Imagine a Priceline.com or Upside.com for Everything (Even Health Insurance)

Could an ingenious, buyer-driven consumer experience like Priceline.com or Upside.com solve our health care problem? Serial entrepreneur, historian and dreamer Jay Walker joined Glenn on radio Wednesday to discuss why health care is broken and how his patented business model could go a long way in providing solutions --- but it isn't the entire answer.

"Up to now, Americans have had a lot of choices. But unless they're super shoppers, they never see what their choices are worth. In complicated worlds like buying business travel or buying health insurance or buying medical care, there are millions of choices. You can't figure them all out. Software makes it possible for the first time to find choices that makes sense for you," Walker explained.

However, in the case of applying free market principles to health care, there's a Catch-22.

"We're not in charge of our health care," Glenn said.

Therein lies one of the big problems.

"Glenn, one of the reasons why health care is so broken --- one of the many reasons, but one of the big reasons --- is that the person paying for it isn't the person using it," Walker said.

Glenn agreed.

While most people make a co-payment, it's the government, insurance provider or employer paying the bulk of their medical expenses.

"And what happens when somebody else is paying for something else and I get to use it? I overconsume: give me the gold-plated everything. After all, I want every test, I want every treatment," Walker explained.

The unfortunate reality is that no one knows how much anything ultimately costs.

"You go in and ask the x-ray technician, how much is this x-ray? They have no idea. They don't know. So the seller doesn't know. The buyer doesn't know. Is it any doubt the system has completely run amuck on costs?" Walker said.

In keeping with his systematic worldview, Walker explained how a free market health care system can't solve every problem.

"Again, health and wellness is a system, all right? It's not a binary A or B thing. If you treat your body like a garbage can . . . you're going to get sick, no matter who pays for it. So at the end of the day, this isn't a question of just making sure you're paying the right amount of money. You bet, we've got to make sure rational free market economics, which work for everything well, work for health care. But there are plenty of people who can't afford health care. There are plenty of children whose parents make decisions for them. This isn't going to fix that problem. We have challenges in childhood obesity. It isn't going to fix that problem. We have an opioid epidemic. It isn't going to fix that. So market solutions are critically important --- but they're important as part of the whole," Walker said.

Listen to this segment from The Glenn Beck Program:

GLENN: Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline.com. 900 patents to his name. Wired magazine calls his library on imagination -- he's an expert on imagination. The most amazing library in the world. He is a techno optimist. He is also the guy who started the new travel website upside.com. Full disclosure, that is a sponsor --

JAY: That's how we met.

GLENN: Yeah, that's how we met. However, the reason why he's here is not for that, it's for a conversation we had -- I said, what's the catch? How is this working? How is everybody making money here? Because you're reducing the time that the person spends from 80 minutes to about -- what are you down to?

JAY: Five.

GLENN: Five minutes to make the decision. You're booking the hotel. You're booking the flight. And you're --

JAY: Saving money.

GLENN: Saving money for the company. And then you're giving an Amazon gift card. And we've done things where it works out to where we've spent $200, with something that should have cost us 1,000 or would have cost us 1,000. It's like -- in the end, it's like a 200-dollar ticket and stay. That's insane.

And I said to you, okay. What -- when it's too good to be true, it's too good to be true.

JAY: Ask extra questions.

GLENN: Correct.

And you said, no, here's how it works. And imagine this with -- with everything.

Explain what that means.

JAY: Up to now, Americans have had a lot of choices. But unless they're super shoppers, they never see what their choices are worth. In complicated worlds like buying business travel or buying health insurance or buying medical care, there are millions of choices. You can't figure them all out.

Software makes it possible for the first time to find choices that makes sense for you.

GLENN: So, but we're not in charge of our health care. So I've been saying, everyone should be -- I want to give $5,000 a year. I'll cover the first -- I'll buy catastrophic for everything else. Give me $5,000 a year. You go spend it.

So when the doctor says, go get this x-ray. I can go get that x-ray here. But if I have a system that says, you know what, if you go tomorrow morning at this location, you're going to pay a fraction of that.

JAY: Glenn, one of the reasons why health care is so broken -- one of the many reasons, but one of the big reasons is that the person paying for it isn't the person using it.

GLENN: Yes.

JAY: And what happens when somebody else is paying for something else and I get to use it? I overconsume. Give me the gold-plated everything. After all, I want every test. I want every treatment.

GLENN: We don't care. Correct.

JAY: So we right at the start -- either the government is paying for it or my health insurer is paying for it or my boss is paying for it.

When you have a system where a single decision by me could be costing $10,000 to somebody else -- and, by the way, not only am I not paying for it, the person selling it to me, the doctor or the hospital, they can't even tell me what the price is. You go in and ask the x-ray technician, how much is this x-ray? They have no idea. They don't know.

So the seller doesn't know. The buyer doesn't know. Is it any doubt the system has completely run amuck on costs?

GLENN: So what we have going on in Washington, you sound like this is the solution that I've been looking for. How are you going to get that when we're headed towards --

JAY: Well, it's not a solution. So, again, health and wellness is a system, all right? It's not a binary A or B thing. If you treat your body like a garbage can, all right? You're going to get sick, no matter who pays for it.

GLENN: Right.

