncé, who performed at Barack Obama’s inauguration celebrations, or 98 Degrees, who performed at George W. Bush’s inauguration.
But it’s not as though Trump doesn’t have A-list contacts in the music world. Outspoken rapper Kanye West revealed after the election that he deeply admires Trump, and the purpose of a December meeting between the two at Trump Tower became the subject of much discussion and debate.
So, you might wonder, wouldn’t it make sense for Trump to invite Kanye to perform at the inauguration?
In an interview with CNN, Presidential Inaugural Committee Chair Tom Barrack offered a surprising answer to that question: Trump’s team never approached Kanye about performing at the inauguration. Barrack said the event will have a “traditionally American” vibe — and Kanye presumably doesn’t fit the bill.
“The venue we have for entertainment is filled out, it's perfect, it's going to be typically and traditionally American,” Barrack said, “and Kanye is a great guy but we just haven't asked him to perform and we move on with our agenda.”
Kanye West is among the most famous rappers in the world, and rap — as well as hip-hop in general — was invented in America. And hip-hop is arguably the most popular and influential genre of music in contemporary America. It’s difficult to think of a more traditionally American practitioner of a more traditionally American genre.
Which also means that it’s difficult to avoid reading Barrack’s statement as a racially charged dog whistle. Hip-hop is very American, and it also specifically originated in black America. When Barrack implies that Kanye is not “traditionally American” enough for the inauguration, it’s easy to conclude that he means Kanye is not white enough for the inauguration, and that “white” and “traditionally American” are synonymous terms.
Trump’s team has not responded to a request for comment.