Ryan: Andrew Yang at a winery

Photo by Sean Ryan

Jasper Winery was all glass and concrete and metal, so every sound made an echo. But the room was too narrow to accommodate light rigs and spotlights, and it had air conditioning, at least.

A crimson velvet rope divided the stage from the audience, a matching red carpet lined the puny little stage, and an expressionless man pushed the knobs of a soundboard, five feet from the microphone, ambushed by foliage behind the curtain-wall glass window.

Photo by Sean Ryan

As soon as Andrew Yang arrived, he was out among the people. A Saturday in Des Moines.

Earlier that day, in the press room at the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, he shrugged off the usual questions and had fun, even made himself laugh several times as he ragged on Donald Trump.

It was silly, the way he did it. Playful. Innocent.

At one point he struck a pose, said "I'd challenge Donald Trump to any physical or mental feat under the sun," with a mischievous grin. "I mean, gosh, what could that guy beat me at, being a slob?"

You can just picture Yang's staff, trying to lock eyes with him, giving hand signals, lipping "That's enough, Andrew." Yang didn't care. He did not care. He was having fun with it.

"Like, something that involved trying to keep something on the ground and having really large body mass? Like, if there was a hot-air balloon that was rising and you needed to try and keep it on the ground, he would be better than me at that," he paused in thought. "Because he is so fat."

A few outlets labeled it fat-shaming. And the Atlantic saw it as another example of Yang's novelty pessimism.

But in Iowa and online, people kept saying "Yang has a good heart." That, in person, he just lets off a calmative energy, a kindness.

He does.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Twenty minutes before his "Trump is fat" comments, Yang gave a speech about gun control as part of the Presidential Gun Sense Forum, and during the Q&A, a woman told him about her 4-year-old daughter. How she was struck by a stray bullet. Died two days later. The girl's twin brother saw it happen.

The whole time the woman talked, Yang limply covered his face.

"Can I give you a hug," Yang asked. "Would that be appropriate?"He jogged over to the woman, hugged her, said a few quiet words.

His face kept a sunken look, all brutal devastation. He needed to burst into tears.

"I have a 6- and 3-year-old boy," said Yang, then he made a tiny whimper and sank his face into his cupped hand, struggling for composure. Then he let go for a few moments and cried. It was the quick sob of someone who has been too busy to deal with too many things.

"I was imagining it was one of them that got shot and the other saw it," he said. "I'm so sorry."

Yang broke into tears again. Covered his eyes with his hand. The audience clapped. Yang shuffled himself onto the stage. He bristled himself back, as much as he could, looked out at the crowd, and gave his translation. His why not?

"The biggest downside of running for President, for me, is that I don't get to see my family very much," he said. "So I get pictures. I FaceTime, I see pictures of my boys and, just that scene that she described, I'm sorry, it's just very, very affecting."
Then he straightened his posture, focused his stare, and answered the woman's question.

*

Yang occasionally hugs with his head leaning right. Among yoga therapists, this is called a heart-to-heart hug, or a connecting hug. It opens the heart chakra, the spiritual energy center that contains love and compassion.

Research on hugging says otherwise. A study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology determined that most of the time we prefer right-side hugs, and that left-sided hugs are in fact the signals of true emotion.

Researchers in Germany found that "When people hug, emotional and motor networks in the brain interact and cause a stronger drift to the left in emotional contexts."

They found that people in emotionally neutral situations hugged right 92 percent of the time, while people in emotionally charged situations hugged right 83 percent of the time.

Body language expert Dr. Lillian Glass disagrees with the implied conclusion. "When you hug someone, there's a great deal of various emotions that are involved. Most people are statistically right-handed, so you're going to go to the right side."

*

At Jasper Winery, Yang stood near the back of the crowd. People seated at tables draped with violet cloth and people standing or leaning against the tall wide windows along the slink building.

