RYAN: Diamond Joe Biden's gaffe


Joe Biden strolled into the cramped room and everybody got quiet, even the beer-bellied man in the T-shirt that said, "my DOG is smarter than the PRESIDENT." An interesting apparel choice given the setting, a local Plumbers and Steamfitters Union that doubled as a training center.

Around the corner, Gray's Lake and Jasper Winery. Biden's Thursday night town hall was organized by the Iowa Asian and Latino Coalition (IALC). Open only to members, but anyone could pay a fee, $25 or so, and join the union for admittance.
A group of six 20-somethings in rolled-up jeans and woke-slogan T-shirts shuddered at the price of entry and backed out of the room with their eyebrows cocked.

Also, there was an actual dog in the room, a French bulldog. Which did not appear to belong to the "DOG" T-shirt man, but there was no telling with that crowd.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Some of them were more Biden than Biden himself. Like the guy in an oversized button-up with embroidered parrots along the shoulder. The way he nibbled on the same croissant for at least 15 minutes. Did he eat everything like that? Like he'd been instructed how to chew by NPR?

Or the middle-aged woman in the lion-themed blouse with psychedelic designs. She yipped whenever she felt the urge, sang out with answers or praise any time she liked what Biden had said. Several times, she crabbed out of the room, shoving and groaning. Then when she returned all you could smell was booze. And the drunker she got, the more impressed she was with her observations. At one point, this lady was within arm's length of Joe Biden, which was as dumbfounding as it was cool or horrific.
"Folks, this is wrong," Biden would say. It was a phrase he used as punctuation.

Photo by Sean Ryan

The room was about half the size of a basketball court. Maybe smaller. It felt like a sweat lodge. The lights and cameras and laptops and people made it 15 degrees warmer.

The media swarmed at the back of the room, encroaching into the crowd of serious people in gray folding chairs. A row of video cameras like robotic creatures, all spindle and wire. Behind the videographers, journalists with laptops perched at a long wooden table, the measured clack clack clack clack slump clack of furious typing. Paper plates with finger foods stacked wherever there was space.

Photo by Sean Ryan

The photographers had the most freedom. They could wander around snapping photos like it was their birthday and this was their party. Which is not how they acted. The opposite. They climbed around the room with the intensity and skill of a Navy SEAL in a swamp. They got as close as they could before someone, usually a bodyguard or a secret service agent, told them to back off.

Nearly half of the audience were media. There wasn't an empty seat in the room, but it still felt odd, as if the media had taken up space that could've been used by, say, a group of 20-somethings without enough cash to see the former vice president of the United States of America speaking to a room full of local politicians and plumbers, as CNN and ABC and Fox News filmed it all.

Photo by Sean Ryan

In reality, the media were there partly as stand-ins for the hundreds of millions of Americans, of people throughout the world, who couldn't make it to the union hall in Iowa, as Joe Biden writhed into another cringy mistake.

*

Biden's campaign had spent money on perfecting optics. At every speech, he spoke into a brand-new PA system, facing spotlights like you'd see in a theater. All of the candidates knew how to plaster any given room with their campaign signs. Biden and Kamala Harris understood the deeper game. The optics. Bernie Sanders likely did as well, but chose not to play it. Which is to say that Biden looked great, better than he looks in the 22-second clip of the event, the clip that went viral, the 10-second hiccup of his two-hour talk. The gaffe. Quite possibly a deadly moment in his campaign.

Photo by Sean Ryan

"The other thing we should do is we should challenge these students," he said, firm and smooth. "We should challenge students in these schools to have advanced placement programs in these schools. We have this notion that, somehow if you're poor, you cannot do it."

He paused for a moment, then concluded: "Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids."
A chatter of applause, because everybody knew what he meant, that this was Uncle Joe fumbling his words again. And that was pretty much the end of it. The New Yorker framed the scene with a touch of the dramatic: "There were groans in the room, and a smattering of hesitant applause."
Biden definitely botched the landing, but he followed up quickly, "Wealthy people," he said. "Black kids. Asian kids."

Photo by Sean Ryan

The next day, the media leapt on Biden. Naturally, President Donald Trump took the opportunity to throw some shade. He told reporters that "Joe Biden is not playing with a full deck. This is not somebody you can have as your president." In a bizarre moment of unity, the media and President Trump agreed, though for much different reasons.

Biden may never outlive it: "Poor kids are just as bright and just as talented as white kids."

At the Presidential Gun Forum a few days later, Biden will say, "Look, I misspoke. I meant to say 'wealthy.' I've said it 15 [times]. On the spot, I explained it. At that very second, I explained it. And so, the fact of the matter is that I don't think anybody thinks that I meant anything other than what I said I meant."

For the past three years, President Trump has been the media's focus. Unrelenting. He's the giant prize at the arcade and they're pre-teens with leftover money, desperate to own that giant orange panda. When's the last time you heard a positive remark about President Trump from any mainstream media besides Fox News?

Now, President Trump doesn't seem to mind, not publicly at least. Because he has always played the media. During the 2016 election, the media lavished him with free advertising. He didn't even have a campaign website. Why bother, when the New York Times does the broadcasting and recruitment for you?