JAY: So at the end of the day, this isn't a question of just making sure you're paying the right amount of money. You bet, we've got to make sure rational free market economics, which work for everything well, work for health care. But there are plenty of people who can't afford health care. There are plenty of children whose parents make decisions for them. This isn't going to fix that problem. We have challenges in childhood obesity. It isn't going to fix that problem. We have an opioid epidemic. It isn't going to fix that. So market solutions are critically important. But they're important as part of the whole.

GLENN: So how do you -- let's stick to market here for a second.

How do you -- how do you correct a system and sell the free market system, when the free market system hasn't really been practiced in this country for a very long time, not in --

JAY: Not in health care.

GLENN: Yeah, not in health care. But in many ways, in many industries it hasn't been practiced in a very long time.

JAY: Many industries.

GLENN: And people are taught that this is the free market system. And they see that it doesn't work. That it just -- it's awful and cumbersome. And they're being taught that, hey, this Marxism idea is a better idea.

How do we tell the truth about the free market system to a -- to a group of people that really don't know and don't really care about what the free market system really is?

JAY: So the answer is telling people who don't want to hear is probably not going to be our winning strategy. Okay?

GLENN: Yes, right.

JAY: It's just not going to be our winning strategy. So we're going to have to offer alternatives that exist against the dysfunctional system. And those alternatives will have to compete to attract people based on cost, efficacy, easiness, and those kinds of things. It churns out -- this system is probably going to do that. The mobile phone, when you add sensors and your ability to actually, within a few years see what's going on inside your body, probably means we're going to have two systems, a public system that is going to be broken for a long time and we should try to improve and a new technology that's going to emerge along the side, where people -- a significant amount of people say, look, I just want better health for my children. And if this helps my kid, then I'm using this system. I don't care who's paying for it. People want their kids to be healthy. People want their parents to be healthy. A little less themselves, unfortunately.

GLENN: You're a historian. You know that we've been around fake news forever. I mean, I have documents of fake news from the Revolutionary War.

JAY: About to say, it was perfectly normal for Thomas Jefferson to create fake news.

GLENN: It happened.

JAY: Hardball those days.

GLENN: Yeah. Your heads -- if you elect John Adams, your children's heads will be on a pike.

JAY: There you go.

GLENN: Hello. So we've had it forever. However, we are now in a system -- you came up with the friend button at Facebook.

Facebook is so freeing and gives people the power to connect with people like you and me and people -- and give people the power to have a voice just as powerful as anybody else's. But it also is -- just because of the algorithms, making everyone's world smaller. And we're hearing the voices that we agree with, and not necessarily the full spectrum. Then you add on top of that, fake news. How are we going to imagine this?

JAY: Well, first of all, let me set it straight. I'm not the inventor of the friend button. Some of the inventions I created led to it. So I don't want to take credit for something I'm not the inventor.

That being said, you're asking a tough question. And here's the question: The weather today is cold and rainy, but the climate is really what matters most here in Dallas, Texas. Right? It might be cold and rainy today, but we live in -- you're in Texas here. We have to remember that when we're hacking away at the weather, we're simply just hacking at the leaves. The climate is really the bigger issue.

And let's talk about the climate. More people are getting more news from more sources than ever before. Yes, some of those sources are being constrained. But if you have confidence in people, you know what, you can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can't fool all of the people all of the time. We live in a world where the ability to control the news like Nazi Germany or to control what any one person hears is less than ever before.

You know, white men -- old white men in New York City do not decide what's on the evening news anymore. We live in a much more information-open society. Yes, within certain realms, it appears we're being contradicted. We're having bracelets put around the news we see on Facebook, but that's not maybe what we're going to see on Twitter, or something new will emerge tomorrow.

Remember, the phone is going away, Glenn. The phone is an intermediate system. It's just an on-ramp to the network. It's almost certainly going to go to the glasses. And probably with a little thing in your ear, assuming we don't direct connect to the brain.

This is what's really going to happen. You're going to have way more opportunity here, way more people. And these younger kids, they're way more global. Yeah, it's easy to fool some of the people some of the time, but overall, the climate is more open, more information. You know, I don't care whether you're the Chinese government or whether you're a dictator in Africa, you're having -- or Korea. You're having a hard time controlling the flow of information.

GLENN: When you look at the climate, I am a -- I am a -- some would call me jingoistic. I would not. I would call myself proud of the -- the best system that has ever been created to help people explore -- the minute you come up with a better system than our Constitution and the free market connecting Moral Sentiments to Wealth of Nations, I'm in. I'm in. But this is the best that's been created.

But we're now being taught that America -- our children are being taught, America doesn't matter. It's a global community. And it is a global community. But how do we balance a global community with, these principles are global and eternal?

JAY: Well, there you've got the core of the problem. We used to have a much more of a common heritage. We used to have much more of a common heritage. We used to talk about Western values and Western civilization as an absolute good in the larger scheme of history. And we don't do that any longer.

GLENN: Is it an absolute source of good? In the overall picture?

JAY: If you study history, there is no systems, other than ours, that have lifted more people out of poverty, that have given more opportunity to more people who never had opportunity. If you're a woman, you want to be an American. If you're an African-American, you want to be an American (sic). Half the world would like to come to America. I'm not arguing that we're perfect or even better in every way, but what I'm saying is, market-based systems with real competition and checks and balances that in a government that works, has been by far and away the best. System. There isn't anybody in second place, right?

There are just fakes. So at the end of the day, when China wanted to lift hundreds of millions of people out of desperate poverty, they turned to capitalism to do it. Yeah, they put a Chinese brand on it. But, baby, they unlocked initiative. They unlocked risk-taking. They unlocked imagination at the market value. They opened their borders to global supply. They basically adopted the western system. They just called it the Chinese communist party.

