Kanye West knows that his actions have consequences, at least on a hyper-local level. Last night, in the middle of a typically careening and nonsensical interview, he told Jimmy Kimmel that we had become "too protective" as a society. "We always don't want someone to get hurt," he said. "Can you imagine me talking to my publicist before I said 'I'mma go on TV again?'" Kanye smiled and the crowd laughed nervously, all knowing that the last time the rapper appeared on television, he used "slavery" and "choice" in the same short sentence. Kimmel kept on.
The interview went roughly as anyone might expect in the sense that there's no point in expecting anything but non-sequiturs, Facebook-brained untruths, and self-aggrandizement from Kanye West anymore. When Kimmel asked—and it was a stupid question—whether or not West was worried when his wife, Kim Kardashian West, went alone to speak with President Donald Trump, a man accused of sexual assault by 20 women, the response was chilling: "Well, he is a player." West hit all of his old marks, justifying his support for Trump by claiming he felt "bullied" into one school of thought by the black community, his Hollywood neighbors, and his contacts in the recording industry. He said that we have a choice between "fear" and "love" not as though it was a scrap from Deepak Chopra's waste paper bin, but as though it was a fully realized philosophy. He said that he enjoyed the backlash to his comments. There was an entire minute devoted to a metaphor about coffee tables.
It seemed that Kimmel, too eager keen to keep a guest on-side, would let West off without a real challenge. And he did, mostly. But before the first commercial break, he asked a question that millions of West's fans have wanted to ask over the past few months.
"I think that [diffusing "fear" with "love"] is a beautiful idea, but just in literal terms, there are families being torn apart at the border of this country. There are literally families being torn apart as a result of what this president is doing. And I think that we cannot forget that. Whether we like his personality or not, his actions are really what matter. I mean, you so famously and so powerfully said, 'George Bush doesn't care about black people.' It makes me wonder what makes you think that Donald Trump does [care about black people] or any people."
West turned away, stared off into the distance, and sat in silence. Kimmel let it hang for three seconds, and then moved to a commercial break. When they returned, Kimmel asked about the Kardashian-West kids and their fashion sense. Soon, Kanye was discussing his favorite PornHub categories.
In the end, like all of West's recent interviews, there was something mildly depressing hiding beneath the headlines. Kimmel asked whether or not Kanye would consider himself a "workaholic," given that he'd just produced and released six studio albums, including his own, over one summer.
"No, I actually slept a lot during the project," Kanye replied.
"While they were recording?"
"Yeah, I actually have a team. We worked together." After leaving hospital a year and a half ago, he'd go to Amoeba Records regularly, picking up albums, sampling them like he did when he was a kid. It was "therapeutic." By the time he got around to the Wyoming sessions, as far as he was concerned, the work was all but done. "We have a whole team at Yeezy Sound that will help come and do the drums, help with lyrics, help with choruses. And I'd give six, seven people ideas that I want on the song, and then I'd just go to sleep."
Maybe nothing would have changed if Kimmel had challenged West on that mechanical process or his damaging pro-Trump comments or, well, anything during their 20 minutes together. And maybe late-night TV, which prizes easy gab over all else, is the worst possible space to have those sorts of conversations. But watching Kanye wrestle with an idea—even one so seemingly obvious as forcibly separating children from their parents at the border doesn't equate to "love"—is not just satisfying but necessary. Sadly, that three seconds might be all we'll ever get.
Follow Alex Robert Ross on Twitter.