Maybe Biden lacked this acuity. This bull energy. And that's why he never recovered as well as he messed up. Or maybe Biden played the course as it was meant to be played. It wasn't time to activate the boosters. Too early. Just maintain a steady pace, hone the routine, and show your face to Americans. Because that's where Biden excelled.

All the same, there's hypocrisy to Biden's constant attack of President Trump. If you're going to paint someone as a lying, soulless, brainless, misogynistic racist, you better make sure that your room is clean, that your life, your language, and your presentation are spic-and-span. Otherwise, you lose. And, at the moment, Biden was losing.

*

He would be 77 in two months. He had lost a son to brain cancer. And when he was 30, his wife and daughter died in a car wreck. He's had private dinners and intimate conversations with the most powerful people on earth. Correction … He is one of the most powerful people on earth.

When then-President Barack Obama draped the Medal of Freedom around Biden's neck, he cried.
But, always, the gaffes. Even as vice president, he was the butt of many jokes, however, well-meaning. Like the Onion's satirical take on Biden, "Diamond Joe."

For the first half of 2019, the country mocked him. Depicted him as a creep. Turned him into a meme. All because he was old-school with his body language and affection. You can find the montage online.

For years, Biden used physical touch to break through the barriers and restraints of conversation on an impossible schedule. How do you make a meaningful connection with a stranger, or a roomful of strangers, when you have very little time?
And he had been affable Joe Biden for decades without a single issue. The times had changed. The latest generation was touchy about personal space, according to the focus groups and surveys.

Despite the outrage, Biden didn't apologize. But he acknowledged the issue.

"I will be more mindful about respecting personal space in the future," he said in a video. "That's my responsibility and I will meet it."

Photo by Sean Ryan

I think most people believed him. Agreed that he's not a predator. Maybe he's the guy who constantly tries to give everyone neck massages because he thinks he's good at it. But really he's just knotting people up and violating their space. Sometimes a person just needs to be told when they've become intrusive, or else they might never realize.

Or maybe Biden is neither, not a creep or a doofus, but a man who wants to connect. A man who wants the Oval Office, for real this time.

As Biden's campaign built steam, the "Creepy Joe" story slowly vanished. In its place, articles about Biden's gaffes became more prominent, and now 20 of his fellow Democrats were hoping for his downfall.

He was christened "Sleepy Joe" by President Trump, who scoffed that Biden was too old for the job, tongue-in-cheek referring to himself as a "young vibrant man." From the start, everyone attacked Biden because he was in the lead. Because he was, probably, the most qualified. So he had to just take it. With dignity, if possible.

Did he ever get tired of all the commotion?

*

His obsessive word that night was "solitary." As in, "every single solitary child." Earlier that day, it had rained. Poured down onto people at the Iowa State Fair. It must have soaked every single solitary person.

Photo by Sean Ryan

To add to it all, Biden has struggled in Iowa before. When he ran for president in 1987, he ended his campaign after plagiarizing a Neil Kinnock speech at a Democratic debate at the Iowa State Fair. As is usually the case with Biden, the whole thing seems to have been a misunderstanding. Around that time he fibbed about his law school grades or something like that. Middle Class Joe with his tall tales and lofty aspirations. Isn't that the ultimate Middle Class Joe move?

It's like how Iowa has the highest per capita number of golf courses in the country, and, in 2007, actor Rob Lowe whacked a golf ball and it catapulted up and hit a goldfinch mid-flight. His first round of golf in Iowa, as part of a PGA Pro-Am celebrity tournament, and he killed the state bird. That's an Uncle Joe move.

*

Democracy fails without journalism. Mass media connect us to reality. Journalists hold this incredible power. The power to utterly ruin someone who maybe doesn't deserve ruin, or lionize someone who should be leeching in obscurity.

This ultimatum hung in the air as Biden spoke, clumsy like he hadn't slept well in weeks, maybe longer. Which is probably the reality.

He'd already botched the speech, he knew it, likely with no forgiveness from the media.

Ideally, politicians and journalists are like sharks and pilot fish. The sharks don't devour the pilot fish and, in turn, the pilot fish eat the shark's parasites. Politicians need journalists in order to spread their message, to impact public opinion. And journalists depend on politicians for protection, in a business sense, and for access. People want to watch sharks be shark-like. Pilot fish keep them alive and save their own scales in the process.

I bet you're wondering, "So who are the parasites in this metaphor?"

*

Biden had class, that's for sure. Despite his goofs, he had an air of diplomacy. The presence of someone who, for eight years, had classified material delivered to him like the morning paper. He has seen the innermost workings of the world's governments.

He was one of the dozen-or-so people who watched the live feed of Osama Bin Laden's assassination, an occasion captured by that gripping, now-iconic photo of Biden, Obama, and the national security team in the Situation Room.
By this point, after decades in politics, he looks good as a matter of habit. He wears sharp, deep-blue suits like the rest of us wear a T-shirt and khakis.

In Iowa, he exuded prestige and wisdom. When he spoke, even when he misspoke, people listened. And he looked you in the eye with an avuncular kindness.

Then he fumbled a few words or stumbled into some bad optics and the media went full shark on him. They went shark on him. The shark! Which too often felt contrived.

