Ryan: Kanye West and the Great Society

Graphic by Alexander Somoskey.

Donald Trump has been name-dropped by nearly every major rapper of the last 30 years, starting with a reference by Beastie Boys on their iconic album Paul's Boutique, the Sgt. Pepper of hip-hop.

He's been mentioned by Jay Z. Ludacris. Young Thug. Nelly. Kendrick Lamar. Juicy J. Rick Ross. Eminem. Big Sean. A Tribe Called Quest. Scarface. Lil Wayne. The Coup. Master P. Ice Cube. Mos Def. Raekwon, Ol' Dirty Bastard, and various other Wu-Tang Clan affiliates. R. Kelly. Pete Rock. Nas. E-40.

And don't forget this surreal moment in our nation's history.

Then-candidate Trump on SNL ... dancing to a Drake parody.(Screenshot from YouTube)

When Bun B referred to Trump on the Chopped-n-Screwed anthem "Pocket Full of Stones," he was keeping with a tradition of rappers admiring Trump. This only changed a few years ago.

But then there's Kanye West, who proudly donned the red MAGA hat after discovering Candace Owens and being called "a jackass" by our nation's first black President. Then Kanye was hugging President Trump in the Oval Office? While wearing a Make America Great Again hat, supposed symbol of white supremacy, Nazism, hate, evil?

(Screenshot from YouTube)

People flipped. Everyone did. Longtime critics suddenly — and bizarrely — embraced Kanye as an ally, while longtime defenders disowned him, abandoned him like nail clippings, often mocking his struggles with mental illness and labeling him, if you can believe it, a white supremacist.

Then, in a moment that changed music history, Kanye released the single "Ye vs. the People."

Ye vs. the People (starring TI as the People) www.youtube.com

In it, he challenges what he sees as the unspoken rule that black Americans have to vote Democrat. He had hinted at the idea on his track "Black Skinhead," from the hauntingly gorgeous album Yeezus, but now he was addressing it head-on, with the passion of a man going to Confession for the first time in a decade.

Why should black folks have to abide by any set of cultural or political or artistic guidelines to begin with? And, he argues, the pressure to adhere to this longheld framework is itself undergirded by a subtle and cleverly masked racism, imposed by a group of people who portray themselves as the champions of race and enemies of white supremacy and destroyers of dumb yokel rednecks with their Rebel flags and monster trucks and fully-automatic AR-15 assault weapons. All of which, it turns out, is some next-level projection.

Kanye also confronts the presence of these expectations and stereotypes in hip-hop. The idea that rappers must invoke a negative persona in order to succeed. And the moment they deviate from that image they are rebuked or ignored, even though the persona is damaging to the black community as a whole. Which is especially ironic given that the people who voice the most outrage tend to be highly privileged, supposedly progressive white folks who love to rant about white privilege and black oppression.

Is it better if I rap about crack? 'Cause it's cultural?
Or how about I'ma shoot you? or f**k your b***h?
Or how about all this Gucci, 'cause I'm f****n' rich?

Best of all, Kanye has answers. And they differ from the erudite solutions offered by, say, A Tribe Called Quest, who, like Kanye, have modeled a healthy, positive image of blackness for the black community.

A central theme within "Ye vs. The People" is empathy as power, rebellion, freedom.

Make America Great Again had a negative perception
I took it, wore it, rocked it, gave it a new direction
Added empathy, care and love and affection
And y'all simply questionin' my methods.

This concept is an extension of the powerful devotion to positive energy that Kanye adopted around that time, a purview he has cultivated into a wild new form of electronic gospel.

But his personal transformation was tough.

That [MAGA] hat stayed in my closet like 'bout a year and a half
Then one day I was like, "F**k it, I'ma do me"
I was in the sunken place and then I found the new me.

This is a struggle that many Americans undergo. Researchers call it the spiral of silence. The idea that the news media and social media present biased opinions as though they are fact, and when the message conflicts with a person's opinions or values, they feel isolated, alone.

Kanye and T.I. during the making of "Ye vs. the People"(Screenshot from YouTube)

As Kanye raps in "Ye vs. the People"

A lot of people agree with me but they're too scared to speak up.

Because we have an incredible ability to sense public opinion. So when we suspect that we hold a belief that rails against acceptable thought, we tend to keep quiet about it. That silence makes the opinion seem even more taboo, resulting in a more widespread silence.

In reality, many of these supposedly taboo opinions are not only popular, they are normal and practical and logical. Healthy, even. And the real danger is in demonizing them. But too many people are afraid they'll be ostracized for expressing their beliefs.

Like how — despite what we've been led to believe — most Americans cannot stand political correctness.

But the small minority of people who champion it are powerful and loud. They're like that cardboard city in North Korea, just visible enough from the border to make it seem like a thriving community. They're the Wicked Witch of the West, or Iago from Othello, or Plankton from Spongebob Squarepants.

