Christian Nationalism: What Is It And What Does It Mean For The Future?

Back in January 2021, in the days following the insurrection at the Capitol, I read an article by David French entitled “Only the Church Can Truly Defeat a Christian Insurrection.” I was a little shocked by the title. Did someone think the insurrection had anything to do with Christianity? If they did, I assumed they must be a militant atheist, quick to blame the church for every ill suffered by society. But when I read the article, my mind was opened to a world I previously didn’t know existed.

Let me start by telling you about the author, David French. French is a conservative Christian and a former attorney who argued several high-profile religious liberty cases. He wasn’t the atheist I assumed him to be. In fact, he was just the opposite, a Christian who had dedicated his life and his legal practice to defending the rights and liberties of his fellow Christians. So, why was he seemingly laying blame for the insurrection at the feet of Christians?

French answered that question by describing what he and others saw at the Capitol on January 6, 2021:

“Why do I say this was a Christian insurrection? Because so very many of the protesters told us they were Christian, as loudly and clearly as they could…I saw much of it with my own eyes. There was a giant wooden cross outside the Capitol. ‘Jesus saves’ signs and other Christian signs were sprinkled through the crowd. I watched a man carry a Christian flag into an evacuated legislative chamber…Christian music was blaring from the loudspeakers late in the afternoon of the takeover. And don’t forget, this attack occurred days after the so-called Jericho March, an event explicitly filled with Christian-nationalist rhetoric so unhinged that I warned on December 13 that it embodied “a form of fanaticism that can lead to deadly violence.”

Did you catch the term he used to describe the rhetoric being used by the insurrectionists? “Christian-nationalist.” French wasn’t blaming Christians writ large for the insurrection, but a small group of what he called “Christian Nationalists.” It was a term I was not familiar with.

So, what is Christian Nationalism? Unfortunately, French didn’t provide a neat and tidy definition in his article, but he did give a hint. He compared Christian Nationalists to Islamic terrorists. He writes:

“Are you still not convinced that it’s fair to call this a Christian insurrection? I would bet that most of my readers would instantly label the exact same event Islamic terrorism if Islamic symbols filled the crowd, if Islamic music played in the loudspeakers, and if members of the crowd shouted ‘Allahu Akbar’ as they charged the Capitol.”

I understood French’s point, but I have to admit that blaming Christians—even a sub-group of Christians—for the insurrection made me a little uncomfortable. True, I have my own issues with the church, but until then, I had never thought of any group of Christians as violent, anti-American insurrectionists. It seemed to me that what the insurrectionists wanted—in a nutshell, the end of democracy and the rolling back of rights—was actually anti-Christian. Why would Christians fight for what I considered anti-Christian?

I had a lot of questions, the most basic of which was finding a good definition for the term Christian Nationalist. I did a lot of reading, and most writers danced around an actual definition, instead pointing to what people they viewed as Christian Nationalists said or did. The most helpful definition I found came from Wikipedia.

“Christian nationalists believe that the US is meant to be a Christian nation and want to ‘take back’ the US for God. Experts say that Christian-associated support for right-wing politicians and social policies, such as legislation related to immigration, gun control and poverty is best understood as Christian nationalism, rather than as evangelicalism per se. Some studies of white evangelicals show that, among people who self-identify as evangelical Christians, the more they attend church, the more they pray, and the more they read the Bible, the less support they have for nationalist (though not socially conservative) policies. Non-nationalistic evangelicals agree ideologically with Christian nationalists in areas such as patriarchal policies, gender roles, and sexuality.”

British author and economist Umair Haque, a keen observer of American politics, had a less clinical definition of Christian Nationalism:

“Maybe, it’s a hard one to even get your head around. What is “Christian Nationalism”? And how should Americans — and Westerners beyond America’s shores, because this movement is spreading — think about it? After all, you don’t have to think too hard to grasp that Jesus hardly proclaimed many of the things this movement believes in. He would have been repelled by many such things, like this pretty good summary:

‘As a political theology that co-opts Christian narratives and symbolism, Christian nationalism has its own version of the ‘elect,’ those chosen by God. They are ‘people like us,’ meaning conservative Christian, but also white, natural-born citizens. Moreover, in a prosperous nation, only ‘the elect’ should control the political process while others must be closely scrutinized, discouraged, or even denied access. This ideology is fundamentally a threat to a pluralistic, democratic society.”

This was a good base to draw from, but I still didn’t completely understand Christian Nationalists or what they wanted for the United States. What I needed was a backstory, a way to understand where the Christian Nationalists belief system came from. Put another way, I needed to understand why Christian Nationalists believe what they believe. As it turns out, their belief system begins with the founding of our nation.

Christian Nationalists believe that the United States was conceived as a Christian nation and that the Founding Fathers were guided by the hand of God in crafting the Constitution. Because of this, they want to bring an end to the separation of church and state, and as a God-inspired document, believe the Constitution should not be altered or amended.

There’s a lot to unpack here. Let’s start with the notion that the United States was conceived as a Christian nation.

