Try BlazeTV for Free
Contributors

Ryan: Hurricane Bernie

The storm makes land in Iowa

Photo by Sean Ryan

The tropical storm kept cooking. Hurricane Bernard. A white-haired disturbance. Inland of the Gulf of Mexico 1,100 miles, no signs of stopping. Gale force winds so loud that at least one elderly woman, on that sunny August Sunday at the Iowa State Fair, had ear plugs and a sunhat, ready for disaster.

Photo by Sean Ryan

At about 15:30 hours, I observed a migration of Make America Great Again-hats, drifting westward, slowly but steadily, toward a one Mr. Bernie Sanders.

Photo by Kevin Ryan

As you can see on the map here, from the southeast, a cluster of "Capitalism is Evil" sign-bearers building mass. If these opposing fronts collided, it would be catastrophic.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Then, when it could not get worse, an isolated storm to the north began moving south, from a restaurant which happened to sell alcohol, which all parties appeared to have had enough of already, and their tribal outfits differed antagonistically, ramping up the atmospheric pressure.

Then came a southeastern oscillation of ditzy stoners who had just seen Bernie Sanders on Joe Rogan's podcast and wondered, would he stay around afterward so they could get a selfie together? Followed by the goat wranglers who had just finished an exhibition.

And all of it was heading to one place. The Political Soapbox stage.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A man in a motorized scooter rolled by the fenced area for media, seemingly the most innocuous of all. No, no. He was wearing a MAGA hat and had a Trump/Pence lawn sign in his front basket. He passed a 20-something who shouted something about, "Did he like his wheelchair?" and "How much will it cost the rest of us?" but the man didn't hear because it was loud and his hearing aid was loose.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Two women held hands, scoping around for people's reactions. Nobody seemed to care.

Meanwhile, the anti-Bernie factions had posted up in front of the stage as Bernie's staff was fighting through a squall of reporters and admirers from the west, and the suction energies were colliding. Millibars and millibars of barometric pressure.
Sunlight cut through the clouds and the world was bright all of a sudden, too bright. The metal breath of heat, scalp-frumping heat. Viperous and hateful.

*

Photo by Sean Ryan

A tractor-led train nudged through the rows of Sunday fairgoers, then came to a stop. The cartoon character of a conductor yanked a cord and the train made an electronic "Toot toot!" He yanked and yanked, squinting ahead, edging into a panic. The crowd had overtaken the tractor-train like a handcart lost to quicksand. A horde of people were frenzying around. Cameras, microphones, lots of urgency, lots of shouting. The conductor could see over it all. The people looked like ants carrying an orange slice. Only it was Bernie Sanders at the middle. Everyone recognized that face, that wild white hair, those fingers pointing everywhere, that hunched-back stroll.

A young woman passed behind the squall, "Aw, I can see his little head." The bald spot. To her, he was Buddha.

Photo by Sean Ryan

If you turned in any direction you'd see ruddy-faced people griping at other ruddy-faced people, contorting themselves like a mime because we're not great as a country about expressing negative emotions, especially in public.

If only National Geographic had covered the event. They would sauce it up with classy references to sociology. Or they'd frame the commotion as a nuanced power struggle acted out as a performance, a dance, between the authoritarians and the revolutionaries, or the such-and-such tribe versus the so-and-so tribe. Or maybe they'd pin it on something like native aggression.

To me, it was greater than that. The air had the eerie weight that precedes a tornado. It stank like when you're near a rattlesnake. It was all energy, the entire country at war in this one locale. And everyone had something to say, wanted something to do, somewhere to go, some way to matter in the rioting disaster of a struggle that is bigger than all of us, and deeper than we know, but still within arm's reach.

*

All at once, every person started mumbling, in one way or another, and just as quickly people clashed with their enemies and bonded excessively with their allies.

They had no choice. It was "He is red and I am blue." Followed by rictus in the face and words that imply bashing.

And the whole time this wonderful commotion was playing out, you could turn in any direction and get a turkey leg, or fried pork chop, or a bucket of cookies. Imagine if there were concession stands during the Civil War. These are the kinds of silly habits we humans indulge in.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A woman rolled her eyes as she passed the stage, "Political soapbox, ugh."

