Kevin Ryan: America, country versus city

Photo by Kevin Ryan

Imagine a prairie, red in bloodshot light, swollen with corn.

You're in a rocking chair, on a porch, looking out at fields of grain, surrounded by friends and family. Now imagine an urban sprawl, a landscape of fog and metal and sidewalk and car horns. From the patio of your high-rise apartment, you look out at the city, as a dinner party churns.

One thing I hear repeatedly from people in rural areas is, "I cannot believe the amount of hatred Trump faces. It's unprecedented."
If you measure public opinion via mainstream media — excluding Fox News, which is definitely part of the so-called mainstream media — you'd understandably assume that most Americans hate Trump's guts.

Yet nearly 63 million people voted for him in 2016. Still fewer than Hillary Clinton, although Trump nabbed the electoral vote by a far larger margin.

When I talk to people in cities, they often have a gauzy idea about Trump supporters. To them, Trump supporters are faraway anomalies. The obverse is true in smaller towns, especially in the countryside — and not just the South or in Middle America, you'll find tons of Trump flags along the backroads of Oregon and California, same for the East coast.

Earlier this summer, I was at a gun range in Clear Lake, Texas and a half-dozen people were wearing MAGA hats, including one of the Ranger Officers. Drive an hour north on the Gulf Freeway, into the Montrose neighborhood of Houston, and you'll find a much different dynamic.

And Clear Lake is by no means a small town, not compared to all those towns throughout Texas with 200 people and a gas station.

Because the divide is multifold. And impressively, nearly all of the separate attributes at play are polarized.

Probably because liberals and conservatives literally don't even live in the same places. Rarely cross paths.

There are two America's, same as ever. The countryside and the city. I've lived in both. And as I travel around America for this series, I see the delicate kingdoms of each.

So as I travel around from state to state, through all the different towns and cities, I feel the presence of Walt Whitman's great poem "America."

Centre of equal daughters, equal sons,
All, all alike endear'd, grown, ungrown, young or old,
Strong, ample, fair, enduring, capable, rich,Perennial with the Earth, with Freedom, Law and Love,
A grand, sane, towering, seated Mother,
Chair'd in the adamant of Time

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In 2016, a paltry 12 percent of Trump voters lived in urban areas, compared to Clinton's 32 percent. The numbers were basically flipped, with 35 percent of Trump voters in rural areas, compared to 19 percent of Clinton voters in rural areas.
This divide was even more dramatic along partisan lines.

As noted by Pew Research Center,

Virtually all validated voters with consistently liberal values voted for Clinton over Trump (95% to 2%), while nearly all those with consistently conservative values went for Trump (98% to less than 1% for Clinton).

So it makes sense that neither side would understand the other. Especially when you toss in a dose of American combativeness.

*


In the words of Aristotle, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it."

Which is not to say that Americans aren't of an educated mind, although it is something we have historically been sensitive about, particularly in relation to art and literature.

Rather, my point is that there are gradations of ignorance.

A continuum.

Some forms of ignorance are more forgivable than others. And a certain type of ignorance is not forgivable at all.

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Our hindrance, as Americans, is that we are — well, we are stubborn people. I've lived outside America, and traveled extensively. My father is Irish, and I have dual citizenship.

I will say that every country has problems. Unique problems.

As Americans, we tend to lean on convenience, even if we don't see it as a luxury. Which, let's be real, it totally is.

We take for granted that, when you're in public and you need to use a toilet, there's one nearby. And it's free. And clean.
Or showers. How often are we forced to take cold showers?

I know I'm doing a lot of generalizing here, but I've thought about it a lot, and it's all based on my desire to see Americans get along better. To rouse the humanity in all of us.

We Americans will always thrive with a pioneer spirit. A wildness. Rebels.

And Americans are undoubtedly some of the kindest, most generous people on earth.

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But we also tend to focus exclusively on ourselves, our country, our city, our town, our yard, our skyline. Which happens everywhere, yes, but not like here. More often, we can't even imagine the other worlds within our own country.

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Here's an exercise, if you're a born-and-bred American.

Name a dozen living world leaders. Now a dozen more.

Describe the Croatian flag, or the flag of any African country. Can you tell the difference between the Salvadorian flag and the flag of Argentina?

Sing a few national Anthems.

Revolutions or uprisings are currently taking place in the following countries or regions: Chile, Iran, Yemen, Egypt, Sudan, Hong Kong, Libya, Niger, Lebanon, Iraq, France, Puerto Rico, Haiti, you get the idea.

Because people in other countries know far more about America than we know about them. Which, at times, can be heart-breaking:

Protesters singing the American national anthem youtu.be

Don't get me wrong, I probably got the same score on that little quiz as you did.

Probably lower, actually, as the folks who contact me about my stories have the most astute and insightful observations.

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Want to know the one thing we can all agree on as Americans? Cutting in line is unforgivable. Any sort of line. We learn this from a young age. Internalize it, collectively. If you ask us, we say that line-cutters deserve the great heat of an eternal hell!

*

Real talk here. We're spoiled, and occasionally we act like it. Although, most of the time — say, while traveling abroad — we're so kind that we come off as naïve, which is charming when you think of it.

And most of all, we are big, in mind and heart and spirit. In the words of the great American poet Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes.

You'd never know it, but Americans comprise a mere 4 percent of the world's population.

And, look, I'm not here to trash America. I love our country.

And I find much of the criticisms of our country to be rooted in cowardice, even when they are legitimate.

More than a few times, in Spain or Germany, I listened to locals excoriate the States. While drinking a Coca-Cola, and wearing Levi's Jeans, and nodding their head to Bruce Springsteen, as the Simpsons plays on the TV and a Cormac McCarthy novel rests on their bookshelf.