Photo by Sean Ryan

To their right, crowded in a narrow line that blocked the bathrooms, journalists trained their eyes and cameras on Kamala Harris as she appeared from a backroom at the side of the stage then fiddled the microphone loose.

The event was hosted by the Asian & Latino Coalition, the same organization that had held the Biden speech at the plumbers union, when he compared "poor kids" to "white kids."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Harris' bus was just outside the door next to the stage. The winery had giant windows along all the walls, so no matter where you were in the room, you could see the back of Harris' bus, "TEXT IOWA TO 70785."

"My mother always told me, 'Be the first to do many things. But don't be the last.'"

People clapped, and Harris noted their applause. The line worked. Again. As always. In part because Harris has lived it out. The first but never the last. Nearly every office she has been elected to, she's the first black woman. She's the second black woman elected to the Senate, but the first of South Asian descent.

Photo by Sean Ryan

She wore the same white shirt and tan pants as at the two appearances we'd been to earlier that day, and matching tan heels.

"Who are we?" she asked.

"We are fighters," she answered.

Fighting. A theme in her life and her speeches.

That night's word was "aspirational."

At the end of her speech, the room tore into a cascade of applause, and Harris smiled like politicians do, like fishermen when they hook a monster.

*

As the crowd settled, the Asian & Latino Coalition president took the stage beside Harris. After some jocular banter, he handed her an envelope, donations of some kind, or maybe a letter — the guy was hard to understand — and would she symbolically place it in this wicker basket?

"I can't give nobody a closed envelope," she said, laughing. Then, for good measure, forcing more laughter, "Momma didn't raise no fool."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Yang chuckled. He stayed in the crowd for Harris' entire speech. Anytime someone came up to him, he whispered, nodded, then re-trained his focus to Harris onstage. At this point, there was mutual respect. A month later, in Houston, in the Spin Room of the Third Democratic Debate, Harris and Yang would completely ignore one another. And how many times would the following events cross their minds at night?

*

Harris lowered into a seat near the front, and waited, with her legs uncrossed and her hands clasped by her knees. It was a Michael Jordan pose. A Frank Sinatra posture. Yang was next. People kept slouching over to Harris, whispering because the ALC President was introducing Yang. Harris watched. She listened. She nodded. She smiled, when it was called for. Laughed, when it was called for. Clapped. Nodded.

Photo by Sean Ryan

The ALC President made some kind of in-joke with Yang, and Yang pointed back like he was the coolest kid at the party, and he's about to do a keg stand, smirking with his lips pursed. Because Yang has the body posture and mannerisms of a savvy New York rapper.

Like everyone else, the ALC President had only praise for Yang. The ALC President, God bless him, was near impossible to understand. He spoke quick, with a bobbing cadence.

"All time I see him, he ask, 'How your son doing?' We share in common, me and Andrew, that my son has autism, he is 16 years old, and I know your son does too. We share a lot about that pain. And," pointing to Yang, "there's a good heart there."

*

Slowing down for a moment, he said, "Life is not easy," then something else, then commended Yang's plan for universal basic income, $1,000 a month for free, no questions asked.

Because it won't be long before automation has left us jobless in a Blade Runner dystopia.

Yang smiled and nodded, the head bob of someone listening to Wu-Tang Clan on massive headphones as they slouch on the subway, careening toward nowhere, young in Manhattan.

"He is a serious candidate," said the ALC President, to applause and a few hoots. Elon Musk had endorsed Yang earlier that day. Elon Musk. The guy who — cosmically speaking — makes up for just about every worthless jackass you know. The guy who shot a Tesla — cars of the future, by the company he created — into space as a symbol of his growing accomplishments. Elon Musk.

"So without further ado…"

Yang wove through the narrow room and took the stage like it was a familiar blanket. Right away, he addressed Harris. She leapt up from her seat, they hugged. Harris initiated, head to the left. She often closes her eyes when she hugs. Yang, too. This time Harris kept her eyes open.