Diana Butler Bass, author and historian of Christianity, has written extensively on this idea that the United States was founded as a Christian country. “That the United States is not a Christian nation should be obvious because no nation has ever been a Christian nation — not even the political state of the Vatican! And there’s never been a truly Christian nation. Ever.”

Bass goes on to explain that, while the United States was shaped by Christianity, it certainly was never a Christian nation. This is an important distinction. The United States was founded by people who held strong Christian beliefs, who held beliefs from other religions, as well as no religion at all. Christian beliefs and values helped shape the Constitution as well as life in the early days of our nation. But the Constitution,–particularly the First Amendment– makes it abundantly clear that the founders did not conceive of our new nation as a Christian nation.

Next, let’s consider the claim that our Founding Fathers were guided by the hand of God when writing the Constitution. If you’ve been watching the January 6 hearings, you likely are familiar with Rusty Bowers, the Republican Speaker of the Arizona State Legislature. Bowers was called before the January 6 Committee because, after losing the 2022 election, Donald Trump contacted him asking for his help in overturning the results of the vote in Arizona.

Bowers testified that he refused Trump’s request because he felt what he was being asked to do flew in the face of the Constitution. He said that he could never defy the Constitution because he believed that, like the Bible, the United States Constitution was divinely inspired. Not only would defying it go against the oath he took to defend and uphold the Constitution, it would also be a betrayal of his most deeply held Christian beliefs.

This type of deification of the Founding Fathers has always chafed me. The Founding Fathers were a mixed group of men, all with certain strengths and weaknesses. They did not all hold to the same ideas about the type of nation the United States should be, and they certainly did not agree with one another when it came to religion. The Constitution is the product of a diverse and often divided committee that did the best they could. They were an imperfect group that crafted a very good, but imperfect document.

One example of how imperfect the men and the document are is the fact that it does not, in the first three words of the preamble—“We the people”—include African Americans, who at the time of the writing of the Constitution, were being held as slaves. In fact, several of the Founding Fathers were slaveholders.

Now, are you going to make the case that God, in his infinite wisdom, wanted Black people to be slaves? Does Rusty Bowers and others like him truly believe that the God they worship, the one they refer to when they claim “God is love,” divinely inspired the Founding Fathers to institutionalize slavery in the Constitution?

We do a disservice to the Founding Fathers when we make them out to be anything other than men of their time. They were farmers and diplomats and merchants and soldiers. They were not vessels of the almighty. They were just men, in many ways common and flawed, who did what they thought was right at the time. We should remember that when we endeavor to raise them up on a pedestal and elevate them above their fellow man.

Perhaps the most flawed doctrine of Christian Nationalism is the idea that, as a Christian nation, we should end the separation of church and state, and that the Constitution should not be amended. Let’s start with the first half of that claim.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution says in part:

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Ironically, the earliest Americans believed there should be a separation between church and state for the sake of the church. They did not want the government meddling in the affairs of the church.

Roger Williams was a former Protestant chaplain who turned to Puritanism for his spiritual sustenance. However, he found himself clashing with the Puritan leaders and was eventually banished from Massachusetts. He later founded Rhode Island and is credited with being the first person to use the phrase “separation of church and state.”

Williams believed that an authentic Christian church could only survive if there was “a wall or hedge of separation” between the “wilderness of the world” and “the garden of the church.” Williams feared that any government involvement in the religious practices of individuals would ultimately poison and corrupt the church.

Thomas Jefferson supported Williams position, claiming in a speech to the Danbury Baptist Association that, in the first words of the First Amendment, often referred to as the Establishment Clause, the people had agreed to “a wall of separation between the church and state.”

Christian Nationalists calling for that “wall of separation” to be torn down seem to be at cross purposes with many of the Founding Fathers. Instead, they appear to be in lockstep with the Islamic terrorists who carried out the attack on 9/11. Those terrorists wanted a government controlled by the church. But instead of the Christian church, the terrorists wanted the Muslim church to be in charge. And, instead of Biblical principles being used to create laws, the terrorists wanted Sharia Law, based on the Quran. The religion and holy book may be different, but the end result is the same.

When it comes to separation of church and state, I always go to a quote from former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor from the case of McCreary County v. ACLU of Kentucky, where she wrote:

“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: Why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”

Finally, Christian Nationalists who advocate for no alterations or amendments to the Constitution on the grounds that it was divinely inspired and perfect as is seemingly don’t know that the Constitution has already been amended thirty-three times. This includes the first ten amendments, which were agreed to before the Constitution was signed, and which are contained in the Bill of Rights, one of our country’s founding documents.

The idea that the Constitution shouldn’t be amended is also betrayed by the fact that the Founding Fathers included in the Constitution rules for how to amend it. I would argue that those rules are too stringent, but regardless, the rules are still right there in the Constitution. Obviously, the Founding Fathers, who Christian Nationalists claimed were guided by God, felt that the Constitution should be subject to amendment.

