David Walker interview about the economy

GLENN: From Radio City in Midtown Manhattan, the third most listened to show in all of America. Hello, you sick freak. My name is Glenn Beck. Dow is down 300 points. Still people are in denial that our economy is in real, real trouble and the reason why I say normally, I would tell you that, you know, we go through these cycles and it happens. I cannot tell you that now and I have been telling you this for at least a year. I've been really ringing the warning bell since August on what was coming with our banking systems and everything else because of the underlying problem that we have in our government's recordkeeping, the way our government is spending. An avalanche is right around the corner and there is no escape and no one is willing to talk about it. None of our politicians will address it and so no matter what kind of Band-Aid you put on this economy, you must address certain issues, and the biggest issue is not the peanut museums but Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid. What is coming around the corner. Today all of our politicians are talking about spending packages, giving out more money to help this economy. It will be short lived and in the end do much, much more damage because the underlying problem is we have spent too much money as it is.


 


 Now, I tried to get this guy on the radio for you to listen to for quite some time. David Walker is the comptroller general of the United States of America. Basically he is our chief accountant. This is not a political position. He was appointed originally by Reagan, reappointed by Clinton but always unanimous in the Senate. He never spoke out. He has finally said an avalanche is coming and no one's willing to talk about it and so he will tell you what really is coming. I beg you to listen to this man because he's the only one telling you the truth about what's happening in Washington because he's the guy who keeps the books.


 


 It is an honor, sir. David Walker, welcome to the program.


 


 WALKER: Good to be with you, Glenn. Like your theme song.


 


 GLENN: Thank you very much. David, do you get a lot of heat from political people for speaking out this way?


 


 WALKER: Glenn, as long as I state the facts, speak the truth, don't blame any particular political party and don't blame any particular person, then I'm fine. And in fact, I'm doing elected officials a favor because the American people need to understand where we are, where we're headed, the need for tough choices and realistically elected officials aren't going to make those tough choices until the people understand the need for them.


 


 GLENN: I don't care about the blame. I don't want to point fingers. I just, I understand the problem. Start at the beginning. Tell us how this system works. Tell us how if our Government was a business, they would all be in jail today.


 


 WALKER: Yeah, if we were a business, we would be out of business. But the Government has the ability to do things that the companies don't. The Government has the ability to print money. The Government has the ability to tax. The Government has had the ability to borrow because at the present point in time the federal government is viewed as having the safest credit rating that you can get. However within the last two years both S&P and Moody's have said that we're headed for a junk bond rating within the next 15 to 20 years if we don't --


 


 GLENN: What does that mean to us?


 


 WALKER: Well, what that's going to mean is much higher interest rates that the Government will have to pay in order to borrow money which will have adverse effects on the budget, which will have adverse effects with regard to the overall economy.


 


 GLENN: David, please, please help me out on this. I'm a former deejay. I'm a self-educated guy. I'm a recovering alcoholic, for the love of Pete, and I can understand our economy. But every -- because I look at it like my house. But every economist, every expert, every politician will say, oh, no, well, that's too simple. It doesn't seem -- you are talking about, here come crushing interest rates because we have bad credit. That's what the average homeowner who has bad credit and went out and got a risky loan is facing today.


 


 WALKER: Right.


 


 GLENN: Where is the difference? Why is it more complex than our personal economy?


 


 WALKER: Frankly I think a lot of the economists want to make it more complicated than it really is. I mean, the fact of the matter is that the federal government is spending more money than it takes in. It's charging the national credit card. It's building debt in compounded interest and it's expecting future generations to pay it off. And, you know, our problem is not the current deficits. The deficits we're running now are manageable. Our current debt levels that we have now are manageable. The problem is that even though the deficits have come down for three years in a row, our unfunded promises for Social Security and Medicare have risen dramatically. In our total fiscal hole it is $53 trillion. That's $440,000 per household. So the problem's not where we are, it's not where we've been. It's where we're headed unless we end up making dramatic and fundamental reforms.


