Just one little decade ago, no one could imagine that Paris Hilton’s friend Kim Kardashian would be meeting in the Oval Office with the “you’re fired” guy from The Apprentice. Yet here we are. In the words of Rent’s Mark Cohen, “How did we get here, how the hell…?”
Well, it’s pretty simple. First, we get out of this world what we put into it, and we rested on our laurels a decade ago and became so lax that we let the second coming of Satan slip into the White House. But second, and most importantly, Kimberly Kardashian West is the greatest to ever do it, in any industry she’s ever dipped her toe into.
This fact has been clear to those of us who’ve followed her evolution over the years, from Famous for Being Famous to a legit leader in fashion, beauty, fitness, tech — and now politics. Kim and the rest of her family changed the landscape of celebrity, and in the Trump era she’s changing the way celebrities can leverage their power. The only people surprised by how well she played her hand with the president are the ones who for various reasons — among them ignorance, elitism, and sexism — don’t understand just how good the Kardashians are at getting what they want, and winning every game they play in.
Alice Marie Johnson had spent 21 years in jail, sentenced to life for a first-time, nonviolent drug offense. Her request for a pardon was denied by President Obama. But once Kim Kardashian heard about her story via a viral Mic video, she made it her mission to get Alice out, no matter the current administration. She got the job done.
Kim handled this whole transaction with a level of grace and smarts that few politicians and businesspeople have managed to summon in their attempts to get something from Trump. Unlike the Gary Cohns of the world, she never groveled, abandoned her values, or humiliated herself, and she kept her eyes on the prize. She never made her feelings or ego the focus, and unlike the Republicans of Capitol Hill, Kim’s politics and motives have stayed consistent. She denounced Trump during the 2016 election, publicly advocated for Hillary Clinton, and even told her husband Kanye West to clarify that he does not agree with Trump “100%.”
Think about that: She asked Kanye to walk back his Trump comments — even if only by an inch — while she was in the midst of advocating for Johnson’s release, knowing that she needed a thumbs-up from Trump, who has the emotional stability of a small child. She understood, in a way that richer and ostensibly more powerful men seem not to, that she needs Trump’s signature, but not his approval.
Compare that to politicians like Paul Ryan, Mitch McConnell, and Reince Priebus, who railed against Trump’s hateful views when he was still seeking the Republican nomination. Once he became president and it came time to get the tax cuts they wanted, Ryan and McConnell were full of praise for the great leader; Priebus happily took the top job as Trump’s chief of staff.
They got their tax cut, but lost their dignity in the process — and have struggled to get anything else done since. (They’re also about to lose their House majority.) With opinions, morals, and backbones more flexible than Simone Biles, it’s clear that the rich, white, male leaders in Washington just can’t seem to get things done as effectively as someone with the media and business savvy of Kim Kardashian.
Of course, no one is happy to see someone they admire, or think of as having decent politics, take a meeting with President Useless. But Kim knew that this was a means to an end. She was literally the only person on this Earth who could commute Johnson’s sentence, so what did you expect Kimberly to do? Jailbreak her with a camera crew in tow? "I was very focused,” she told Van Jones on Thursday. “I knew that if I have this meeting, I can't go in there and talk about all the policies that I don't agree with."
The detractors of Kim’s actions come from across the political spectrum. There are people who are mad that she’s not actively opposing Trump’s administration enough, and then there are people upset that someone as salacious as Kim Kardashian darkened the door of the Oval Office. We also have those who can’t stand the fact that Kim Kardashian is getting praise and glory for prison reform when a trail of others less rich, less famous, and less white came before her. Some people think Trump just used Kim as a political pawn, or that Kim is too dumb to know about prison reform — and trust me, the list of reasons to hate this one act of hers goes on.
There’s no doubt the means to this end were not ideal. But Kim is a master of turning not-ideal situations into dream ones: She was made a household name by a 2007 sex tape that, depending on who you ask, was either released by her ex-boyfriend Ray J, or by her and her mom, Kris Jenner. Kim leveraged what would be a humiliating invasion of privacy for almost anyone else into multimillion-dollar careers for herself and her entire family.
Then she brought more cameras into her life, this time entirely on her own terms. She helped secure a deal for Keeping Up With the Kardashians, helped turn her sister’s insecurities about her lips and subsequent lip injections into a nearly billion-dollar cosmetics company focused on shilling out Lip Kits, and even crushed the app industry with an interactive game modeled on her own life. She has her finger on the pulse of society; sometimes she uses that know-how for cream contour kits, and other times she uses it for jail reform. Deal with it.
If anyone is upset that Kim is getting even a slice of glory for her advocacy on behalf of Johnson, they should refocus their energy on doing their part. How can any of us leverage the power we have? We all have some, and if you’re reading this, chances are you have a slice of it. Think about how ridiculous anyone would sound if they shot down Kim for getting friendly press for adopting a baby from a rough situation, because so many other unnamed and unseen mothers have done the same. Her work doesn’t take away from the great work of others — it shows what can be done, no matter who’s doing it.
But some people’s view of the world demands a complete separation of the “frivolous” arena of celebrity and fashion from the “serious” work of politics and business. For them, I humbly request that we ban Amal Clooney from any and all red carpets, and burn her on the stake for wearing not one, but two different dresses to this year’s Met Gala. She’s a human rights lawyer, not a fashion icon! How can we take her seriously in the courtroom now, your honor?!
Kim’s not the only woman fighting for reform and trying to free wrongfully imprisoned people, but at least she’s doing it. The gross and clueless New York Post can declare her “Kim Thong Un” and reduce her to a butt and a sex tape, but she’s fucking Kim Kardashian West, advocate, socialite, and my personal queen. Thank you, Kim, for all that you’re doing and will continue to do for jail reform. I look forward to the waves you make with Cyntoia Brown.
Mariah Smith is a comedian, writer, and producer. In 2015, she created Keeping Up With the Kontinuity Errors, a blog that tracks the continuity errors in Keeping Up With the Kardashians, using Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and common sense.