So far, they have been successful. Although "success" by their metric is anarchic and primal, all destruction and loudness and people nervous to speak their mind. And the cost of rebellion can be devastating.

By the time Kanye West wrote "Yay versus the People," he had gotten sick of this power dynamic. So he broke the spiral of silence."

*

In the words of German philosopher Hans-Georg Gadamer, "Whoever has language has the world."

Humans alone have it.

But in order for us to know freedom in our world, our language has to be public, shared, active. Because each of us thrives constantly with language, a stream of it always in our mind. Aristotle defined "thought" as the infinite dialogue between the soul and itself. Conversation is the exchange of thought between people. When we converse, we simultaneously release our infinite dialogue and accept the other person's. By speaking, we shape the world and free ourselves.

*

Another way to say it is that Donald Trump might have inspired the song that could very well signify the end of Hip-Hop, which is not only the most popular genre of our zeitgeist, it's the most popular, and successful, form of music in American history, which is the most important era of musical history.

If the Beatles were bigger than Jesus, and Drake literally outpaces the Beatles, then, well, you get the point God forgive me. And Kanye is bigger than Drake. So who better to have the final word on the capacities of Hip-Hop than Kanye West?

Nobody.

Every genre must come to a close. There's a reason why people aren't eagerly awaiting the next great disco album, or flocking to arenas to hear the newest bluegrass superstar, or asking to get their hair done like the latest syringe-armed guitarist of Guns N Roses.

(Screenshot from Instagram)

The great era of Rock 'N' Roll ended roughly about the time Radiohead traded their guitars and drums for synthesizers and sequencers, not long after Kurt Cobain took an insane amount of heroin and cradled a shotgun in his guesthouse, only to be discovered several days later by an electrician. Even worse, Nickelback soiled Cobain's legacy with godawful anthems, and who have their own weird and contradictory and hilarious connection to President Trump.

These days, Rock N' Roll lives mostly via nostalgia, as evinced by the explosion of cover bands. Notice how you don't see any hip-hop cover bands. You will, someday. But, for now, Hip-Hop reigns supreme. And Kanye is the King.

The brilliant Nina Simone once told a reporter that "An artist's duty, as far as I'm concerned, is to reflect the times."

Because music accords itself to the gravity and creative truth of the era. And currently we entrust hip-hop with this complicated maneuver.

But the past year, Kanye has been crafting a new sound through his Sunday services, weekly jam sessions with acoustic musicians and a choir and everyone dressed in white, praying through song, herding us into a better place, looking above for guidance. If it's anything like his track "Ultralight Beam," it will bring calm to our divided culture.

Mark my words: The resultant album will usher in an entirely new era, a magical flash in human history.

So far, hip-hop has been the defiant child of R&B and Electronica, the grandchild of Spoken Word and Steve Reich Minimalism, with tinges of Punk. Not for much longer. Kanye will see to that. And, weirdly, President Trump has helped inspire this transformation.

Meaning, Donald Trump will have had a hand in reinventing music as a whole, in spreading a movement of positive reformation. Love him or hate him, it does not matter. What other politician can make that claim?

There's an optimism to this that Dave Chappelle captured in his now-infamous Saturday Night Live monologue, just days after Trump was elected, asking Americans to at least give the man a chance. And again in his special "Equanimity," when he said

I swear no matter how bad it gets, you're my countrymen, and I know for a fact that I'm determined to work shit out with y'all.

In a moment of now-tired irony, the usual suspects heaped a barrage of hate at Chappelle for these remarks. But their outrage does not matter, in the grand scheme of things. Because it is an incredible time to be alive. It's beautiful. We should never forget that, no matter how petty or outrageous daily life gets.

At the moment, we are a country that is — everywhere, secretly — hurting. But we are Americans. Together. This is America. And, every day, God delights in our greatness and our empathy and our endless gift for love. So open your heart and listen. Say what you need to say.

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

On Wednesday's TV show, Glenn Beck sat down with radio show host, author, political commentator, and film critic, Michael Medved.

Michael had an interesting prediction for the 2020 election outcome: a brokered convention by the DNC will usher in former First Lady Michelle Obama to run against President Donald Trump.

Watch the video below to hear why he's making this surprising forecast:

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To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

On Thursday's "Glenn Beck Radio Program," BlazeTV's White House correspondent Jon Miller described the current situation in Virginia after Gov. Ralph Northam (D) declared a state of emergency and banned people carrying guns at Capitol Square just days before a pro-Second-Amendment rally scheduled on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

Jon told Glenn that Gov. Northam and the Virginia Legislature are "trying to deprive the people of their Second Amendment rights" but the citizens of Virginia are "rising up" to defend their constitutional rights.