 


 GLENN: And see, this is the problem. All the politicians make the deficit, the current deficit the issue and they say these deficit spendings, they're out of control. And I believe they are. And they've got to cut spending in Washington. But the biggest problem that we've had in the last eight years is adding another program like prescription drugs, correct?


 


 WALKER: That was the most fiscally irresponsible act in decades. And when the congress debated that, they only considered the ten-year cost of the program, not the longer term cost. And now we know the price tag for Medicare prescription drugs is over $8 trillion. There's twelve zeros in line with that eight.


 


 GLENN: Give some example. These numbers honestly, David, I think that trillion, I believe growing up, I believe when I was in second grade I think I made up the word trillion and zillion. I didn't think they were real words. So give some concept of what $8 trillion means.


 


 WALKER: Well, I'll give you the $53 trillion that I talked about which is the total unfunded obligations for Medicare, which is $34 trillion. The total unfunded obligation for Social Security which is about 7 plus our debt and other liabilities. $53 trillion is $440,000 per American household. Median household income in America, believe it or not, Glenn, is less than $50,000 a year. So it's like if we just want to continue on our present path, it's like every American household having a mortgage of nine and a half times their annual income for the median household but no house to back that mortgage. That's in addition to all the other debt that they have.


 


 GLENN: It's my understanding when people say tax the rich, they need to pay more, it is my understanding that you could take all of the income, income, not income tax, all of the income generated in this country and still not afford what we have coming.


 


 WALKER: Well, to put it a different way, the $53 trillion is 90% of the estimated total net worth of every American, including Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and every billionaire. You are not going to tax your way out of this problem. You're not going to grow your way out of this problem. You are not going to do it by con training spending. You are going to have to do a combination of things and the biggest thing is going to be entitlement reform, Social Security and Medicare, healthcare being a much greater challenge. And we need to start soon because time's working against us. That $53 trillion number is going up $2 to $3 trillion a year by doing nothing.


 


 GLENN: Tell me about the -- and listeners, because I don't want to make this political. It tell you, though, behind-the-scenes story on the Menu of Pain on a later episode of the program. But let's just keep it nonpolitical here. Tell me about the Menu of Pain that actually was supposed to be in a federal budget but was buried in a group of actuary tables in the back of the Social Security budget, if I'm not mistaken, but this is telling. It tells you the real story of what you've got to do.


 


 WALKER: Well, we're going to have to do several things. Number one, we're going to have to bring back tough budget controls, tougher than the ones we had in the 1990s. Those ones worked. They took us from deficits to surpluses but they all expired in 2002 and there's been no constraint since then. And so we've got to bring back tough controls. But in addition to that we're going to have to reform Social Security, which frankly is easy and we can talk about that if you want. We're going to have to engage in dramatic healthcare reform in installments and we're going to have to --


 


 GLENN: Wait, wait, wait. Wait, wait, wait, dramatic healthcare installments, what's that mean? Can we afford anybody's plan of universal healthcare?


 


 WALKER: Well, the current plans that we have right now, the numbers don't add up and here's what we have to recognize. We have already promised in Medicare alone $34 trillion more than in revenues that we have to deliver on those promises. $34 trillion in today's terms, okay? So when people talk about, gee, I want to do this on healthcare, I'm going to pay for it by not extending the Bush tax cuts or whatever, what about the $34 trillion hole? You can't just be in a situation to talk about I'm going to pay for my additional promises. We need to address the $34 trillion hole. And that was the problem with Medicare prescription drugs. We were in the hole about $20 trillion and it went up another $8 rather than going the direction it needs to go.


 


 GLENN: On the Menu of Pain it was several different things. You can reform Social Security, you can raise taxes and every year that slips by because of the mounting interest, those, that menu becomes more and more painful.


 


 WALKER: That's correct.


 


 GLENN: Can you give us some of the realistic -- because everybody's talking about raising taxes now. Can you just give us the line of how high you need to raise taxes to be able to deal with it two years ago today and maybe two years in the future?