GLENN: A friend of mine went over and talked to the Chinese. This was 2008. And he was very concerned about us.

And Chinese said, you guys might be kicked down. And you might have some time where you're kicked down for a while, but you have something that the world doesn't have. And that is imagination.

JAY: Permission to fail. The big difference in America is, in the rest of the world, when you're a failure, you're dead. You're done. In America, when you're a failure, you're Bill Gates. You're Steve Jobs. You're a failure? Perfect. You've dropped out of school, perfect. We love you. Okay?

America is a country that reinvents itself and has always done so. We believe in the individual. We believe in responsibility.

Look, we're the most charitable nation by far in the world. Just look at the nature of charity in America. Only people of generosity and wealth can be charitable. Most of the world doesn't -- that makes no sense in China, to donate money to a hospital. There are no hospitals in China, paid for by wealthy Chinese. That doesn't work that way.

America does that. And it's because we have permission to try, to fail, to try again. We literally, from the very start in our patent system said, if you can invent something, you don't have to practice it, and you don't have to be rich to get a patent.

GLENN: I think one of the worst things we've done are the bailouts and everything else. And a lot of people will say, because it's not our position as government. But my core on that is I have a right to fail. As much as I have a right to succeed -- my failures are more important to me than my successes. I am who I am today because of massive failures in my life.

JAY: All great hitters strike out a lot. Okay? They swing at the ball, and they strike out. The poor hitters watch the ball go by. Right? The great hitters put it in play, and they're out. But that's no difference than all of us. The fact of the matter is America allows for that.

Now, sure we have bailouts. Why? Because we have a political democracy. And you put enough people out of work, that's a lot of votes going out of work. So there's enormous pressure to not let those enterprises fail.

But we've learned over and over again, even when the largest enterprises in our country have failed over their history or have become irrelevant in their arc of history, the country bounces back. It finds new ways to deploy resources. It motivates people to learn.

In America, everybody wants to be wealthy. They don't want to drag the wealthy down. They want to join the wealthy. That's why America lives the way it lives.

GLENN: Jay Walker is our guest. An inventor. Described as a serial entrepreneur. Founder of Priceline. Founder of upside.com. An imagination expert. Has the library of the history of human imagination. A techno optimist. And we only have about two minutes left. On the other side, I want to come back. I want to ask you, if you're an entrepreneur and you're out there swinging for the fences today, what is the one thing -- one piece of advice that you would give them, to say, "Just focus here, or have you asked yourself this?"

We'll do that when we come back. First, our sponsor this half-hour is Casper. Are you having sleepless nights? Research shows sleepless nights may be because of warmer weather. And if you have a foam mattress, holy cow do you know that. You'll wake up in the middle of December with your windows open, and the top of you will be ice cold, and the bottom of you that's next to the mattress will be boiling hot.

This is one of the first things that Casper tried to do. They wanted the perfect mattress, so they went back to the laboratory, and they came up with a new foam -- two actual high-tech foams that will guarantee that you will sleep cool and comfortable. Then they wanted to see, how can we keep the price down to where normal people can afford a great mattress?

What they did is they cut out the middle man. And they ship right directly to you. So instead of going to some place where they're paying somebody to say, hey, why don't you lay down on this mattress? What you do is you just go to Casper.com, and you buy the mattress.

In 100 nights, you can send it back. They'll refund every single penny. They'll come and pick it up from you if you don't love it. But you're going to love it.

One hundred nights in your home. Try it. See if it doesn't just change the way you sleep and doesn't make you think about, I can't wait to go home and go to bed. Casper mattress. Casper.com. Use the promo code Beck. Get $50 off the purchase of your mattress right now. Terms and conditions do apply. It's Casper.com. Promo code Beck.

(OUT AT 10:52AM)

GLENN: Jay -- Jay Walker, the founder of Priceline and upside.com. Tell me if you're an entrepreneur and you're out there struggling, give me a piece of advice.

JAY: There's only one person that matters, assuming you've got the oxygen you need. Right? The oxygen is the capital you need to do anything. But if you've got the oxygen, it's all about the customer.

People are continuously reinventing how to serve customers. If you serve the customer, you win the game. There are endless ways to serve customers that have never been possible before. And that's what this new technology revolution is doing. It's putting things up in the air that have never been up in the air, that you can actually find customers and serve them. That's the key. Serve the customer.

GLENN: Upside.com. Jay Walker. Great to have you. We'll be on Facebook later today. Don't miss it.

JAY: Thank you.

Ryan: Making of an Ant Queen

Photo by Kevin Ryan

The embattled, Nobel-Peace-Prize-winning author Liu Xiaobo wrote that "Life is priceless even to an ant."

An ant colony can only survive for a few months after the death of its queen. On average, queens live 10 to 15 years. Some, up to 30 years, one of the longest insect lifespans, hidden deep within the colony, protected, unable to use her wings because she's a little bigger than she used to be.

Plus she's very busy.

The majority of ants are female. Wingless, sterile worker ants. They build nests, they forage, they hunt.

Theirs is a far briefer life than the queen's, ranging from a few weeks up to a year. But they see more of the outside world than any other ant.

The bigger they are, the farther they travel. And they release pheromones along the way so that they have a trail home.
Drones — winged male ants whose primary function in life is to mate with the queen — die after mating and rarely make it out of the colony.