"I do think this is the flashpoint," Jon said. "They [Virginia lawmakers] are saying, 'You cannot exercise your rights ... and instead of trying to de-escalate the situation, we are putting pressure. We're trying to escalate it and we're trying to enrage the citizenry even more'."

Glenn noted how Gov. Northam initially blamed the threat of violence from Antifa for his decision to ban weapons but quickly changed his narrative to blame "white supremacists" to vilify the people who are standing up for the Second Amendment and the Constitution.

"What he's doing is, he's making all all the law-abiding citizens of Virginia into white supremacists," Glenn said.

"Sadly, that's exactly right," Jon replied. "And I think he knows exactly what he's doing."

Watch the video to catch more of the conversation below:

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To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

Ryan: Trump Louisiana Finale

Photo by Jim Dale

Part One. Part Two. Part Three.

At the end of Trump rallies, I would throw on my Carhartt jacket, sneak out of the press area, then blend in with everyone as they left, filing out through swinging doors.

Often, someone held the door open for me. Just 30 minutes earlier, the same person had most likely had most likely hissed at me for being a journalist. And now they were Sunday smiles and "Oh, yes, thank you, sir" like some redneck concierge.

People flooded out of the arena with the stupidity of a fire drill mishap, desperate to survive.

The air smacked you as soon as you crossed the threshold, back into Louisiana. And the lawn was a wasteland of camping chairs and coolers and shopping bags and to-go containers and soda cans and articles of clothing and even a few tents.

In Monroe, in the dark, the Trump supporters bobbled over mounds of waste like elephants trying to tiptoe. And the trash was as neutral to them as concrete or grass. They plodded over it because it, an object, had somehow gotten in their way.

It did not matter that they were responsible for this wreckage.Out in the sharp-edged moonlight, rally-goers hooted and yapped and boogied and danced, and the bbq food truck was all smoke and paper plates.

They were even more pumped than they had been before the rally, like 6,000 eight year olds who'd been chugging Mountain Dew for hours. Which made Donald Trump the father, the trooper, God of the Underworld, Mr. Elite, Sheriff on high horse, the AR-15 sticker of the family.

Ritualistic mayhem, all at once. And, there in Louisiana, Trump's supporters had gotten a taste of it. They were all so happy. It bordered on rage.

Still, I could not imagine their view of America. Worse, after a day of strange hostilities, I did not care.

My highest priority, my job as a reporter, was to care. To understand them and the world that they inhabit. But I did not give a damn and I never wanted to come back.

Worst of all, I would be back. In less than a week.

Was this how dogs felt on the 4th of July? Hunched in a corner while everyone else gets drunk and launches wailing light into the sky? configurations of blue and red and white.

It was 10:00 p.m. and we'd been traveling since 11:00 a.m., and we still had 5 hours to go and all I wanted was a home, my home, any home, just not here, in the cold sweat of this nowhere. Grey-mangled sky. No evidence of planes or satellites or any proof of modern-day. Just century-old bridges that trains shuffled over one clack at a time.

And casinos, all spangles and neon like the 1960s in Las Vegas. Kitchy and dumb, too tacky for lighthearted gambling. And only in the nicer cities, like Shreveport, which is not nice at all.

And swamp. Black water that rarely shimmered. Inhabited by gadflies and leeches and not one single fish that was pretty.

Full of alligators, and other killing types. The storks gnawing on frogs, the vultures never hungry. The coyotes with nobody to stop them and so much land to themselves. The roaches in the wild, like tiny wildebeests.

Then, the occasional deer carcass on the side of the road, eyes splayed as if distracted, tongue out, relaxed but empty. The diseased willows like skeletons in hairnets. The owls that never quit staring. A million facets of wilderness that would outlive us all.

Because Nature has poise. It thrives and is original.

Because silence is impossible. Even in an anechoic chamber, perfectly soundproofed, you can hear your own heartbeat, steady as a drum. A never-ending war.

I put "Headache" by Grouper on repeat as we glided west. We were deadlocked to asphalt, rubber over tarface.

And I thought about lines from a Rita Dove poem titled "I have been a stranger in a strange land"

He was off cataloging the universe, probably,
pretending he could organize
what was clearly someone else's chaos.

Wasn't that exactly what I was doing? Looking for an impossible answer, examining every single accident, eager for meaning? telling myself, "If it happens and matters the next year, in America, I want to be there, or to know what it means. I owe it to whoever cares to listen."

Humans are collectors and I had gone overboard.

Because maybe this wasn't even my home. These landmarks, what did they mean? Was I obvious here? When I smiled, did I trick them into believing that I felt some vague sense of approval? Or did my expressions betray me?

Out in all that garbage-streaked emptiness — despite the occasional burst of passing halogen — I couldn't tell if everything we encountered was haunted or just old, derelict, broken, useless. One never-ending landfill.

Around those parts, they'd made everything into junk. Homes. Roads. Glass. Nature. Life itself, they made into junk.