Most of the time, you could tell what Biden meant to say. Although, yes, if you have a habit of bungling your words, then don't center your speech on the idea that a President's words matter, so, in the 2020 presidential election, vote for me, the habitual word-bungler.

*

All week, flags were at half-mast.

Two shootings within 13 hours of each other. And we, the whole country, all slumped around with a devastation. So I had expected every Democratic candidate to talk about guns. That morning, on the back of the Des Moines Register, a full page in red font was devoted to the Presidential Gun Sense Forum being held in two days at the Iowa Events Center. Where all of the candidates would give a speech at an appointed time. If the Iowa Star Fair had opened during the previous news cycle, the candidates would likely fume about immigration or Israel. And they all hated President Trump, or pretended to, with a ferocity usually reserved for cockroaches and murder.

Just that morning, Sen. Elizabeth Warren flagged down a journalist to say, "For the record, Donald Trump is a white supremacist."And the rest of them shouted in accord. They're politicians. Like male frogs, when one of them ribbits loudly and a female frog responds, the other male frogs do their best imitation. It's a real-life game of language poker. Bluff, wince, suppress, speak, listen, react. Do anything and everything to win win win.

Photo by Sean Ryan

So they had to talk about gun control and white supremacy in order to keep playing. They had to reference the primary topics of discussion for August 2019, but in a way that revealed authenticity, without seeming gullible. It's a matter of knowing what to say, always. Which is an insane expectation, for so many reasons.

Because the clarion call is different by the day, certainly by the month, depending how fervidly the media push it. Good news is, research shows that people aren't so gullible. We typically distrust the media. Because public opinion doesn't always line up with the media message. If Americans don't like the narrative being hammered down their throats, they'll shrug and change the channel, move on, stop caring. Like Bill Clinton's impeachment. The media wanted an opera, but most of the country just didn't give a damn what the man did behind closed doors, even if they were the doors to the Oval Office.

"The reason I call him Barack," Biden said, somewhat randomly, "is because I don't want to confuse him with the President." Soft spoken. Gentle voiced. Earlier, he compared Trump to Hitler. Hitler, leader of the Nazis, genocidal maniac, full-blown hellaciously prolific psychopath, an honest-to-God dictator who murdered and tortured millions of Jews. Trump, on the other hand, is the first President to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, but just happens to be, well, kind of an ass. Nobody denies that. Many people even happen to admire it. But Hitler?

Hyperbole is fine, but it becomes dangerous when exaggerations mutate into something uglier. It was like the Democrats were trying to psyche themselves up to fight the class bully or, better yet, the most popular kid in school.

Can you blame them for having shaky nerves? The man is a pulverizer. We all saw what he did to the entire stage of Republicans in 2016. He destroyed 16 Ivy League-educated lawyers and seasoned politicians, legacy politicians, American royalty. Poor Jeb Bush probably still has a stammer. Trump ruined careers by giving out nicknames. He went toe-to-toe with Hillary Clinton, a woman with a reputation for getting everything she wants no matter the cost, for being an impenetrable force that frightens many people, for having spent eight years in the White House as the first lady, and even she lost.

I'd be shaky if I were them, too. Any of us would.

But, every day, it's a more serious accusation. Yet another barb directed at President Trump. Which, oddly, just becomes further proof of President Trump's ubiquity. Every insult levied at him just bounces off his orange Teflon skin like a jelly bean and next thing you know you've got sugar stains on your forehead.

*

Sculpture on the lawn of the Plumbers & Steamfitters Local 33 in Des Moines, IowaPhoto by Sean Ryan

As Biden's speech entered its second lap, the journalists in the back of the room just seemed bored. How long had Biden been talking?

Earlier that day, at the Iowa State Fair, he performed better, although he got a tad weird in the press scrum afterward and shouted it out with a reporter from Breitbart.

The drunk lady in the trippy lion blouse kept chirping along with Biden, adding a weird dominant energy to a room that already had a weird energy of its own, and by then even the kids could tell the woman was wasted. What a time to get hammered. During a town hall? At a plumbers' union? In Iowa? On a Thursday night? In front of all of these people? In front of a man who once had his own customized 757, aka Air Force 2?

The dog-shirt man gawked at Biden as he strolled around the tiny island of space between the tables. The dog-shirt man was a clumsy lad. Several times, his arms windmilled around as he balanced. The room syncopated to his clumsiness, more out of obligation than respect.

Parrot shirt guy had finished his baguette at some point, and moved onto some other task. I do not know what he was doing, with his face and with his presence. I am at a loss of words. "Alien" is the best word I can come up with. He whispered with the lop-sidedness of a sinking boat, far too loudly, somehow.

But in America, we can eat our baguettes as slowly as we please. We can paunch ourselves into corner-store t-shirts then go to a formal event. We can get nice and revved up on wine or vodka or whatever else we please, within reason. Best of all, we can do these things in the presence of a former Vice President.

"I've never been more optimistic about America than I am today," he said.

Then he spiraled into an elaborate story about Chinese President Xi Jinping. How, during one of Biden's visits to China, as the two men ate dinner, Jinping asked Biden to define America. "One word," said Biden. "Possibilities." Now that woke everyone up. How could you not admire a line as good as that line?