Then, there are the soldier ants. They protect the colony and attack.

To quote philosopher Bertrand Russell, "Ants and savages put strangers to death."

They go on raids.

The attacking colony rarely loses, so most colonies flee as soon as an invasion begins. But they sometimes remain and fight.
Ants on both sides of the battle die in droves.

Henry David Thoreau describes an ant battle in Walden: "On every side they were engaged in deadly combat, yet without any noise that I could hear, and human soldiers never fought so resolutely."

If the attackers succeed in overtaking a colony, they pillage the eggs. Some are eaten, fed to larvae. But others become victims of slave raiding. Meaning that the victors return home with their enemy's unborn, feed them, nurse them. Then, when the eggs hatch, the victors force them into slavery.

Often, the slaves even develop an allegiance to the colony which ransacked their home and enslaved them. They'll even help raid other colonies and either die pointlessly or help with the seizure of the next generation of slaves.

Sometimes, however, the slave ants rebel.

In the words of Persian poet Saadi, "Ants, fighting together, will vanquish the lion."

Flying ants, both male and female, leave the colony to form another colony. Once they find a suitable place, the males's wings fall off and they mate to their death. Then one or more of the females becomes queen.

*

It felt odd, any time I sat with a roomful of media, a few hundred journalists from all over the world, as they simultaneously, silently, decided "Yep, that's newsworthy. We should hammer that."

It wasn't like everyone turned to each other and said, "Let's agree on the narrative."

It was an energy.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Like in Houston, at the third Democratic Debate, after Biden misused the word "record player," you could hear chatter spread through the room, people muttering the words "records" and "record player."

In Houston, the media watched the debate from a gymnasium around the corner from the auditorium. So I could contrast the crowd's reactions with the media's reactions.

Nearly every time, there was a disparity between the two. The media were more relaxed — during the debate at least. The audience enjoyed any mentions of identity issues. There were a lot. But the media barely reacted at all.

This was a good thing, probably.

*

It's impressive to see how politicians force their stump speeches into a new form, depending on the context. How they say it like an epiphany.

That night brought the opposite for the ever-fledgling Kamala Harris. I could not believe it. Was this the same woman who'd made Iowa hers, just a little over a month ago?

All night, she was so loyal to the tactic she'd premeditated that she didn't realize it wasn't working, like she kept putting on a puppet show on some busy sidewalk.

At one point, she declared, proudly, "We're not talking about Donald Trump enough."

The most talked-about man in the world, perhaps in our country's history.

In five weeks, she became an entirely different candidate. Her latest version resembled a Xanax-fueled stepmom. It was like she was transforming into Joe Biden.

She kept laughing at her own jokes. And the entire media room cringed every time.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Amy Klobuchar's pre-formed jokes and half-zany dad jokes fell short every time, too. Most of the media saw Klobuchar's long rants as a chance to chat with a neighbor or jet off to the nearest bathroom, which was likely a locker-room full of plastic flight containers and padded camera cases and journalists who curse like sailors.

During the debate, the press was stoic. So if a candidate got a reaction from them, it carried a certain authenticity.

They laughed at things that the audience ignored or disliked or didn't notice. In part because the audience didn't do a whole lot of laughing. But the media laughed like professionals laugh. In-jokey and staid yet ready for anything unexpected.

They loved it when Booker said the thing about "Let me translate that to Spanish … 'No'." And Yang's opening handclaps. As well as Pete Buttigieg's reaction to Yang's raffle.

The biggest laugh of the night in the media center, surprisingly, was when Yang said, "I am Asian, so I know a lot of doctors."

*

Early scientists believed that ants adhere to a complicated hierarchy, which biologist E O Wilson compared to the Hindu caste system. The idea was, ants and humans have a lot in common, and ants belong to a society divided by class and determined by labor.

In the Wealth of Nations, father of capitalism Adam Smith wrote: "It is the great multiplication of the productions of all the different arts, in consequence of the division of labour, which occasions, in a well-governed society, that universal opulence which extends itself to the lowest ranks of the people."

Ants have been organized into colonized societies since the Cretaceous Period, 140 million years ago, when dinosaurs still dominated the Earth. All of that changed 74 million years later. Which was about 66 million years ago. When a comet slammed into what is now the Yucatan Peninsula, resulting in the KT mass extinction.

80 percent of all plants and animals died. The ash and dust and debris polluted the air, blocked the sunlight, transforming the Earth into a dark, frozen wasteland full of asthma.

Insects, carrion-eaters, and omnivores all survived. Any purely carnivorous animals starved to death, while mammals and birds fed on insects and worms until the earth repopulated itself with more animals that could be eaten.

The K-T Mass Extinction ushered in a new era of life. Species that had lived in constant retreat from predators were suddenly able to form more elaborate purposes.

After these lifeforms thrived for tens of millions of years, certain mammals started to become vaguely humanlike.
Early humans popped up about 300,000 years ago.

Meaning, ants have existed for 140 million years, which is 139.7 million years longer than humans.

For reference, if you counted to 300,000, it would take you roughly three-in-a-half days. To get to 140 million would take about four-and-a-half years.

Humans only began developing language about 100,000 years ago.

Yet we're the ones with libraries and governments and ABBA and iPhones. What did ants have? Other people's sugar?