A single engine plane puttered by overhead, pulling a banner that read, "Sen. Ernst what the flood?" with the logo for LCV, League of Conservation Voters, and the hashtag "climate." They want to feel the world getting hotter? Get down here, in the bubbling muck.

*

Last time Sanders took this stage, a thousand people gathered. Five months later, he nearly beat Hillary Clinton in the Iowa caucus, which was a shady nightmare for Bernie and his unyielding supporters. I'll tell you more about it in the "Embassy Fortress" installment of this series.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Today, Sanders was lither and sharper than he had been any of the times I'd seen him yet.

Rachel Stassen-Berger, politics editor for the Des Moines Register, took the stage and introduced Bernie and laid down the ground rules. No heckling, no signs, just be Iowa nice. In some ancient ritual, a group of Trump supporters in red MAGA hats and "Iowa for Trump" T-shirts sang their tribal war songs. Crows on the powerlines stared down lustfully, waiting for someone to drop a fried pickle.

*

Twenty feet away, at a different gathering of Trump supporters, five middle-school-aged girls shouted as they passed a woman with a "Women for Trump sign." They said, "Racist. Racist. Racist. You're a racist. You're a racist." Every single one of them looked like Billie Eilish.

Photo by Sean Ryan

The woman shrugged, said, "I'm proud to hold this sign."

Her high-school-aged daughter, nearby, rolled her eyes, "I don't care what they say."

The largest contingent of Trump supporters populated a patch of land between the fried Twinkie trailer and a lemonade booth. Right then, a massive migration of Bernie supporters, signaling their poisonousness with multi-colored hair dye, was navigating toward the stage. One particular subgroup wore T-shirts with Harry Potter references. Behind them, "Keep America Great" signs jutted up from the crowd like stiff dandelions.

It was possibly the largest Soapbox crowd yet.

"Boy that's a big crowd," Bernie said as he looked out over the stage.

Photo by Sean Ryan

*

He had hardly made it to the stage. From the moment he stepped through the front gates, he was surrounded by people and microphones and cameras. The New York Times reported that "he spoke to almost no one." Incorrect. He spoke to anyone who approached him. As much as he could, mobbed by media and fair-goers hoisting cell phones. What was he supposed to do, have biscuits over tea?

Out in the tempest, Benny Johnson of TurningPointUSA held a travel-size whiteboard inked with the words "Where has Socialism Worked?" above numbers next to blanks. At any given time, you could look over and see various Bernie supporters vehemently scrawling "Norway" or "Sweden" or "Canada" or "China," followed by his rebuttal and dry-erase ink smears on his hand.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Ten feet away, unaware that Johnson was filming a segment about socialism, a young man in jeans and a bandana and a sports jersey of some kind, scoffed at a roving herd of Bernie supporters. "Socialism sucks," he muttered, too quietly for them to hear, but loudly enough to find satisfaction.

Besides, the small band of Bernie supporters seemed too happy to have cared anyway. They buzzed and chattered like they were pre-teens about to see their favorite band in concert for the first time. A couple of them definitely were pre-teens. But, as is usually the case at a Bernie event, there were supporters of all ages.

*

A man in faded jeans and a plain red T-shirt passed by the outer edges of the natural disaster. "Who's this," he asked the people around him. "Bernie? Bernie?!" Then he spat. Then he snorted. Then he spat again. Then, with a crooked smile, he shook his fist sarcastically and shouted, "Tax 'em all to death, Bernie! Tax 'em all to death."

Photo by Sean Ryan

In no time at all, Hurricane Bernard had completely riled the environment. Ten minutes earlier, the first subgroup of the Make America Great Again clan was out at the edges of the crowd on their own. But now, they were embedded in the eddying mass, so far from the outskirts. So they waved their "Keep America Great" signs and sang about the good times and argued with college students and men in Chicago Cubs hats about the importance of taxes and health care and the meaning of the soul in relation to a cheeseburger.

*

Earlier, rain had passed through just long enough to make for gasping humidity. It was 82 degrees but it felt like 100. People riot in the summers. It's the heat. It makes us crotchety and bold. So the atmosphere around the stage was perfect for combat. Unbearably muggy. Everybody had a temper or some eagerness or both.

As he ascended the walkway toward the stage, Bernie was like a saint or an anti-hero, the way people wanted to see him. No spectrum, only the magnets with a north and a south. People gasped at the sight of his unkempt hair and monastic bald spot.