*

"Kamala," said Yang, gripping the microphone with three fingers on his left hand, "it is so much better to speak before you than after you."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Two minutes into Yang's speech, Harris left.

Jasper Winery has 3 exits. She chose the one next to the sound guy, so everybody who followed her had to walk in front of the stage.

And she took half the place with her. More, maybe. Half of the audience. And since most of the media were there for her speech, most of them followed. Loudly. They were breaking down camera rigs and shuffling, all as Andrew Yang spoke.

Photo by Sean Ryan

And every time someone opened the door, all you could hear was the "BRRRRRRRKKKKKKRRRRRKKKKPOPKK" of the KAMALA bus's engine.

There were so many people leaving that someone just propped the door open, and nobody bothered to close it, so someone else eventually shuffled over and yanked it hard shut.

Yang kept talking, in his Maya blue button-up and navy blue suit with an American flag on the left lapel, without a tie, as usual. Chairs squeaked, tables shifted, people spoke to one another, shuffling in line out the door.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"I'm running to solve what I believe is the biggest problem of our time," he paused for a moment and stared at passers. "Enjoy the bus." The people who were listening laughed.

"And the problem is, how did Donald Trump win Iowa by 9 points in 2016? How did he win in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin? Now if you turn on cable news, you might get a series of explanations. What are the factors they're giving? Russia, racism, Facebook, the FBI, Hillary Clinton. Those are probably the factors that get cited. But I've done the numbers and found an explanation that I believe drives more of the election outcome than we talk about ever, and it's the fact that we gave away four million manufacturing jobs in Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and 40,000 right here in Iowa."

He stared forward in his rubber-soul black shoes.

Photo by Sean Ryan

He loved to get a show of hands, but he often went on with his point before people had a chance to lift them. Maybe the greater point was, "I already know the answer."

Then he shifted into one of his biggest ideas. Automation. He was the only candidate talking about it. Which was terrifying. They ought to all have a plan.

Photo by Sean Ryan

He filed to run for president a solid year-and-a-half before any of the other Democrats, on November 6, 2017. But still after Trump, who filed on his first day in office.

*

The day before, Yang had walked around the Iowa State Fair with a turkey leg and a giant grin like he didn't give a damn. By all accounts he did not, does not.

"How many of you have noticed stores closing around where you live, here in Iowa?" Many of the people in the audience raised their hands. He asked them did they know why.

In unison, they said, "Amazon."

"That's right," he replied. "Amazon's like a blackhole sucking 20 billion dollars in business every single year. It's closing 30 percent of your stores and malls."

He paused.

"How much is Amazon paying in taxes," he asked.

They said, "zero" in unison like they were at an early Mass.

"Zero," he said. "That is the math, Iowa."

"How many of you have visited Iowa 80, the country's largest truck stop in Davenport?"

Nearly every hand in the room snaked up, toward the exposed rafters.

"They proudly say that 5,000 people stop there every single day. My friends in California are working on trucks that can drive themselves. They're working on those self-driving trucks because of all the money involved. $168 billion a year in savings if they can succeed in automating away truck drivers. How many people will stop at Iowa 80 when the trucks have robot drivers that don't need to stop for a meal? What's that going to mean here in Iowa, where truck driving is the most common job in the state? And not just here in Iowa, but 28 other states."

"We're in the midst of the greatest economic transformation in the history of our country," he said, and the room got quiet. The fourth industrial revolution. Of the other candidates, only Biden had discussed it, and with a cursory grasp.

"This is no longer science fiction," Yang said. "This is reality in 2019. This is why Donald Trump is our president today." The Kamala tour bus chugged and belched just outside the door.

"The reason why I am here is because you hold the future of the country in your hands, here in Iowa," he said. "You're a bit spoiled, Kamala just left and I am here, Amy [Klobuchar] is coming in, and there's this constant parade of presidential candidates, and why? Because we know that you control the fate of the country."