*

Before the debate, I wandered out of the gymnasium and onto bustling sidewalks with makeshift security fencing on each side. And hopped over the massive yellow tubes that belonged in E.T. and pumped cold air into the building. Past dozens of police and security, through an elaborate weave of temporary checkpoints and wires bigger than a fire hose.

On the street, I passed a group of six-or-so teenagers flipping DELANEY signs around like those cardboard "WE BUY GOLD" banners which actual people bob around while dressed as Elvis or Lady Liberty or a Banana.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

The sun cast a delightful orange over Houston, glitter in the humid air.

Those kids were having a blast with those signs. Laughing so hard they had to stop occasionally and slap their legs.

On the other side of the fence, some of the most powerful people in the world were readying for battle, and these kids could not have cared less.

*

The protestors had gathered just outside the gates of the campus entrance.

Far as I could tell, it was me and no other journalists present. The rest of the media were in the gymnasium, preparing for the debate or networking or already on-air. Once they got into the media center they stayed put. For many reasons, I assume.
The air collapsed under a wave of heat unique to Houston.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Gnarled blockades served as borders on both sides of the street. Locked into steel fencing, flanked by rows of police cars with their lights on but their sirens off.

Worse than the humidity, and more intense, was the energy bouncing out of the protestors on Cleburne Street. The opposite of suction energy, shoving out with tension and panic and elation.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Curtis Mayfield's "Move on Up" blared from a Bluetooth speaker. I envisioned a slow zoom from above, beginning with the top of my head and rising, up and up and up. Drawing in the greater scene. Up past Trump's message-board plane. A panorama of city, then county, then state, capturing the topography and nuance of each snapshot of nature.

The higher the camera rose, the more I resembled an ant. One more wingless worker or obedient soldier rushing from place to place on a mission.

And when you got far enough above, you saw the colony that each of us belongs to.

Then it shrank like a passing bobsled, and Earth itself resembled an ant.

The scale of it is daunting.

For thousands of years the sky has filled humans with romance and humility and wonder. A restive impulse that strikes when we gaze up at the moon, the stars, the galaxy, the quiet.

But at ground level, I was a man in the throes of a great human drama. And my job was to document it as neutrally as possible.

The 120-odd protestors on the south side of the street spilled onto the sidewalk and into a lawn, and they chanted as the Trump plane groaned overhead.

They were crowded together, and they were all fighting for different causes. Lots of contradictions under the same banner.
Next to a group of Beto supporters with pro-choice t-shirts, several women chanted

We.
Want.
A pro-life.
Dem.

Chaos itself occupied the south side of the street. The protestors weren't sure how to handle it. So they chanted and sang and probed for the problem. Like so many tiny creatures hauling an orange slice.

Across the street, facing that horde of supporters, two men gripped pro-life signs.

They were the counter-protestors. Their barricade was far wider than needed. The grass around them looked sad, like the trail a dog makes along the fence when it wants to escape.

Behind the two counter-protestors, a mini-bus covered with photos of aborted babies, tangled fetuses, severed and indistinguishable chunks.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Photo by Kevin Ryan

I squinted and gasped and felt downright unwell.

Two days earlier, my wife and I found out that she was pregnant with our first child.

At the very moment I stared at images of tiny human shapes contorted and grey, our baby was the size of a pea.
A few weeks later, we'd see its heartbeat pulsing like a strobe.

I'm not making a statement on abortion. That's not my job as a journalist.

It's more my admiration for the impeccable depth of life. The timing. How messages and symbols confront us all the time, with unmatchable creativity.

Because there I was, literally in the middle of two opposing factions. Again. In the divide. Tangled into so many dichotomies. Life and death. Freedom and oppression. Order and chaos. Activity and stagnation. Creation and loss. Art and nature.

And I had once again remained in the middle.

This brought me tremendous satisfaction. It signified personal and journalistic success.

It was also a bit ridiculous.

As a reporter, I never wanted to pick a side. I already had a side. My side was America, and Ireland. My side was humanity.

My side was life.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. Check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

"Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak.Not to act is to act."
― Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The cost of discipleship can be daunting and few people are willing to sacrifice and stand in the face of evil to do what they know God is asking of them. The "Bonhoeffer Angel Award" is awarded to someone with the vision and courage to act when others only talk, to dig in and listen to the whisperings of the spirit when others turn a deaf ear. It is only fitting the inaugural award go to the visionary founder of Mercury One, Glenn Beck.

The award was presented by the Board President of Mercury One, David Barton and CEO of the Nazarene Fund, Tim Ballard. There was a touching video tribute as well including the likes of Penn Jillette, Senators Mike Lee, Ted Cruz and Joe Liberman, Congressman Loui Gohmert and Rabbi Daniel Lappin.

WATCH THE VIDEO HERE:

Glenn will be hosting the annual Operation Underground Railroad gala Saturday, November 2nd with keynote speaker Tim Ballard. If you are able to join us, tickets are still available and donations of all sizes are welcome.

Summer is ending and fall is in the air. Before you know it, Christmas will be here, a time when much of the world unites to celebrate the love of family, the generosity of the human spirit, and the birth of the Christ-child in Bethlehem.

For one night only at the Kingsbury Hall in Salt Lake City, on December 7th, join internationally-acclaimed radio host and storyteller Glenn Beck as he walks you through tales of Christmas in the way that only he can. There will be laughs, and there might be a few tears. But at the end of the night, you'll leave with a warm feeling in your heart and a smile on your face.

Reconnect to the true spirit of Christmas with Glenn Beck, in a storytelling tour de force that you won't soon forget.