Photo by Sean Ryan

A twelve-year-old boy in a bright pink shirt jumped and jumped, looking for Sanders. A man in a cowboy hat stroked his gray handlebar mustache as he said, "Bernie," with a pickled reaction. "Uh oh, Bernie. Sanders."

Just around the corner, if you could get through the clotted masses, was the "Cast Your Kernel" poll. Passersby placed one corn kernel in the mason jar with their favorite candidates name on it. Later, at the end of the Fair, when the votes were tallied, Republicans would win, with 51 percent of the vote. Trump would get 97 percent of the Republican vote. The closest Democrat would be Biden, with 23 percent. Anywhere else but Iowa this would mean nothing at all. But the more you learn about the Iowa Caucus, you'll realize that corn kennels in a mason jar would actually be a better system.

*

By the time Bernie started his speech, there were people all the way across the wide street, a solid battlefield of faces to the deep-fried Snickers trailer. And all around the stage, every side. Easily 700 people. Maybe 1,000. Maybe more, below the Ferris wheel.

Photo by Sean Ryan

Lots of Bernie signs. Lots of sarcastic whooping. Lots of very passionate, aggressive arguments. But also lots of people who'd come to the fair for turquoise rings or leather pants or personalized keychains, and all of a sudden they had been swept into tantrum warfare.

Photo by Sean Ryan

*

Behind the gated media area, two couples stood side-by-side. One couple had voted for Trump in 2016, the other had voted for Hillary Clinton, reluctantly, because they were Bernie supporters, so now they were shouting along in support of Bernie.

In response, the Trump couple muttered a couple phrases about "Aren't socialist so stupid?" Then the Bernie supporters performed an imitation of Trump supporters. It was fairly graphic and involved a recreation of incest and/or bestiality. Maybe not, it was hard to tell what the couple was miming. But it stoked the Trump supporters, and all of the oblique warfare was off the table. Now, it was hand-to-hand combat.

State troopers keep an eye on the mayhem.Photo by Sean Ryan

The woman of the Trump tribe was the more dominant member. The aggression of the Bernie tribe was equally distributed between its two members. This only strengthened and infuriated the Trump woman. She called the Bernie man a "beta." In turn, he lifted his nose to the sky and muttered something about health care and would the lady kindly go to a dermatologist and get the psoriasis figured out? His female counterpart looked at him with a mixture of pride and disgust. The Trump male member pecked at a pretzel with his teeth.

The two couples looked similar in age and appearance. Their clothing choices differed slightly, but not enough to signify an ideological divide of such gravity. On any other day, maybe they would have gotten along.

Photo by Sean Ryan

All the while, Sanders shouted into the microphone. His speech blared out air-raid horns 10 feet from the two battling couples. Then, the couples stopped. Laughed. Nodded to each other, distracted by a man in American-flag short-shorts and a sleeveless American-flag shirt and American-flag socks and American-flag shoes and an American-flag cowboy hat and a double-knotted fannypack and a pair of round sunglasses that belonged to a woman. He had a tattoo canvas running down both arms and along his shoulders that featured war-planes dropping giant bombs into the oceans or onto land, it was hard to tell. He was the modern Uncle Sam, hooting and stomping.

Modern-day Uncle SamPhoto by Sean Ryan

"How you gonna do it?" He shouted. "Answer me, Bernie! How you gonna do it?" his American flag shorts billowing in the parched air, signifying the power of a nation at the top of it all.

In a pinch, he could salute himself. He could stand at attention while "The Star-Spangled Banner" played from a bullhorn and everyone in earshot would straighten their backs and remove their hats and hold their hands over their hearts and tear up. If things ever got bad, real bad, he could hoist himself to the highest mountain as bald eagles screeched "Amazing Grace." And, look, as far as I'm concerned, he's an American hero.

I consider him the eye of the storm.



New installments to this series come out every Monday and Thursday morning. For live updates, check out my Twitter or email me at kryan@mercurystudios.com

One last thing…
Watch TheBlaze live and on demand on any device, anywhere, anytime.
try premium
Exclusive video
All Videos
Watch BlazeTV on your favorite device, anytime, anywhere.
Try BlazeTV for Free
Sponsored content
Daily News Highlights

Get the news that matters most delivered directly to your inbox.