 


 WALKER: Well, let's talk about today, okay? I mean, you know, you would end up having to increase taxes about $11,000 per household immediately in order to deal with this problem. Stated differently, you would end up having to -- we would end up having to tax, rather than at about 18 1/2% of the economy, which is what we're doing now, about 30% of the economy over the next 15 to 20 years and continuing to rise. And those taxes would be borne primarily in all likelihood either based upon income taxes or some type of consumption tax because payroll taxes are already burdening too many Americans.


 


 GLENN: David, what happens if we don't address this problem in the next four years? What does it look like in four years from now, you know, ten years or 20 years from now?


 


 WALKER: Here's my concern. I believe we have a narrowing window of opportunity to get our fiscal house in order. I believe we have five to ten years maximum in order to be able to demonstrate to the capital markets and to our foreign lenders that we will take this seriously. If we're not able to do that, then I think it's only a matter of time before those who have been borrowing our debt -- buying our debt, which is increasingly foreign players, 75%-plus of our debt bought by foreign players, will lose their appetite for our debt and that's when interest rates go up. And when interest rates go up, then believe me, we can have something a lot worse than a recession.


 


 So my concern is that the next President, whoever that might be, has got to make fiscal responsibility and intergenerational equity one of their top priorities. They need to start talking about it in the general election campaign so that they have some basis to do something about it because the window of opportunity is closing.


 


 GLENN: David, I will not ask you a question that will put you in an awkward situation. So answer this as generally as you can and we'll do our own homework. Have you heard any politician out there that has a shot actually talking about the issue in a way that you feel is fiscally responsible?


 


 WALKER: First, I did not expect and I haven't been disappointed in the fact that fiscal responsibility and intergenerational equity has not been a major issue in the primary campaigns. I didn't expect that it would be because in the primary campaigns both parties are playing to their base and they are more concerned with issues like Iraq and immigration and now the changing nature of the economy and general healthcare coverage and things of that nature. I've expected and I hope that I will be right that it will be an issue for the general election campaign.


 


 Now, without mentioning any specific names, there's at least a couple of people on the Republican side and at least one person on the Democratic side who have used some words that lead you to believe that they understand that we have a problem here, but nobody has dealt with specifics at this point and I don't expect that they will for some time. Candidly I think they need to commit to several things, Glenn. Number one: They understand that we have a big problem and they are committed to make it a priority to do something about it. Number two: They will work on a bipartisan basis to address this problem if they become President. Number three: They will not take anything off the table. They won't take changes to Social Security or Medicare or the tax system or spending policy off the table because the gap's so big, we need to have everything on the table. And ideally, number 4: That they would endorse a capable, credible bipartisan commission that would make recommendations to the next President and the next congress for an up or down vote, a forced vote to try to help us get a down payment on this big problem so we can start making progress.


 


 GLENN: David, I only have one minute and there are a ton of nay sayers, a ton of people who say, oh, we've always faced these problems, et cetera, et cetera. Give me one fact that would peel the skin off of people's faces to wake them up.


 


 WALKER: In 1950 we had 16 people paying into Social Security for every person retired. Now we have 3.3 to 1. We're going to have 2 to 1 by 2030. Same ratios for Medicare. We've never faced this before. This is a tsunami of spending that can swamp our ship of state if we don't get serious.


 


 GLENN: David Walker, I can't tell you, sir. You are going to go down in the history books as a patriot. I appreciate you speaking out and don't stop. And anything we can do, you please let us know, sir.


 


 WALKER: Thanks for your interest and efforts, Glenn.


 


 GLENN: Thank you, sir.


 


 WALKER: Take care.


 


 GLENN: David Walker, the comptroller general of the United States of America. He is our chief bean counter and the first, first guy to ever come out and really talk about it. We're out of time. I wish we weren't because he'll talk to you about the three sets of books that we hold, how I think we should put these people in jail. But that's a different story.

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.

The general sale period will be Friday, August 16 at 10:00 AM MDT. Stay tuned to for updates. We look forward to sharing in the Christmas spirit with you!

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