Get tickets and learn more about the event here.

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Ryan: Donald Trump goes to Dallas

Photo by Sean Ryan

Donald Trump leaned into the rostrum like a bartender. He loved to rile his patrons.

"They. Wanna. Take. Your Guns. Away," he said, in his trademark staccato.

They stomped and hollered, 18,000 strong in the American Airlines Center, home of the Dallas Mavericks, on a Thursday in October, and another 5,000 people waited outside, desperate to join.

"At stake. In this fight. Is the survival. Of American democracy itself," he said, then went off-script. "Don't kid yourself, that's what they want, they are destroying this country, but we will never let it happen, not even close."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Here it was a few weeks from Halloween, with more autumn in the air each day. And 23,000 people roamed Dallas in costumes. All dressed up like American flags. They were happy. You could feel it all around.

It was ice-cold in that arena, but I had my bulky tan Carhartt jacket. It had been an hour since I chuffed down a travel-sized Crown Royal and some Sativa gummies, and I felt an unerring contentment.

Photo by Sean Ryan

So my eyes shot wide when Trump jerked his hand toward the media pool for the third or fourth time that night and dealt a few jabs, and the audience hissed.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every time it happened, I struggled to keep from laughing. Not in a condescending way. Neutral amusement. The drama of this wild setting full of energized people, the stadium lights, the narrative in motion. Hero versus Bad Guy.

Next minute they were cheering again. Because Trump told them about his plan to bring jobs back to America. It was just a matter of overcoming so many evil forces. But, he assured them, he was the only man who could guide us.

He listed off the enemies. The media, obviously. China, Obama, Democrats, Socialism, politicians, ISIS. I gasped, "Oh shit, I forgot about ISIS!"

*

There were five of us at the rally representing BlazeMedia. Writer Samantha Sullivan, cameraman James Baier, producer John Ruggio, and photographer Sean Ryan, my father.

James plays on the drumline at Mavericks games, so he gave us a proper tour of the arena, all the long passages and gaping walkways and cramped stairwells.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then we prowled around outside, looking for protests.

It was a different world out there on the street. A nun in diabetes socks strolled past MAGA vendors by the W Hotel. Valet spots crowded with Secret Service vehicles.

Photo by Sean Ryan

An all-women Pro-Trump county/rock band chanted on the massive stage, where, an hour later, Fox News live-casted. We were the only media outside, besides the odd cameraman tip-toeing through the curving rows of Trump supporters in line.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Samantha conducted man-on-the-street interviews. Nearly every time we walked away from someone we'd just interviewed, the people around them said a version of, "Now you're famous."

*

There were a dozen merchants selling Trump merchandise outside the arena, at least a dozen. One of them told me that they travel to all of Trump's rallies. From his cart, a flag billowed with the words "2020: Make Liberals Cry Again."

Photo by Sean Ryan

As we followed the curves of the snaking line, I overheard a drunk man in his dark tan blazer exclaim, "All right, I'm gonna get us on television again."

We flashed past thousands of faces, thousands of people, driven to be there, standing in line. And happy no less. Blatant under the red-winged sky with planes that float silently, graceful and astounding.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A young woman strolled down the street with a sign that read, "I might be gay, but I'm not stupid."

She told us her story. Her message was compassionate. Her face was relaxed.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A little further down, plumes of smoke rose from a group of protestors with signs that said "We Vape We Vote.""Are you guys protesting Trump," I asked one of them.

"No," he said, "we all have different opinions about Trump. Not really worried about that. Right now we just want to protest the new vaping laws."

Photo by Sean Ryan

*

At 7:44 p.m., "Proud to be an American" came on and Trump emerged from the guts of the arena, strolling through the tunnel like Michael Jordan. Game 6.

Some people teared up, placed a hand over their eyes or their heart. Others nodded for too long, as if they couldn't believe what they were seeing. Was that really him up there?

Even a few of the police had that resplendent look.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Trump walked the stage. He clapped and waved. He waited till the end of the Lee Greenwood song to speak. The audience cheered as he braced the podium and said, "Thank you." And they kept cheering. He waited. 20 seconds or so. But the applause kept going, so he turned around and clapped some more and waved and smiled that certain way he smiles.

*

"I am thrilled to be here," he said, "deep in the heart of Texas." And people cheered even louder than before, because Texans love Texas. "Where we just opened a beautiful new Louis Vuitton plant."

Life in America was now constantly surreal. Donald Trump, who actually became President, was talking at a packed rally. In a basketball arena. About the opening of a factory. For a luxurious French fashion brand. In Keene, Texas, population 6,400.

*

Trump peeked at one of his teleprompters. Grinning halfway. Then he jabbed his finger into the air, aimed it at the media section, and said "They're worse now than they ever have been," his shoulders raised and hands gesticulating. "They're crooked as hell. They're worse now than they've ever been. They're crooked."

Photo by Sean Ryan

His supporters booed. Jeered.

They pointed their fingers. They hocked.

A "CNN sucks" chant whispered down from a corner section on the 3rd level, but it never caught on. The audience's hissing tactic worked better anyway. No words. Words were the problem.

*

There was a musicality to Trump's sentences. He started with clipped phrases spoken in couplets. Then he let the words slide into an almost freeflow.

Photo by Sean Ryan

He would start on-script, "The radical Democrats want to destroy America as we know it. They wanna indoctrinate our children." Then, halfway through the next sentence, he would pivot into an aside, spoken in vernacular.