I cringed as we passed yet another deer carcass mounded on the side of the road.

As written in Job 35:11,

Who teaches us more than the beasts of the earth and makes us wiser than the birds in the sky?

Nobody. Look at nature and you feel something powerful. Look at an animal, in all of its untamable majesty, and you capture a deep love, all swept up in the power of creation. But, here, all I saw were poor creatures who people had slammed into and kept driving. Driving to where? For what reason? What exactly was so important that they left a trail of dead animals behind them?

So I crossed myself dolorously and said an "Our Father" and recited a stanza from Charles Bukowski's "The Laughing Heart"

you can't beat death but
you can beat death in life, sometimes.
and the more often you learn to do it,
the more light there will be.

Out here, nothing but darkness. Needing some light, by God. Give me something better than a Moon that hides like an underfed coward.

Jade told me about some of the more traumatic things she'd seen while working at the State Fair.

"Bro, they pull roaches out of the iced lemonade jugs and act like nothing happened."

"All right but what about the corn dogs?"

"You do not want to know, little bro."

She looked around in the quiet. "Back in the day, the Louisiana Congress refused to raise the drinking age from 18 to 21," she said. "They didn't want to lose all that drunk gambler money. So the federal government cut off funding to highways."

We glided through moon-pale landscape for an hour before I realized what she had meant. That there weren't any light poles or billboards along the road. Nothing to guide us or distract us. Just us, alone. And it felt like outer space had collapsed, swallowed us like jellybeans.

Like two teenagers playing a prank on the universe.

In the cozy Subaru Crosstrek, in the old wild night, brimming with the uncertainty of life and the nonchalance of failure, we paraded ourselves back to Dallas. Alive in the river silence that follows us everywhere.

New installments come Mondays and Thursdays. Next, the Iowa caucuses. Check out my Twitter. Email me at kryan@blazemedia.com

The Iowa primary is just around the corner, and concerns of election interference from the last presidential election still loom. Back in 2016, The Associated Press found that a majority of U.S. elections systems still use Windows 7 as an operating system, making them highly susceptible to bugs and errors. And last year, a Mississippi voter tried multiple times to vote for the candidate of his choice, but the system continuously switched his vote to the other candidate. It's pretty clear: America's voting systems desperately need an update.

That's where blockchain voting comes in.

Blockchain voting is a record-keeping system that's 100% verifiable and nearly impossible to hack. Blockchain, the newest innovation in cybersecurity, is set to grow into a $20 billion industry by 2025. Its genius is in its decentralized nature, distributing information throughout a network of computers, requiring would-be hackers to infiltrate a much larger system. Infiltrating multiple access points spread across many computers requires a significant amount of computing power, which often costs more than hackers expect to get in return.

Blockchain voting wouldn't allow for many weak spots. For instance, Voatz, arguably the leading mobile voting platform, requires a person to take a picture of their government-issued ID and a picture of themselves before voting (a feature, of course, not present in vote-by-mail, where the only form of identity verification is a handwritten signature, which is easily forgeable). Voters select their choices and hit submit. They then receive an immediate receipt of their choices via email, another security feature not present in vote-by-mail, or even in-person voting. And because the system operates on blockchain technology, it's nearly impossible to tamper with.

Votes are then tabulated, and the election results are published, providing a paper trail, which is a top priority for elections security experts.

The benefits of blockchain voting can't be dismissed. Folks can cast their vote from the comfort of their homes, offices, etc., vastly increasing the number of people who can participate in the electoral process. Two to three-hour lines at polling places, which often deter voters, would become significantly diminished.

Even outside of the voting increase, the upsides are manifold. Thanks to the photo identification requirements, voter fraud—whether real or merely suspected—would be eliminated. The environment would win, too, since we'd no longer be wasting paper on mail-in ballots. Moreover, the financial burden on election offices would be alleviated, because there's decreased staff time spent on the election, saving the taxpayer money.

From Oregon to West Virginia, elections offices have already implemented blockchain voting, and the results have been highly positive. For example, the city of Denver utilized mobile voting for overseas voters in their 2019 municipal elections. The system was secure and free of technical errors, and participants reported that it was very user-friendly. Utah County used the same system for their 2019 primary and general elections. An independent audit revealed that every vote that was cast on the app was counted and counted correctly. These successful test cases are laying the groundwork for even larger expansions of the program in 2020.

With this vital switch, our elections become significantly more secure, accurate, and efficient. But right now, our election infrastructure is a sitting duck for manipulation. Our current lack of election integrity undermines the results of both local and national elections, fans the flames of partisanship, and zaps voter confidence in the democratic system. While there's never a silver bullet or quick fix to those kinds of things, blockchain voting would push us much closer to a solution than anything else.

Chris Harelson is the Executive Director at Prosperity Council and a Young Voices contributor.