Photo by Sean Ryan

The Q&A went as well as a Q&A can. The people with pre-written questions were nervous, like this was an audition. The first question came from an off-duty Sheriff, and he said, "Hi, I'm a Sheriff."

Without a pause, Biden said "Didn't do it!" leaning into the microphone. And it was great. Maybe I enjoyed it more than everybody else. But it just felt so playful and innocent. Then somebody asked about the Democratic debates. "I won't call them debates," he said. "I'll call them one-minute assertions." Another good ad-libbed line. Where was this delivery during his speeches?

Biden has shotguns, he told the Sheriff, then veered into a tangent that journalists have characterized as near-senile. To me, it was charming. It was him saying, "Look, we're spending this time together so how about I open up and let you see who I am." Or at least who he wanted to portray. The moderator quipped that, could Biden be a little more succinct with his answers? A joke. Everyone laughed. Then we all moved on.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Outside, the sun was still as red and orange as usually is, before evening. We were nearing the sanguine moment when day changes hands with night. A cool dampness skipped the air. 78 degrees? In August? And a low of 65? What was this place?

Iowa exudes an American rawness, in manner and spirit. Its State colors are red, white, and blue. Its flower is the wild rose. It's motto is "Our liberties we prize and our rights we will maintain." It is the birthplace of John Wayne. Home to the crimson-painted bridges of a fictional Madison County. It is heart-breaking how American Iowa is. The vintage America. With the worst cellphone reception I've ever encountered, and Amish-run gas stations that don't have credit card slots on the pumps. And everywhere, a slower pace, as if social media never happened.

On the lawn of the Plumber's Union, a statue of two hands clenching pipe wrenches and fastening a socket. In front of it, a plaque titled "Pulling Together," which noted, "This piece of art is not only about unions. It is about the human condition."

The American flag by the entrance had been raised to its peak. Possibly that day. Most other places still had their flags at half-mast. There was something triumphant about returning the flag to its proper height. It was by no means a slight against the recent shootings. If anything, it was a way of redistributing power.

A red SUV waited by the rear door. Next to a white van. My guess was that this was the subtle way that Biden traveled. Endurance. Meanwhile, Kamala Harris had her own fleet with her name in purple and yellow down the side. We've yet to see if hers might have been the better approach.

It was getting late, and Biden was still yammering and we had places to be. As my dad and I tiptoed out, the French bulldog snorted around the room. You could hear him chuff. And he hustled toward the kids slumping against the walls. He jumped away from his leash. When he finally arrived at the children, he licked and licked. Meanwhile Biden was talking about reality. "We choose science over fiction," he said. "We choose truth over lies." People murmured supportively. Then the French bulldog's owner turned to me, smiled, and said, "He really likes little kids."



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

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.

RYAN: Michael Bennet, Little League

Photo by Sean Ryan

Every day, life getting shorter. Every day, life going faster. Every day, like a roller coaster. These were the kinds of things that Michael Bennet was saying.

Michael Bennet, God bless him, he seemed like a decent lad. All week he had his family there. He said his campaign was their family vacation. He had had prostate cancer but would you believe he survived?

"Life is getting shorter," he said. "Every day."

Photo by Sean Ryan

He was well spoken. Dry. Talked with an air of consultation. Like you were in his office, and he had things to tell you.

Like a Little League coach who could actually be a coach someday.

*

I would encounter Bennet again the next day, at the Iowa State Fair.

Having just seen Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) at a small Baptist church, we ventured to the fair to see Bernie Sanders' riot of a Sunday speech. Bennet was on before him, so I got there early, and I paced off to get a restroom break. The media center is in the basement of the administration building, right by the Political Soapbox stage.

For whatever reason, the first-floor men's restroom has giant windows along the wall, and you can see right out onto the walkway that wraps around the building. I did not realize that this was the path that the candidates take to get to the stage.

Photo by Sean Ryan

And, this far into the 2020 presidential election, they never went many places alone. They had a press swarm and their wives and maybe an old friend who relocated here when the hurricane sank his house.

I was rushing. Panicking, really. Because I heard all the commotion. But nature abides by its own pace. And as I shuffled to the sink to wash my hands, my pants fell all the way down. I was exposed. Out in the open and in such desperation, you clobber yourself outside of time. It was all slo-mo with the Chopped-n-screwed voices as I scrambled to lift my trousers and audibly gasped the words, "Well just no." At that exact moment, that "accidental Renaissance" painting occurred as I locked eyes with Michael Bennet, slowly maneuvering the walkway.

These sorts of things happened, didn't they? There you were in a restroom, at an NFL game or a concert or maybe a bar, and you see someone you work with, or someone from church or school, and you lock eyes for a moment in confusion then revert to cave talk and shrug and get on with what you were doing. But it's weird when only one of you is actively part of the etiquette and allowances of a restroom and one of you is held to a higher standard, for the sake of common decency. Now let's say that you, the restroom occupant, happen to be credentialed press, and the outsider, Michael Bennet, happens to be a candidate for president of America.

Once the herd passed by behind him, I laughed a bit, quietly, because life could be very funny.