"And teach them that America is a sinful nation, you see that happening all the time. And I know it from personal experience. What they want to teach your kids, not good. They come home, 'Mommy, daddy, this is what I learned,' and you're going 'Oh, no, don't tell me. Let's get 'em into another school, fast.'"

*

Bleacher Report ranked American Airlines Center the 7th loudest arena in the NBA.

The crowd's reaction to Trump's comments about guns and the 2nd Amendment created one of the loudest sounds of the night, louder than Tina Turner's "The Best," which played about 8 times. Must have been 100 decibels. Some people were stuffing their ears with whatever fit.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Nearly every one of Trump's punchlines got an audience reaction.

I mean these folks were revved up.

I spoke to a lot of people that night. Not a single solitary one of them was anything less than kind.

Look, I might as well say it now. The crowd was more diverse than I'd expected. Race, ethnicity, age, sex. Probably less diverse than the demographics of the country. But that's to be expected. Every one of the events so far brought a completely different crowd.

Photo by Sean Ryan

What mattered most was how the candidates swayed any given crowd at any given place. What was different about a Bernie Sanders townhall at a Hilton and a Kamala Harris sermon at a Baptist Church?

Nobody was ever rude at any events. But nowhere was there as much excitement as at the Trump rally. It felt like a sporting event or a music festival.

Photo by Sean Ryan

More than anything, it felt like WrestleMania. Professional wrestling. World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE).

So many times I looked around at the engulfed arena and thought, "This is WWE."

*

Especially when Trump told stories. The way he added both vitriol and triumph to his sentences. Turned them into journeys, much like the interwoven plot lines of a WWE drama, each scene and victory or failure leading to WrestleMania.

The more outrageous or scandalous the story, the better. The less believable, the more dramatic it became. Because all any of it had to be was compelling.

Photo by Sean Ryan

To be compelling was more important than to be literal or judicious. Supercharged with human drama. Betrayal. Contempt. Dalliances. Mockery. Danger. Love. Confoundment. Anxiety. Celebration. Occasionally even death.

All of it was WWE to the hilt. But it was also the polluted clouds in an otherwise sacred dream. Water and adolescence, all the magnets spinning and spinning. Each huff from the street. The reckoning of life, how maybe it could have happened differently but this is how it went.

*

He seemed to use a kind of operant conditioning on his audience, as if to make it easier for them to communicate in shorthand.

Fewer words, fewer, few.

Photo by Sean Ryan

For instance, here's his first mention of the media, at the start of the rally.

"Although the fake news back there, they don't wanna talk about it." That drew the boo's all right.

He leaned back, as if handing them the mic for a moment.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"They don't wanna talk about it." He stared at the media area for a few seconds, then squinted cartoonishly and lifted his palm over his forehead like he was blocking out the sun. Then he leaned into the podium, and the pitch of his voice rose. "Look at all those cameras, can you believe it? Look at all those red lights."

Then he pointed at the press pool. The cameras were set up directly across the arena floor, so when you watch it on video it's like Trump is bursting out of your monitor.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"Don't worry, I won't say anything bad about your network."

Then he — immediately — said something bad about the networks.

"Cuz' a lot of times I get ready to do a number on these phony networks and, you know, I see those red lights go off, off, off, off, off. They don't want their viewers to see, but that's okay. I'm not gonna say it tonight. I'm gonna say, 'You're legitimate media'."
Aside, "I don't actually mean that."

He grimaced.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"But you look at that," he said, pointing, then lifted his palm to his forehead again, like he still couldn't find the puny thing he was looking for. "That's like the Academy Awards used to be, it failed. You know why it failed? Because they came after us. That's why it failed. It failed because it had stupid people saying horrible things about us."

Then he pointed to his temple wiggling his finger, "Stup-id." Shook his head. "Stupid people. They are stupid people. And their ratings have dropped like a rock. And I love seeing it, I'm telling you. Love it."

He reared his head back.

"But no matter how. Hard. They. Try. They will fail. Because the people of Texas, and the people of America, will never. Surrender. Our freedom. To those people. Right there."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Later in the speech, he said much less, mostly variations of "and in the back you'll see the fake news." Repetition, a little briefer each time. Down to an occasional off-handed, "Those phonies in the back." Then, eventually, all he had to do was point, grimacing.

Two K9 police took stance in front of the grey barricade separating us from them, which amounted to separating us from ourselves.

*

Security at the rally was unlike anything I'd seen. An entire military apparatus that floated here from Washington D.C., subsuming downtown.

Two wax-shined helicopters hovered over the arena, unmoving, like geckos ready to snap on a fly. I'd never seen a helicopter float perfectly still like that. It was terrifying.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Secret Service everywhere. Different ranks. Outside were the Navy Seal types in body armor, hoisting MP5s with silencers. The Secret Service inside, nearest Trump, had the same jagged stare and well-trained unease. But they glided around in immaculate, boring suits, each with a gold square pin on the lapel. They either stealthed around in a blur or stood perfectly still like the Queen's Guard.

I'd been to the American Airlines Center twice before. A few years ago, for Kanye West's Saint Pablo tour, when he performed solo on the levitating stage. And last summer, to review a Shania Twain concert under the influence of LSD.

Oddly, the Trump rally was a mixture of both.

*

In nearby Grand Prairie, at the Theatre at Grand Prairie, Texas Democrat Beto O'Rourke held a competing rally. There were about as many people at O'Rourke's rally as people outside the Trump rally.

