Ryan: Tulsi Gabbard and the Farmer Magic Show

Photo by Sean Ryan

At the junction of U.S. Route 71 and Highway 141, 80 miles west of Des Moines, a sign with a heartbreaking photo said "Fingers & Toes 10 weeks from conception." Sponsored by Pro-life across America. Just outside Bayard, a sign read "Save the babies. Life begins at conception." Any time you saw these signs, they were placed so you had to look the baby in the eyes as you waited at the stop sign. No other cars for miles. A soundtrack of animal life and unperturbed Mother Nature.

The narrow backroads were all so buckled that it felt like we were driving on a giant trampoline.

Just past Richland Cemetery on 141, another Tulsi Gabbard billboard. Other than that, it's mostly elongated plains. Neat green rows of cornstalk occasionally interrupted by a meadow full of cows or a chicken farm or a town with one stop signs and two side streets.

There were so many Tulsi signs all over Iowa, billboards, lawn signs, various-sized placards, plenty of regalia that you didn't have to buy. None of the other Democrats had that much advertising. Or any, really. You could still find Bernie bumper stickers, but that's everywhere now, isn't it?

Photo by Sean Ryan

The only other 2020 presidential candidate with a comparable showing was Donald Trump. His face and his name were everywhere, even when you couldn't see them, even when they were just below the surface of everyday life. At diners, in cornfields, on people's head accompanied by the words "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN," at gas pumps, on the sides of barns, at the top of grain silos, along listless highways that ramped into dirt like unchristened landmarks.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"Is Gabbard from Iowa?" my dad asked.

No, no, she's from Hawaii. Which is, hopefully, why she began and ended many of her appearances with "aloha." She had been elected to the Hawaii House of Representatives when she was 21, an age many people start with a tornado of a birthday. Gabbard was born in American Samoa. Starting in 2013, she served as a Vice Chair of the Democratic National Committee, then resigned in 2016 to endorse Bernie Sanders. If elected president, she'd be the first Hindu. And, if she were selected as Vice President by Kamala Harris, who then won the Presidency, we would have the first Hindu Vice President/President combo.

Gabbard gained some attention during the second debate one week earlier, at the Fox Theatre in Detroit, when she attacked Kamala Harris' criminal justice record, a weak spot. Gabbard lunged full bore, like a Spartan fighting an ambush of Persians. If that doesn't sound lively enough, just know that, as a result, "#KamalaHarrisDestroyed" spiked on Twitter. And by the looks of it, Kamala Harris might well have been destroyed by that moment, at least for 2020.

By the end of the night, it was what most people remembered. Google searches for "Tulsi Gabbard" outperformed "Kamala Harris" in every state except South Dakota, for some reason. None other than the New York Times hailed it as newsworthy. For weeks, journalists recalled it, like bored sailors imagining monsters.

*

Photo by Sean Ryan

And so it was a little strange to see her at the Iowa State Fair, in her black blouse and black chinos and beige sneakers and blood-red blazer with the sleeves rolled up like they did in the 1980s. This sense of out-of-placeness arose with many of the candidates' events, if only as a flash at the beginning and the midpoint. An influx of surreality. Here she was, a presidential candidate, talking to a group of people who had wandered up holding foot-long corn dogs, asking, "Now who's this? Oh which one is she?" Or, "Less press here today. Bound to be a whole lot of them tomorrow, it being Saturday, the first Saturday and all. Ope, lemme squeeze around you and grab my pop and some mustard."

Photo by Sean Ryan

A decent semi-circle of a hundred-odd people stared ahead at Gabbard in their "TULSI" shirts and signs. They looked sweet and desperate. But outside that tightknit cluster, the fair strolled along as usual. Seniors in little motorized scooters. Teenagers desperate for hickies or rebellion. Families dressed in bright matching outfits and meeting points so they never ever got lost or divided or ignored.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A bric-a-brac of middle America. With the occasional MAGA hat and Trump 2020 poster. Because, any time we ventured outside of the Democrats' rallies and events, reminders of Trump floated by constantly. I cannot emphasize this enough. Partly because you will not hear a single solitary word of it from the so-called mainstream media.

In the 2016 election, 93 of the state's 99 counties voted Trump, the largest margin of any Republican candidate in Iowa since Ronald Reagan took 95 counties in 1980.