*

Onstage, Bennet, a senator from Colorado, gave the performance of a cake falling into a pool. Like he had been ghost-busted. Like he had spent the last two months learning the Fortnite dance moves and now that he had mastered them, suddenly Fortnite was for losers, and Fortnite dances, well, they were even worse.

The Political Soapbox is great because every candidate has 20 minutes. Those 20 minutes were theirs. Most of the time, they got romantic like a Backstreet Boy singing up toward an open window. Occasionally, they lost it. Bennet did neither. He belly-flopped into hay bales.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Remember that the growing crowd had the dangerous feel of a natural disaster. And it was gaspingly warm that day. So neither the crowd nor the environment were ready to give Bennet a freebie.

He gave a ravishing speech, full of neat invective. Then looked up and realized he still had 14 minutes on the clock. Oof. That was most of it, and he'd already done the Floss and the Robot and the Electro Shuffle, and honestly his shoulder was a little stiff from all that dance practice. So he opened the floor for questions.

Now, that was not the greatest idea. For one, this was not the type of place for such a thing. They called it a soapbox because you were meant to live out the phrase "on a soapbox" by ranting and fist-pounding and all other theatrics.

The Bernie Sanders supporters hadn't arrived en masse yet, so most of the people around the stage were clad in Trump gear. And they all had their hands up ready to ask him questions. Well, firebombs, really, masked as interrogative statements. Bennet shouted without breathing, then said, "I want to find a non-male person who has a question."

This did not sit well with the males who did not like the trend of personalizing all things, cautious gendering, and the sudden change of direction so that now they had to just listen.

Most people did not care.

"I do not support Bernie's plan," Bennet shouted. But would you believe the Bernie supporters had literally just arrived, you could smell their hair dye.

They jeered, then acted exactly — and I mean exactly — like the Trump supporters.

"I would rather support free pre-school than free college," he shouted. "Many people talk about... " but the jeering was too powerful. And the Bernie supporters had likely just had quinoa açaí bowls at their pre-Bernie brunch, so they were unstoppable. Well God bless the man for scratching "Give Presidency a Try" off his bucket list. Because at least he had a bucket list.

What did they have? Student debt and a restraining order? They being the growing factions of Bernie and Trump supporters in the audience. You could not see any pavement. It was just people and faces like the Mediterranean in the evening, all the way to the towering walls of the Grandstand.

Looking out at all that chaos, all that latent disaster, Bennet must have felt a deep stirring.

The night before, Slipknot headlined at the Grand Stand, a sold-out show. Rollicking and bursting and howling. How many drumbeats could drummer Jay Weinberg get per minute? At one point, vocalist Corey Taylor unleashed a demonic bellow, then adjusted his mask and looked out to all those people, those devoted fans, because many of them had Slipknot tattoos, and maybe he, like Bennet, indulged a moment for himself, a personalization of the grand setting, then shrieked, then persuaded the audience to lift their hands into the air, maybe toward a constellation of their choosing, and extend their middle finger like it was an egg landing on a pillow, which symbolizes the human condition.




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

President Trump couldn't personally make it to Houston for the 3rd Democratic Debate, so he paid $7,500 for a single-engine Cessna to fly in circles over Texas Southern University campus while pulling a banner that said, "Socialism will kill Houston's economy! Vote Trump 2020!"

For four hours, it chugged around up there. You could hear it everywhere. It was the soundtrack of the night.

You can just imagine Trump's face as he had the banner-plane idea. You can hear him putting in the order. You can see his list of demands. And at the very top, "I WANT THE LOUDEST PLANE YOU CAN FIND!!!"

*

Was that Bret Baier in the aisle, adjusting his reading glasses and thumbing at the strap of his comically small backpack as he crossed the blue-carpeted gymnasium? He looked like the human version of Wisconsin. He was saying something but all you could hear was the plane overhead.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Bret Baier, the stoic host of "Special Report with Bret Baier" on Fox News and the network's chief political anchor. He's underrated, if you ask me. Legacy. Old-school. He just delivers the news, which is what most people want. He talks the way anchors used to talk, with the American accent unique to news anchors even though he was born in New Jersey and raised in Georgia.

I had spent the last year-and-a-half on a series of in-depth profiles on some of the major countercultural figures of our time. People like Jordan Peterson, Dave Rubin, and Carol Swain. So my first impulse was to rush over to Baier and profile the guy. Nobody else would, after all. The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper's. But they ought to. The man has a hell of a story.
He joined Fox News a year-and-a-half after it was founded, as the southeast correspondent in Atlanta. A few years later, on a Tuesday in September, nineteen terrorists hijacked four passenger airliners and crashed into America.

When the first plane hit, Fox producers told Baier to just get in his car and drive to New York City. They needed back-up reporters for the next day. When the second plane crashed into the south tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03 a.m., they said, "Step on it, Baier."

He and his producer were an hour outside Atlanta when American Airlines Flight 77 slammed into the Pentagon. Still a good 8 hours away, but closer to D.C. than to New York City. So they re-routed to Arlington, Virginia, as fast as they could. Past a blur of fields full of indifferent cows. Past houses full of people who could hardly talk, people who couldn't describe what they were seeing and hearing, all the smoke and the blood and the office-supply confetti. Past towns that barely moved, gas stations with nobody in them, people sunken into a far-away stare.