Obviously, Trump loved that. But, for good measure, he hurled a few Beto-jabs into his speech, referring to him as "a very dumb Democrat candidate for president."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then he compared him to one of those wacky inflated dancing noodles you only ever see at used car dealerships.

Then he did an imitation of above-mentioned contraption. It was bizarre to see a President imitating a dancing noodle. But he didn't care what a President should or shouldn't do. He was the anti-Politician President. And his followers loved that about him.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"The flailer," he said. "Remember he was flailing all over the place? I said, 'Why is this guy hot? John Cornyn's gonna win so easily. Just like Ted Cruz won. He's gonna win. No matter what happened." Then he scoured, like a falcon in a painting. "In a few short weeks, [Beto] got rid of guns then got rid of religion. Those are not two good things in Texas to get rid of."

*

Stomping his balled-up hand, Trump said that his office, the Oval Office, was our office, too. The crowd roared. Some of these people had driven hours for the rally. There were farmers and truck drivers and teachers and nurses. A lot of people there had never had an office of their own, and here was the President saying his was theirs.

Trump is the hero of his stories. It's part of his success, and, I suspect, a useful defense mechanism. At first glance, his journey and his character are riffs on the classical literary model, a thirsty figure who gnashes through dangerous territory, down into the unknown, through death and onto rebirth.

Photo by Sean Ryan

But Trump is not classic in the slightest. He's nothing like Odysseus or Dante or Gilgamesh or Don Quixote. Instead, he is a postmodern antihero, like Clint Eastwood in "A Fistful of Dollars" or Tony Soprano or Beyoncé or Homer Simpson. In the summer of 2015, I asked a former professor to define postmodernism.

"Donald Trump," he replied. "He contains all of it. Chaos. Hyperreality. Lots of chaos. A constant sense of 'This is so surreal.' The rejection of tradition and assumptions. Rejection of divisions between high and low culture. Rejection of rules and styles and genres. Use of pastiche. Satire. Irony. Playfulness. Paranoia. Fragmentation. A total lack of boundaries."

*

Any time the place got quiet, some random person, usually near the rafters, hollered out phrases, and it just sound like the South Park rednecks saying "They took our jobs!"

To be fair, hecklers on the left don't sound much better.

*

A week earlier, at Trump's Minneapolis rally, protestors and activists formed a moshpit outside the Target Center, not too far from the Mississippi River.

Tensions in Minneapolis had been high, and as Trump was about to board Air Force One Mayor Jacob Frey insisted that Trump pay the $530,000 security fee in advance. A last minute effort to keep him out of Minneapolis.

In response, Trump tweeted that the "lightweight mayor is hurting the great police and other wonderful supporters. 72,000 ticket requests already. Dump Frey and [Minnesota Rep. Ilhan] Omar! Make America Great Again!"

Photo by Sean Ryan

Conservative networks reported that, after the rally, members of AntiFa attacked at least one Trump supporter. Moral panic or not, it didn't augur well for the next year.

The following day, Trump appeared in Lake Charles, Louisiana. The South. No army of AntiFa down here, not like in Portland or New York or Seattle.

AntiFa has a decent presence in Dallas, and a reporter friend of mine interviewed a group of them outside the Trump rally. But there were hardly any there. A dozen or so. Which is nothing compared to the tens of thousands of Trump supporters, coiled all through downtown Dallas with its neon green outline.

*

I worked as a soccer referee for years. So I've broken up countless fights, dealt with manic egos, endured adults prone to outbursts, taken every kind of verbal abuse, faced absolute mutiny. In these chaotic situations, when people around you are losing their minds, the two greatest solutions are kindness and humor.

*

Halfway through a sentence Trump stopped reading from the prompters, stopped talking, pivoted, beamed at the crowd, then lifted his hand.

The entire arena fell silent.

It was the captivating hush of the final moments of an important game, as the ball floats through the air toward the goal or net or end zone, and fate is no longer within our grasp.

Imagine being able to freeze an entire arena into abrupt silence with one tilt of your hand.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Trump was quarterback and they were the defensive line. He sang the melody and they hummed the backbeat. He was the skipper and they were deckhands. Although he seemed concerned that his supporters never felt belittled by this arrangement.

"[Democrats] come after me, but what they're really doing is coming after the Republican party. And what they're really really doing is they're fighting you, and we never lose."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every time he dropped a line like that, the crowd erupted with the kind of visceral intensity usually reserved for good news and sports.

The man who Evil Knievelled into arenas and said he'd never be conquered.

The closing of his speech was like the ball-drop in Times Square. But instead of kazoos and fireworks it was the words "Make America Great Again."

"Four more years," people shouted, "four more years."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" blasted to life.

For some reason, one verse stood out more than the others.

And I went down to the demonstration
To get my fair share of abuse
Singing, "We're gonna vent our frustration
If we don't we're gonna blow a fifty-amp fuse"

In all that hissing and mania, all the flag-waving intensity — as the arena peeled and shook with the song and so many stomping feet — Trump looked in one direction, waved. Then another, and turned, waved. Until he had looked in every direction and waved.

Before he ducked out, he pointed toward the crowd one last time. A blaring sea of reds, blues, whites. A living representation of the American flag. All three colors boiling around under the Jumbotron and disco balls.

Little by little, people streamed into the aisles. They filed up the concrete steps, and out into a familiar chaos.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. Check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com