Stephen Ketner, a Dallas-based musician, is known for his band Stevie James Trio and for his long political Facebook rants. Here, he shares his experience of eating dinner with Glenn Beck.
Glenn Beck is a really nice guy.
I can remember sitting up on school nights with my conservative parents watching Fox News. Each night, this cherub-faced, baritone-voiced, middle-aged man with silvery blond hair would work my family — and millions of others like mine around the country — into near frenzies of paranoia as he scribbled gibberish diligently on his chalkboard with a team of experts to uncover what he considered the hidden truths of American history.
“Did you know FDR was pen pals with Mussolini?”
“Did you know that the progressive left of the 1930s were friendly with Nazis?”
“Did you know that the Founding Fathers weren’t all racists who loved slavery?”
These were the kind of real humdingers Middle America thrived on in the age of Obama, when conservatives like my parents desperately wanted to believe that his reign was a secret plot from Satan to destroy the universe. My parents would sit wide-eyed and receptive like diligent students, excited for the chance to know something that maybe their neighbors didn’t.
I often modeled my social media presence after the sensationalism like Beck’s. Long rants on Facebook about history, the dangers of socialism, problems with the military industrial complex and yes, even conspiracy theories about the federal reserve and 9/11 were, embarrassingly, a large part of my social media posts in my 20s. I made a lot of Facebook fan boys and girls who followed my posts, and a lot of people thought I was an idiot.
It was a real shock when I received a phone call from two-time Emmy nominee Riaz Patel, a producer, asking if I wanted to have dinner with Beck and some different-minded people to chat about the world’s problems. Apparently one of the show’s producers had read my Facebook page.
Patel is — in his own words — the poster boy for modern liberal Americans, a married gay man with two small children, who, after Trump’s election, has spent the last year and a half trying to learn as much as he can about the political landscape of the right. Not surprisingly, that journey landed him at Beck’s doorstep, and the two men have become great friends as well as co-producers on many of The Blaze’s newest offerings. Patel’s most recent idea was to partner with a group called Make America Dinner Again, in which small dinners are filmed as people from all walks of life discuss their differences over a meal.
I was invited to Beck’s studios in Irving along with a transgender man, a liberal college professor, a conservative Christian, a Venezuelan immigration activist and radio DJ DeDe from K104. I was to fill the role of the young white Libertarian musician who likes to talk a lot about everything.
When I arrived at the studios, Patel and Beck’s staff met me with open arms, serving me as much coffee and snacks as I wanted while I waited for the other guests to arrive. None of us had ever met. After makeup and getting outfitted with mics, Beck finally walked out to the dinner table to greet all of us. Beck was much taller than I'd imagined, the edge of his shoulders towering slightly above the top of my head. He shook my hand and said he was glad to meet me and was excited to hear what I had to say
“Don’t worry about being too intellectual," he said. "Be as intellectual as you want.”
The dinner began with a prayer from Trenton, the transgender man, and we started passing around food prepared by Beck’s personal chef. Patel and Beck began by asking the group a series of general questions about current events and the feelings we all had about the political minefield that is Trump’s America. Beck seemed conscious of adding follow-up questions designed for each individual at the table.
Many subjects wandered and blended into others. Questions about personal feelings became discussions of technical economics. Questions about democracy became discussions about religion. Worries about gun violence became discussions about the threats of terrorism.
The socialist college professor across the table from me quickly became the most outspoken and impassioned about his sureness of the validity of his proposed solutions. He seemed to imply often that anyone on the right who disagreed was foolish and buying into propaganda. He remarked — to a cross look from Beck — that Fox News (Beck’s longtime former employer) was really just an arm of propaganda for the state. Beck chuckled and redirected the conversation back to its original point.
The most moving moment was when Trenton opened up about his struggles. He and I had spent some time before the dinner talking about our shared experience of growing up in South Dallas and swapping locations of our favorite barbecue locations, agreeing that Sweet Georgia Brown's in Oak Cliff is the best bang for the buck while Odom’s in Duncanville has better sauce. The revelation that he had spent the first half of his life as a woman came later in the dinner when Beck asked him to share his story with us.
I was surprised to see tears and looks of genuine sympathy on everyone’s faces. Trenton was optimistic about the fate of transgender people in America but expressed serious concern about the levels of depression and suicide among his community.
For me, the most surprising person of all at the table was Patel. Whenever the leftist college professor made a dismissive quip about the right or fired off the popular tropes of the left about gun violence, Patel was often the first to criticize the narrow-mindedness of his reasoning.
“Those stats aren’t actually completely correct,” he might say after some statistic about gun deaths and gun ownership came up.
Beck, of course, was also quick to counter such statistics with data of his own, but the shocking thing was watching Patel be willing to remove his political bias and admit errors of leftist reasoning. He talked at length about his experiences working for liberal media outlets and the pressure to conform language in programming to fit politically correct standards to the point of interfering with decent journalism. He discussed his fears about attacks on free speech from the left and how the obsession with identity politics was dividing people rather than bringing them together.
In the midst of this intellectual tempest, I did my best to get a word in without dominating the conversation, but my shining moment for the evening came when the socialist professor’s solution to the world’s problems was the new and utopian “market socialism,” which blends the best parts of capitalism with socialism. Here was my chance! I rattled off the history of socialism in America and the world, the many forms it had taken, including market socialism, and the many ways it had failed.
Fascism in its original form was supposed to be that “balance” between the market and the socialist egalitarianism the professor claimed was the solution to the world’s ills. Beck looked at me with a knowing smile of pride, like he were my distant uncle watching his nephew score a touchdown.
After the main course, Beck’s favorite homemade apple pie was served. Beck watched with a sharp eye as the pie plate made its way around the table, and when it came back to him he said, “Did everyone get enough pie? Good, the rest is mine!” He ate large mouthfuls of pie straight from the pie plate and smiled like a young kid at Thanksgiving. Patel laughed loudly.
When the dinner concluded, Beck thanked us all with warm embraces and apologized for not being able to stay and talk — he had a flight leaving in two hours.
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Patel stuck around talking to all of us, and everyone paired off to chat. I tackled the socialist college professor in a bear hug and told him he was wrong about everything but that I still liked him anyway. He laughed warmly and said that he liked me, too.
As everyone cleared out, DeDe, her husband and I snuck around the studio, seeing what rooms were open and admiring Beck’s collection of historical relics. One of Beck’s assistants spotted us, laughed and asked, “Would you guys like the tour?”
DeDe smiled and said, “Hell yeah, we would.”
Glenn Beck is a really nice guy, and that warmth permeates his staff and the entire building.