Yet there was the sun, with only a few bangles of cloud every so often. America had been paralyzed but the earth kept trucking along, quiet and unbothered. It must have felt strange for Baier, to speed down empty highways — toward literal death and chaos — under a perfect sky, below cascading light and color.

Nature doesn't care if we make it out alive.

*

That day, Baier reported live from a Citgo station across the street from the Pentagon, rubble in heaps of flame behind him. It was like he'd fallen onto a different planet and was reporting back to home.

The next day arrived and it was so quiet everywhere. Nobody knew a damn thing. We could not believe our eyes. We all turned to reporters and anchors for answers. Most often, they blurted out whatever they could.

Something about Bret Baier gave audiences a much-needed boost. Reliable, sturdy. Like he said what had to be said and not a word extra.

Fox kept him in D.C., indefinitely. A friend helped him find an apartment. He never went back to Atlanta. Two weeks later, Fox News appointed him Pentagon correspondent, a position that saw him travel the world, including 13 trips to Afghanistan and 12 to Iraq.

Halfway through George W. Bush's second term, Baier became Fox News' White House correspondent.

Then, a year before he would earn his current position as anchor, Baier became a father. His son was born with holes in his heart — five congenital heart defects. Twelve days later, the boy underwent open-heart surgery. Baier and his wife waited in tiled rooms drenched with flowers and ESPN and drab ultraviolet light, surrounded by machines full of beeps and whirring and beeps and whirring.

Baier's son has since undergone two additional open-heart surgeries, nine angioplasties, and one stomach operation. In an interview with Parents Magazine, Baier said that his son's health problems have "given me perspective about my job, going through policy and politics in Washington, D.C., to see the bigger picture."

*Part of the reason I couldn't tell whether or not it was Baier is he's usually up on the main stage. For the 2012 election, he moderated five Republican debates, and co-anchored FNC's America's Election HQ alongside Megyn Kelly.

The 2016 election would propel him into a much larger role. He anchored three Republican debates, but this time he had to handle Donald Trump.

Baier knew Trump personally, from before the election. They'd played golf together. He described Trump as "a nice guy outside of his TV persona" and never thought Trump would actually make a run for the Presidency. Onstage, Trump was much different. And Baier had been tasked with maintaining control.

A devout Roman Catholic, he appreciates a nice glass of wine and a fine cut of steak. He likes a good joke, too. In January, 2019, Baier signed a multi-year deal with Fox News to continue "Special Report." A few weeks later, he and his family went to Montana for a ski trip. The weekend was wonderful. But they had to get back to New York because Baier was scheduled to appear on "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert" that Tuesday.

Imagine him, again in a car hurtling toward a fateful destination. How he squinted through the frost-pocked windshield and gripped the steering wheel. As he guided the white SUV along the two-lane road to the airport. The land looked haunted, barren, lifeless. Everywhere, the world was frozen white. Snow and ice blanketing the fields, gauze over the sky.

At some anonymous intersection, Baier pumped the brakes, but the tires hit an ice patch, and the SUV spun loose. An oncoming car slammed into the driver's side, launching the vehicle into an embankment, wedged on its side. A man named Zach stopped his pickup truck and helped the family crawl free, and the Montana Highway Patrol rushed them to the hospital.

"Don't take anything for granted," Baier tweeted later. "Every day is a blessing and family is everything. It's always good to remind yourself of that before something does it for you."

Before every debate that he moderates, Baier spends 10 minutes alone, praying.

*

A Freedom of Information Act request in 2011 revealed that Fox News was actually right. That the Obama Administration really did hate them. And had intentionally excluded them from a press pool two years earlier. Then laughed about it.

The documents unearthed snarky emails between various high-ranking aides in the Obama Administration. In one, the Deputy White House communications director bemoaned Baier's reporting on the bias. "I'm putting some dead fish in the [Fox News] cubby — just cause Bret Baier is a lunatic." That same day, deputy press secretary Josh Earnest bragged in an email that "we've demonstrated our willingness and ability to exclude Fox News from significant interviews."

The Trump administration pulled a similar stunt in July, 2018 by banning a CNN reporter from the press pool. Trump and Fox News had developed a beneficial relationship by then. And CNN was a lifelong competitor, a public enemy.
That night, Baier delivered an official statement, "This decision to bar a member of the press is retaliatory in nature and not indicative of an open and free press. We demand better. As a member of the White House press pool, Fox stands firmly with CNN on this issue of access."

Fox News rebuked Trump in solidarity with CNN. It was a heartening gesture between two seeming enemies. Fox News were standing up for truth, defending journalism, rejecting tyranny even though the ban would have benefitted them as a company.

Who knows how many books and dissertations and articles have been written about Fox News, usually in relation to bias, usually with a scathing tone. The conclusions differ wildly, yet each one claims certitude.

Generally, academics and journalists have taken a doomsday tone when talking about Fox News. Accusations of evil, fear-mongering, bigotry, hatred, misinformation, propaganda, racism, homophobia, and so on.