Most people I've met abroad like America. And they love Americans.

They admire our weird, endless spirit.

Poet Theodore Roethke wrote, "What's freedom for?"

In readings of the poem, he lets the question hang in the air for a moment, then answers it with a bellow.

"To know eternity."

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Not only are we heartedly multicultural, our diversity is natural.

With regard to race and ethnicity, the U.S. usually occupies the middle of the chart.

But what's unique about the U.S. is that an American can be any race, ethnicity, sex, gender, age, color.
And this is our golden age.

You'd never know it, but Americans comprise a mere 4 percent of the world's population. Because, most of all, we are big, in mind and heart and spirit. To paraphrase Walt Whitman, we contain multitudes.

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Ask liberals to describe conservatives, and vice versa, and you'll find that both sides tend to depict the other in a ghoulishly inaccurate and unflattering way. Conservatives often see liberals as elitist, intolerant, self-important, and out-of-touch.

Whereas liberals see conservatives as dumb, intolerant, backwards, and out-of-touch.

Either way, it's a pretty bad way to start a conversation.

*

We know the statistics by now. White voters accounted for 88 percent of the Trump vote. And far fewer Trump supporters were non-college whites.

More white women voted for Trump than for Clinton.

Of all the groups, Black women accounted for the fewest Trump votes, so few that its nearly statistically insignificant. In total, Trump got 6 percent of the Black vote.

A few things have changed since then. Specifically, Candace Owens and Kanye West.

I'll profile Owens in a later installment, for the last six months or so, I've been reporting on it. The vociferous, charming, and unbelievable 30-year-old woman at the helm of a strange new countercultural movement re-shaping America. She wears her MAGA hat when she travels, and she travels most days of the year.

She has led #Blexit, a movement geared at empowering the black community to vote Republican.

Kanye West, who was emboldened by Owen's unflinching style and bold words, regularly defends his support of Trump.

Those two events alone are bound to increase the number of Black Americans who vote for Trump in 2020.

I'll be at Kanye's performance in Houston on Sunday, at Joel Osteen's mega-church. And, about the time this story publishes, I'll be en route to Bossier City, Louisiana for my third Trump rally in as many weeks. And everywhere I travel for this series, I see the recurring qualities unique to our country.

Those two events alone are bound to increase the number of Black Americans who vote for Trump in 2020.

We Americans are generally honest people. We are straightforward yet empathetic. Just contrast general American English with general British English. We are cowboys and roughshod poets, they are royalty and cautious essayists.

In the introduction to this series, I described today's America, our America, as "a country that is — everywhere, secretly — hurting."

My aim, along the way, has been to scour for remedies. To posit whatever positivity I can. Like prayer in public, to tens of thousands of people every week.

As I see it, we will fix America by living out our most American ideals. By speaking from our spirit, no gimmickry or slogans or con men in the way.

We need truth. Its function is to guide us to redemption.

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The most insidious criticism of America comes from inside. It is much different than protest. Because America is a free country. We can express our beliefs and opinions how we like. That includes kneeling athletes and flag-defiling musicians. Dissent is allowed and patriotism is by no means required.

What I'm talking about is subtler. It can arise from any point on the political spectrum. Left, right, center. Even be apolitical. It embodies the unforgivable ignorance I mentioned above. People who spit at the world around them, lacking self-awareness, unaware of the privilege that comes with living in America. They've never left, never even tried. Yet they remain certain, until their opinions mutate into hatred, and only want to destroy. They deny humanity, they choose nihilism.

It's easy to be cynical about something you don't understand. Humanity is the realization that all of this has meaning. That every moment of life is charged with an existential purpose. That death is a life with no meaning.

This video makes the rounds every once in a while. It's meant to denounce the spirit of our country, to drain it of meaning, but just comes off as snotty and high-minded, which, to be fair, are trademarks of a quality Aaron Sorkin monologue.

All my life, my father, an immigrant, has told me that America is the greatest country in the world. Just look at the Democratic Presidential candidates. Andrew Yang's parents emigrated from Taiwan, he flourished, now he's running for President. Bernie Sanders, son of a man who fled Poland as a teenage high school drop-out with a poor grasp of English, is now also running for President. Or Pete Buttigieg, whose father emigrated from Malta in 1979. Kamala Harris' mother emigrated from India, her father from Jamaica.

In other words, seven immigrants, all from different continents, traveled to America with hope and their eyes, and now their children have a realistic chance of being the President of the country. From the bottom to the top, in one generation.That would be like if your parents emigrated to America from another country, worked hard, then you went on to become a realistic candidate for the most important job in the entire world. Now do that three more times.

Because there is nothing to compare it to.

It becomes all the more impressive the farther you zoom out.

Imagine taking a time machine back to Ancient Egypt and trying to make your way up the ladder so that your son could become Pharaoh. You'd zap into the sand and straight into slavery. Immediately. And your kids? Assuming you even had time for love, on account of all the pyramid building, slaves, also.

And even if you were somehow able to maneuver to the top, you could still die at any moment of some horrific, now-curable disease.

Or be poisoned by Cleopatra.

Or be "suicided" by Romans, never to be found.

Or just vanish, despite your being the Pharaoh.

Or be decapitated by your own father.

Or drown in the Nile.

Or lose your firstborn in a Biblical plague.

All of which were fates that Pharaohs actually suffered. And even the lucky Pharaohs, they didn't have air conditioning or cars or pizza delivery.

New installments of this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. 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:

Use code BECK to save $10 on one year of BlazeTV.

Want more from Glenn Beck?

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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Want more from Glenn Beck?

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.