Harris was rounding the corner outside, her entourage barking out questions behind her, but everyone in the room trained their eyes on Yang.

"Do you know how many Californians each Iowan is worth? One thousand! You look around this room and there may be 160 people in this room. I see a group of 160,000 Californians."

Oh now the audience loved that. They clapped and cheered for a solid 15 seconds.

"It's a good thing Kamala just left because she probably wouldn't like that," to which they laughed, as Yang gave off a charming smile.

The Harris gaggle crawled forward then stopped right outside the giant windows at the middle of the audience. Another couple journalists folded out of the room. Another handful of onlookers followed. Harris faced Yang without looking at Yang, as if she were reminding everyone that she, her entourage, the media, and all those other devoted people were the real star. It felt like a lion stalking a lone zebra at the watering hole.

But Yang didn't care, waiting for the ice cream truck on a mild summer day.

*Yang repudiated claims that his $1,000-a-month stance on Universal Basic Income was a mere gimmick. He called it a deeply American idea that's been with us since our founding.

"Martin Luther King Jr. championed it on the very day he was assassinated."

He asked a question and they answered.

Asked another question, they answered.

Another, answered.

"That's right," he said. "Thank you, Iowa."

Somebody whooped at the teamwork.

He told them that his wife was at home with their boys. "What is her work included at, in GDP every year?"

One woman, "zero."

"What is the market value of her work at?" Nobody answered, not quickly enough, so Yang said, "Zero. And we know that that's nonsense. We know that her work is some of the most challenging and vital that anyone is doing. How many of you are parents, raise your hands?"

Most of the room.

"When I'm at home with my kids for a day or two and my wife leaves, you know what I say? I say, 'Get me back to running for president as soon as possible.' Because being a parent is the hardest work there is."

*"BRRRRRRRKKKKKKRRRRRKKKKPOP" of the KAMALA bus engine.

"Thanks to you in Iowa I just qualified for the fall debates," he said.

And for a moment, their applause was the loudest noise in the area.

He did something none of the other candidates had even hinted at trying. He appealed to Trump supporters.

"I am only one of two candidates that ten percent or more of Trump voters said they would vote for. I am a younger, fresher, more modern, more Asian version of Bernie."

Laughter and applause.

"BRRRRRRRKKKKKKRRRRRKKKKPOP."

"The Democratic party talks about empowering women," he said. "I'm talking about actually recognizing what women are doing right now."

"Woot!" and applause.

"BRRRRRRRKKKKKKRRRRRKKKKPOP."

"The opposite of Donald Trump is an Asian man who likes math."

"BRRRRRRRKKKKKKRRRRRKKKKPOP."

*

Meanwhile, Harris pressed closer to the glass outside, and everyone inside was prey in an incubator.

In 1994, Harris started dating then-Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, a married man 30 years her senior. Brown was 60, four years older than Harris' father. The relationship has proven to be a thorn in Harris' side. Now she's happily married to Doug Emhoff, an entertainment lawyer, but that doesn't stop the accusations of career-motivated dalliances.

Brown was politically connected, so Harris became politically connected.

He appointed Harris to positions that paid well, about $100,000 a year. He gave her a BMW. Then he was elected Mayor of San Francisco. Harris celebrated his win, but ended the relationship before Brown was inaugurated.

She turned on him.

In an interview, Harris described Brown as an "albatross hanging around my neck," adding, "I have no doubt that I am independent of him –– and that he would probably right now express some fright about the fact that he cannot control me. His career is over; I will be alive and kicking for the next 40 years. I do not owe him a thing."

In January 2019, Brown, who was known for his lavish outfits and extramarital gamesmanship and who had a minor role in The Godfather: Part III, penned a letter for the San Francisco Chronicle, "Sure, I dated Kamala Harris. So what?"

