Remember when we had two civil presidential candidates without major personal blemishes to their names, in Barack Obama and John McCain? Or even four years later, when Obama went against Mormon family-man Mitt Romney?
Those times seem so far away now. Donald Trump has, by so many standards, been a horrible president. He has badly botched handling the COVID-19 pandemic, and is weighed down by numerous sexual assault allegations. His challenger for the 2020 general election, Joe Biden, is saddled with a sexual assault allegation of his own. As the debate rages over the credibility of this claim, it is certain that the allegation deserves a thorough investigation. And while Biden has maintained his innocence, some are calling him to step aside as the Democratic nominee.
Who would take his place in such an event, however, is less clear. Would it be Bernie Sanders, whose idealistic views are not always backed up by practical plans? Or Elizabeth Warren, who lost ground as the Democratic primaries went on, and would be unlikely to unseat Trump?
The answer to this question is that we’d be looking in the wrong place. You don’t send a capo to the commission meeting. And although senators have made great presidents before – cap tip, Mr. Obama – what America needs right now is a king.
That’s right, I’m talking about Clifford “T.I.” Harris.
I’ll give you a minute to wipe the coffee you just spit out off your screen. Then, I need you to kindly hear me out.
T.I. has a combination of real-world experience, steadfast principles and an uncommon ability to lead which makes him a future great candidate. His recent years have found him deep-diving into social activism more consistently than not only every other rapper, but most other celebrities and even politicians.
Even in the most outlandish of scenarios, Tip will not be president in 2021. Aside from the fact that he has no political experience – and we’ve seen how electing someone with no background in politics has turned out over the last 3 ½ years – it’s unlikely Biden is unseated, let alone by a 39-year-old rapper with no campaign who has said he is “no politician.”
That, and there’s the pesky little fact that Tip is a felon, and thus can’t run for president.
Imagine that wasn’t the case, and that Tip reconsidered his position on politics. It’d be a welcome change, for sure. Think about it: what makes a president great? There are eight facets that come to mind: the ability to lead, how one responds to adversity, diplomacy, standing firm in one’s principles, the ability to connect to people, a healthy cynicism combined with cautious optimism, knowledge of worldwide issues, and putting plans for change into action.
Tip and Reginae Carter (Lil Wayne’s daughter) attend the Tip “T.I.” Harris and Harris Community Works Voter Registration Drive and Community Cookout on October 8, 2018 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Paras Griffin/Getty Images)
Throughout his life, T.I. has embodied each and every one of those characteristics. He has demonstrated his ability to lead time and time again, first as the CEO of his successful Grand Hustle Records imprint, and later as the leader of marches and protests against racial injustice.
Every time Tip has been knocked down, or has made a mistake, he has bounced back. After his debut album, the underrated I’m Serious, flopped, he parted ways with Arista Records. But he didn’t go back to selling drugs; he instead peddled mixtapes and toured the south while creating Grand Hustle and recording the classic Trap Muzik. Following each prison stint (more on that later), he has come out swinging. His mindset is made clear on “No Matter What”: “Even when winning’s impossible, losing’s still far from optional.” And, elsewhere on the song, “All you can do is handle it, worst thing you can do is panic.” That’s exactly the kind of mentality we need from a leader during a crisis.
Once upon a time, presidents were diplomatic. They didn’t impulsively tweet whatever nasty thought popped into their head at that moment. Tip has displayed moments of calming diplomacy. When Kanye West proudly proclaimed his allegiance to Trump, most of the Hip Hop community scorned him. T.I. was one of the few who reached across the aisle to have a dialogue with Kanye. The resulting track, “Ye vs. The People,” should be taught in political science college courses on civil discourse. And yet, T.I. also has a way of letting his thoughts fly on social media, such as when he blasted Kanye for his display in the Oval Office, or when he had a few choice words for Trump’s remarks about Snoop Dogg. Being a celebrity, and not a politician, affords T.I. a sense of freedom in what he posts, and he would likely be able to show restraint with his Instagram account if he were to hold office.
Mr. Harris has always stood firm in his principles. He values loyalty, and has shown it to the friends he made before he became famous. He also values his family, his faith, and justice. He is constantly outspoken on issues such as racial inequality and police brutality. And, he won’t be bought or give his friends a pass. When Lil Wayne said he didn’t connect to the Black Lives Matter movement, Tip strongly rebuked him. It didn’t matter that they were friends or had a history of working together. Right was right.
Of course, T.I. is open about his own shortcomings. That vulnerability, as well as his charisma, is what makes him so relatable to so many across different walks of life. Still, there’s always room for growth, and Tip would do well to shed some bad habits. He’s a family man nearing 40 years old, and, unless something has changed since his episode on Netflix’s Rapture, he’s still going to strip clubs. It’s a bad look for someone who otherwise is such a beacon of light for his community.
Tip has been around the world. The kid from Bankhead has done a lot and seen a lot, including the underbelly of the American justice system. This has left him cynical, but the fact that he continues to push for change means he at least has some cautious hope that change is possible.
It’s a change he’s already making. He was named to Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ 38-member transition team tasked with working on issues such as public safety, affordable housing and education. He is a part of Bottoms’ task force to reform the Atlanta City Detention Center. Tip also initiated a project called Buy Back the Block, which is in the process of redeveloping his childhood neighborhood of Bankhead. For his philanthropic efforts, he was honored in 2019 by the Georgia Senate.
Tip speaks in support of Democratic Senate challenger Jim Martin during a campaign rally at the State Capitol on December 1, 2008 in Atlanta, Georgia. Martin was up against Republican incumbent Sen. Saxby Chambliss in a runoff election for the U.S. Senate seat, where he eventually lost. (Photo by Dave Martin/Getty Images)
But, what about the felonies? Specifically, what about the federal weapons charges? Let’s not pretend this country isn’t infested with dirty politicians. Several who have been accused of or even convicted of crimes have been re-elected to the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
So yes, T.I. has a criminal past. You know who else had a criminal past? Malcolm X. He was Detroit Red, the hustler, before he became one of the most influential leaders in American history. He didn’t shy away from his past, though. He embraced it. And that’s exactly what Tip does. Someone who has the humility to accept their flaws without using them as limitations is exactly who should be sitting in the Oval Office. T.I. is far from perfect, but it’s clear that the wild-eyed Tip who recklessly broke the law is dead and gone.
So, who would be his running mate? I think Kamala Harris would be a suitable match. The senator is experienced, reasonable and able to find the middle ground on hot-button issues such as gun control. Tip probably wouldn’t like her record on crime, but her measured demeanor would be valuable in checking any of his impulses. Though he once made sexist comments about the prospect of a female president, he quickly apologized for those remarks. He also recently hired Grammy Award-winning entertainment executive Thuy-An Julien as his chief business officer/chief of staff, proving he has changed his tune when it comes to women in powerful roles.
T.I.’s voice, life experiences, conviction and outlook would be valuable in American politics, even at the highest level. And while the latest foray of a celebrity-turned-politician has been disastrous, there have been other celebrities who have had credible careers in politics. The natural step – if he wants to – would be to start out locally, and make his way from there.
If you still think this sounds ridiculous, forget about names, reputations, and stigmas for a moment. Close your eyes and ask yourself, who would you rather have in the White House: another crusty, old, out-of-touch racist, or an authentic voice for the people and the common good?
The answer is obvious.
He’s 39 today, give him ‘til he’s 58 and he should be the leader of all that he surveys in the 50 states.