Iowa is not strictly conservative or liberal, despite its location at the center of the country, with so much farmland and so little commotion. In fact, that's a big part of why politicians shove themselves into jeans and schlep here. Iowans went wtih Obama both times. They even voted for Bill Clinton twice. George W. Bush in 2004, post 9/11. Reagan, both terms. Nixon. Lyndon Johnson. They chose Nixon over John F. Kennedy in 1960, and Charles Hughes over Woodrow Wilson in 1912, but for the most part, Iowa has voted for the winning player. They even voted for Abraham Lincoln, twice.

Iowans tend to choose the politicians who speak to them. Someone who will become their voice. Genuine. With attention to liberty and freedom, individuality. Tradition. Or change. And principles. 77 percent of Iowans are Christian. And there's a flexibility to that conservatism. These days, Iowa has over 3,000 wind turbines, which generate 25 percent of the state's electricity. The Iowa Supreme Court has pioneered social issues. Women's rights and segregation. In 2009, Iowa became the third state to legalize same-sex marriage, a full six years before it was legal on the federal level.

Gabbard talked about separation. The dismantlement of America.

"This is so heart-breaking," she said, pausing just right, "because we love our country. I love our country. I love our people. It's why, after the terrorist attack on 9/11, I enlisted in the Army National Guard." When she said that, many passersby jerked their heads up, patriotically. Maybe they were thinking about the elderly man just outside the front gate, limp-armed as he offered mostly-uncaring people flyers about suicide prevention for veterans and soldiers. Did you know that an average of 20 veterans kill themselves each day?

Gabbard has served as a soldier for 16 years, beginning with basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Then to Fort Sam Houston, in San Antonio. Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. She has deployed to the Middle East twice.

To which a man in the audience said, as if by accident, "Is that so?"

Then she had all the veterans and military families raise their hands, and she said, "Thank you for your service. Thank you for your sacrifice. All of you."

Her voice had an oddly sonorous lull to it. There we all were at the kitchen sink and someone was cutting onions.

"The amazing thing that I felt," she said, "was that, those who I stood in that formation with, those who I served with, we all wore the same uniform, serving the same flag, focused on that mission that we have of serving our country, of keeping the American people safe. But there was no difference in that focus. That even though we came — Democrats, Republicans, Independents, conservatives, liberals, black, white, brown, different religions — we represented the diversity of this country, but we stood as one unit. With one voice. With one focus. On putting service above self, and putting country before self. This speaks to who we are, as Americans. This speaks to what unites us, as a country."

She said it so smoothly that people just listened. No clapping, no jeering. Maybe because the point of the speech was commonality, overcoming division, outfoxing dividers.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"And I think it's especially important for us to remember that now, as those who are in power seek to tear us apart for their own selfish gain, it is only when we the people stand up around this unifying principle of freedom, of justice, of opportunity, remembering those freedoms and inalienable rights that are enshrined in our Constitution, for every single one of us, those rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, when we come around these unifying principles, with love for our country and love for each other, there is no obstacle we cannot overcome, and it is only when we do that that we can begin to solve the great challenges of our day. And there are many. But we are starting on that common foundation. Coming together. Overcoming those partisan differences. Those ideological differences. And having conversations with each other based on respect, understanding that, when we care for each other, we'll find that we have far more in common than maybe we realized before."

Because it was 2:15 on a Friday at the fairgrounds, and, at 10:00 that morning, like every morning at the Iowa State Fair, the National Anthem blared from the dopey speakers around the SoapBox stage, outside the administration building. Or that, elsewhere at the fair, at that exact moment, there was a "Get Hooked on Fishing - Fish Local." Also, an "animal 'I Spy' activity" and something called "Oh My! It's Pie!"

Photo by Sean Ryan

Because the fair is American in a way unique to the country's middle parts. You won't find an "old-fashion hymn singing" class or a "milking demonstration" or a "thank a farmer magic show" in New York City or Los Angeles. Not unironically. Then, at noon and 6:00pm, Narcotics Anonymous meetings at the Maytag Family Theater. Because these days, ours is a country that is — everywhere, secretly — hurting.

Right as Gabbard started talking about the legalization of marijuana, a bald chap wandered by the crowd in a pizza restaurant's t-shirt that said "legalize marinara." Behind him, a group of seniors with overlarge yellow shirts bearing the sequined words "State Fair junky." One of them had "Granny" on the back as she scoured for where her friends went, then clapping and smiling when they reunited by a trashcan.

New installments to this series will come out every Monday and Thursday morning. For live updates, check out this page 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.