Despite these outcries, Fox News has consistently held its spot as the most-watched network in the country. Imagine how that makes its critics feel.

In an August 3, 2018 appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live, Baier said, "the biggest problem is that the people who are most critical of Fox are usually people who have not watched Fox News."

Fox News is composed of two distinct departments. Punditry and straight news. Or "opinion news" and "descriptive news." Consistently, surveys of the public rate Fox News as both the least- and most-biased news network.
Last year, a survey found Fox News to be the second most-trusted television news brand in the country, after the BBC.

In a separate study, Democrats rated its bias score at (negative) -87, while Republicans placed it at (positive) +3. Which is like if, at a football game, one referee said "Touchdown," while the other referee said "Turnover, leading to Touchdown for the Defense." It can't be both, can it?

Public opinion may not be the best metric for understanding Fox News, especially in 2019.

Quantitative studies have offered clearer conclusions. In 2016, a content analysis used crowdsourcing and machine learning to examine over 800,000 news stories published over a year by 15 major outlets, from the New York Times to Fox News. They wanted to chart media bias.

What they discovered is that news outlets are far more similar than we believe. Much of the perceived bias is a matter of separating "opinion news" from "descriptive news." For conservatives, it's punditry. For those on the left, it's op-eds and long form investigative pieces, although the left tends to insist that they're not biased, that they are instead just more apt to tell the truth, even though research has disproven this belief.

The researchers found a much larger bias-divide in opinion news, whereas descriptive news was practically neutral. One of the researchers described Fox News' descriptive news as "guided by similar news values as more traditional, legacy media."

University of California Berkeley sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild wrote that "Fox News stands next to industry, state government, church, and the regular media as an extra pillar of political culture all its own."

Say what you want about Fox News, they play a crucial role in the so-called mainstream media. And, despite what Fox News will lead you to believe, they are definitely part of the mainstream. And they are by no means the innocent victim. And certainly not powerless. And they have all kinds of problems that I will not defend. But we'll talk about that in a later installment, the one about Kamala Harris at a gun control rally, advocating for propaganda.

*

After two months of political events, I suspected that different news networks have their own signifiers, like the distinct stripes and markings on various spiders.

Wall Street Journal reporters tended to carry old-timey notepads and interview any bystander they could find. Breitbart usually only sent one person, and he wandered around with his iPhone, recording every single thing. Politico, prim-suited men who could just as easily work on the stock market.

Most of the reporters dressed like that, in stagey business attire. Prim for a high school job fair. Meanwhile, the photographers, mostly men, looked like professional paintball players. The camera crews and technical staff were the only ones decked in tattoos and wearing sandals and generally not caring about the chaos all around them. On-camera talent were covered in makeup and shrink-wrapped into dresses or suits with chip-clips along the spine.

The Washington Post sent the classiest and most bored-looking people I have ever encountered. They never looked at their laptops as their fingers chopped at the keys, and you assumed they were pretending until you read their stories online. You could spot ABC because their camera crew wore faded red ABC hats. Associated Press looked like they had just come back from a battlefield assignment in Syria, and never donned the same press credentials as everyone else, preferring a tattered AP lanyard. And you always knew when someone was with the New York Times because they announced it to the entire room.

And Fox News? At democratic events, they usually hid. But not that day, in Houston, as Bret Baier walked up the aisle to a table a couple rows in front of me.

Most people arrived in the Media Filing Center several hours before the debate. Fox News got there just slightly after that, as everyone was wiggling in their seats and connecting their laptops to a shared outlet.

There were seven or so in the pack of Fox News, all grinning. They all had white to-go sacks from Chick-fil-A. And the room got quieter, so Trump's plane got louder. It was a double trolling event.

As host of the debate, ABC would be providing dinner. This information was included in the credentials email that all of us had received. So nobody else had brought food with them. No need.

Even better, I was familiar enough with that part of Houston to know that there was not a Chick-fil-A anywhere close to us. Who knew where they'd gotten that Chick-fil-A, but odds are it wasn't warm. Who knew if there was even any food in the bags.

They had brought Chick-fil-A into a building full of national media during the third Democratic Presidential debate. The 2020 election was already full of outrage about plenty of things, and one of them was Chick-fil-A. To some folks, the red chicken logo might as well have been a swastika. That very week LGBT activists had vehemently — cartoonishly — protested the opening of several Chick-fil-A's throughout North America. Chicken sandwiches had become yet another flag on the tug-of-war rope in the Culture War of our country.

To be clear, the political left was anti-Chicken and the political right was pro-Chicken. The media tended to lean anti-Chicken, and frequently wrote about anti-Chicken causes, often scolding pro-Chicken voices, or ignoring the struggles of the pro-Chicken community only to deny any opinion on Chicken at all. That was the cowardly part, of you ask me, the pretending like they weren't activists.

The Democratic candidates definitely leaned anti-Chicken. Sometimes they took it so far that it upset moderate anti-Chicken advocates. Because was it really so bad to eat Chicken? Couldn't you be anti-Chicken but also enjoy Chicken occasionally? Why did everything have to be either "all Chicken all the time unless you hate freedom" or "no chicken ever unless you support hate"?