Brown concluded the letter, "Yes, I may have influenced her career by appointing her to two state commissions when I was Assembly speaker. And I certainly helped with her first race for district attorney in San Francisco. I have also helped the careers of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Gov. Gavin Newsom, Sen. Dianne Feinstein and a host of other politicians. The difference is that Harris is the only one who, after I helped her, sent word that I would be indicted if I 'so much as jaywalked' while she was D.A. That's politics for ya."

In a recent profile by the Atlantic, Yang said, "If you're a politician, your incentives are to make with the happy talk and then get elected — and then solving the problems is secondary, because you have to raise money to try and get reelected, but no one ever back-checks you. The incentives are to say, 'We can do this; we can do that. We can do the other thing.' And then, meanwhile, society falls apart."

*

After his speech, Yang clobber-stepped off the front of the stage, unconcerned with the protocol of stairs and formal exits. People had surrounded him by the time he'd taken a few steps.

Photo by Sean Ryan

He leaned in to hear a man in an American-flag short-sleeve button up. The shadow of the man's "Vietnam Veteran" hat covered his eyes, and maybe he was crying a little as he told his story. He had the most impressive handlebar mustache I had ever seen. I will likely never see a mustache of its promontory.

Yang listened with an unforced calm.

Everyone drew closer. Yang had suction energy like Biden, Harris, and Sanders, but in a much different way. His was inviting. Something you could share.

On his left, a man in a beige flat cap and a t-shirt with the globe on it and the words "No pipeline! Keep our fields green and water clean."

Photo by Sean Ryan

Harris passed by the giant windows one more time. You could hear the journalists shouting questions as they walked sideways or backward, whatever got them as close as possible. Twenty journalists crabbing around her. Thirty, maybe. People with questions. They looked like a bunch of ants carrying an orange slice back to the colony, because, yes, the queen would be proud.

Harris had to nudge to get to her tour bus. Something about it, like she enjoyed the nudging, never nudged hard enough to leave in a hurry. As if she could only take a few small steps at a time, like a climber near the summit of Everest.

Her staff herded the giant knot of people and cameras, all with a concerned look to their faces as they guided Harris onto the KAMALA bus.

Amy Klobuchar was about to take the stage. Nobody seemed to notice or care.

A dozen or so people lingered at the side of the bus. Two older men slumped into folding chairs that were comically out-of-place, mere feet from a dumpster. One of the men, the bigger sloucher in his dirty grey shirt and ropey sandals, held his right hand up toward the bus's tinted window as the bus nudged forward.

Photo by Sean Ryan

One of the organizers from the Asian and Latino Coalition smiled at the bus, then turned to me, the only media around. At first she asked if I could get her onto the bus. I shook my head "No" with a confused look on my face.

"Well then will you be here Monday night, for the endorsement?" she asked. "That's when we're going to announce who we're going to endorse for president."

She added that, sure, it was a bit early to endorse a candidate, but that's what made the Asian and Latino Coalition so valuable.Take a guess who won the endorsement?

The same person who treated Iowa like a chessboard. The same person who wore jeans and Converse All-Stars instead of slacks and heels. The same person who had that unstoppable look in her eyes, like she would never lose a fight, never stifle a tear, never quit charging.

The bus chugged off into the lamplit evening, and the crowd of gawkers mostly dispersed.

But the slouching man in the grey shirt still had his hand up, jutting into the air. I'd forgotten about that guy. For a moment I was afraid he'd entered some catatonic state.

His hand pointed up like a flag pole that hadn't held a flag in years.

Eventually he lowered his arm and went back to staring at the empty field across the street.

With the bus gone, a sudden quiet overtook the air. You could hear all the tiny noises that had been drowned out by the shaking chug of the engine. Over our heads, some birds sang and danced like they knew gymnastics. Locusts, wherever they were, chaffed their own asses.

"You think she saw me?" asked the slouching man.

"I don't know," said the other, "those windows were pretty well tinted."

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

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