The fight had spread everywhere. Airports, stadiums, malls, campuses. All had served as battlegrounds for the anti-Chicken versus the pro-Chicken.

The previous President was anti-Chicken. In fact, he may well have enflamed the entire movement. During his tenure, there were nationwide protests that saw pro-Chicken advocates angrily and proudly eating Chicken while anti-Chicken advocates protested outside and occasionally engaged in homosexual affection, which was being threatened by Chicken, according to them.

Every time the pro-Chicken folks bit into a Chicken sandwich, it was like they were gnawing away at the anti-Chicken people themselves. Degrading their identity. Because, for them, it was about the identity.

But the current President, unabashedly proud of his pro-Chicken stance, once served Chicken at the White House to some winning sports team, and the anti-Chicken activists saw it as proof that Chicken and hate go together. And maybe Chicken would even lead to the impeachment of the President they hate, which would mean the Vice President would become the President, but he's one of the most pro-Chicken people in America, so they'd have to impeach him, too. And the Supreme Court, it was overrun with pro-Chicken types.

This election, the Democratic front-runners competed for the bolder plan. They would end Chicken in America once and for all. They would obliterate our evil President and his Chicken Supremacy. Their stump speeches relied on harsh criticisms of pro-Chicken voters, who pretended to find the whole anti-Chicken movement amusing but were secretly enraged by it. In fact, they were certain that the anti-Chicken movement had been systematically silencing them for years, and that they had to fight for their Chicken in order to keep everything that they valued, even all the not-Chicken.

The media and the democrats and Hollywood and academia — all hated the Chicken, because they hated the pro-Chicken people. If they had their way, no more Chicken, ever again. And no more pro-Chicken deplorables. And tonight the anti-Chicken politico-culture complex would prove it, with long rants which get confirmed by glowing articles, calculated takedowns about the merits of anti-Chicken and the evils of pro-Chicken.

Yet here was Fox News, with actual Chicken. And they were smiling. Maybe in part because the police who were guarding us all tended to be pro-Chicken. And this was Texas, after all, an incredibly pro-Chicken state. But there were 49 other states and 14 territories, and all of them were fighting for or against Chicken.

Some experts even said we were on the cusp of a Civil War.


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

We've heard the catchphrase "follow the money" so often that it's nearly a joke. It gained added attention in the 1976 movie All the President's Men, which follows the story of the two journalists who uncovered Watergate. "Follow the money," their source told them, "and you'll find corruption."

Problem is, corrupters hide their bad behavior remarkably well. They are masters of disguise. But if you look closely enough, you can spot the seams splitting in their choreographed routine.

One technique that magicians use for psychological misdirection is called the false solution. The goal is to distract the audience, to make them believe that they know what's really happening. All the while, the machinations of the actual trick are happening right in front of them, because "implanting an unlikely and unfamiliar idea in the mind can prevent participants from finding a more obvious one."

Billions of dollars. Lost. Gone.

I want to tell you a story of tremendous corruption, masked cleverly, using many of the same techniques that magicians have used for centuries. Only it's not a rabbit disappearing into a hat or a coin vanishing behind an ear. It's billions of dollars. Lost. Gone.

And the people responsible are the same people who have been so monstrously worked up about Trump's impeachment. The same people screaming about Trump's malfeasance with Ukraine are actually the ones misbehaving in Ukraine.

It's essentially an elevated, highly organized form of projection. Only instead of one person lashing out at the world, it's an entire political party, right up to the top. The very top. Barack Obama. It's right there on video.

Or how about the audio recording we uncovered, with Artem Sytnyk, Director of the National Anti-corruption Bureau of Ukraine, openly admitting a connection between the DNC and Ukraine?

So far, the story told by the Democrats and the media has been about Trump and Ukraine. Every so often, you hear mention of Joe Biden's dubious history with the war-torn country.

We were the first to talk about Joe Biden's connections to Ukraine back in April, with our candidate profile on Biden.

It turns out, the whole debacle was much worse than we thought. It stretched further than Uncle Joe. What we found out is that the DNC was working with the Ukrainian government.

This isn't a conspiracy theory. And we have the documents to prove it.

Read on to discover everything you need for a 30-second elevator pitch that you can give to your friend and say, "Look, here's what you need to know. Here's what's really going on."

If anyone is guilty, they should go to jail.

Last night, in Ukraine: The Democrats' Russia I revealed the elaborate misdirection taking place.

I said it last night and I'll say it again: If Trump is guilty, he should go to jail. If anyone is guilty, they should go to jail. Because this is too important to the Republic.

Watch the hands, follow the money.

Here are the documents, video, and audio that we found in our reporting. This is the hard evidence that will help you explain this unbelievable situation to other people.



  • June 2016 State Department memos detailing contacts between George Soros' office and Assistant Secretary of State Victoria Nuland.




As you can see, we did a lot of research on this, and we've done our best to condense it for you. It still requires you to do your own homework, but there's a tremendous freedom to that.

You are seeking the truth.

You are bucking the mainstream media. You are rejecting them. And you are seeking truth. Because they abandoned truth a long time ago and they certainly aren't interested in recovering it now.