In a recent speech, firebrand Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Green bragged about being a Christian Nationalist and encouraged others to join her. She explained that, like others in the audience, she is a strong, unapologetic Christian who loves her country. According to Green, that’s all a Christian Nationalist is: someone who is Christian and loves their country.

Of course, that isn’t all there is to Christian Nationalism. There is a dark undertone to the movement, a desire to rule over the country, control fellow citizens, and a willingness to engage in violence to achieve those goals. There are fascist and authoritarian currents running through the Christian Nationalist movement. Despite their professed love for country and democracy, they work tirelessly to alter country and destroy democracy. They claim to be working toward salvation in the afterlife, but their aims and tactics are clearly rooted in earthly pursuits in the here and now.

I want to return to something Umair Haque said in the quote I mentioned earlier concerning the Christian Nationalist belief that only the “elect,” or “people like us” (white, natural-born, conservative, Christian, and predominately male) should be in charge, or even have a say in the way the government is run. In this sense, Christian Nationalists are not only talking about leadership roles in the government. They are talking about only people like them having the right to vote. This notion is not only undemocratic, but unconstitutional.

As a reminder, here’s what Haque said in part:

“[I]n a prosperous nation, only ‘the elect’ should control the political process while others must be closely scrutinized, discouraged, or even denied access. This ideology is fundamentally a threat to a pluralistic, democratic society.”

This idea that only certain people should qualify as the elect is not new. At the beginning of our country, only white, male, property-owners were given the vote. Except in extremely rare instances, this excluded all women, all blacks and other minorities, as well as non-property-owning white men from having a say in who represented them and ran the government.

It wasn’t until 1828 that non-property-owning white men could vote in federal elections. In 1870, the Fifteenth Amendment gave black men the right to vote. The Nineteenth Amendment, which passed in 1920, gave all women the right to vote in federal elections. And in 1965, the Voting Rights act passed, protecting everyone’s right to vote.

For much of our country’s history, the most basic element of a democracy—voting—was denied to some citizens. Today, when you hear people like Rep. Lauren Boebert—herself, a Christian Nationalist—refer to “real Americans” or “true patriots,” she is referring to this idea that only certain people—people like her—deserve the right to vote as well as enjoy the other Constitutionally-guaranteed rights and privileges citizens of the United States are entitled to.

So, why is Christian Nationalism seemingly so powerful at the moment. There are a few reasons. First, it is important to recognize that only about twenty-to-twenty-five percent of the population holds views consistent with Christian Nationalism. And even among that group, there is a fall off the more radical the beliefs get.

For instance, as many as twenty-five percent of Americans may hold some beliefs consistent with Christian Nationalism. But if you ask them if they agree that all non-Christians or all non-Republicans (or RINOs) should be jailed, or even killed, much of that twenty-five percent support would erode. The point is, despite the outsized role they play in our politics at the moment, they are far from a majority.

Second, traditionally, Republicans have courted the votes of Christian Nationalists, but they haven’t been willing to invite them all the way into the tent or give them much of a voice in the Party’s platform or policies. That has changed. When Republicans embraced the Tea Party movement in the 1990s and early 2000s, they opened the door to many far-rightwing politicos who held Christian Nationalist beliefs.

That door was kicked in completely when Donald Trump became the nominee of the Republican Party in 2016. Trump brought with him a coalition of Christian nationalists, white supremacists, neo-Nazis, authoritarians, fascist wannabes, conspiracy theorists, and other fringe players that had previously been keep at arm’s length. Rather than staying on the fringe, these people were invited into the tent and given a prominent place in the campaign, and after his election victory, in the administration. No group benefitted from the Trump presidency more than Christian Nationalists.

But it wasn’t just being in the tent with Trump and the Republicans that supercharged Christian Nationalists. Until recently, they didn’t play particularly well with 1930’s style fascists, such as white supremacists and neo-Nazis, or authoritarians, such as plutocrats like Trump and others who seek political control as a way to power and wealth.

For instance, think about this triumvirate in Nazi Germany. Fascists and authoritarians came together under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Theocrats (the generic name for the group that includes Christian Nationalists) didn’t go along with Hitler’s plans. So, they were shunned, or worse. Even so, with just two of the three groups working together, Hitler was able to take over Germany and much of Europe, and came perilously close to defeating NATO nations in World War II.

Fast forward to today. Things have changed. Intentionally or not, Trump has brought these three groups together. That is extremely bad news for the United States and our democracy.

Here’s how Haque describes the peril we face.

“When theocrats, fascists, and authoritarians form an alliance, it’s really bad news. It points to the most severe form of social collapse on the cards. That is because usually these groups are at loggerheads. They usually don’t all want the same things, because naturally, their perspectives and ‘philosophies’…are opposed. Theocrats believe in divine law and salvation from above, whereas fascists believe in a kind of supremacist biological essentialism. Authoritarians and oligarchs generally don’t want to be bound by theocratic restrictions on business, because they get in the way of making money and keeping power.”

Christian Nationalists believe they are fighting a war between good and evil. I use the word “war” intentionally here. For many (but not all) Christian Nationalists, they believe the only way to save the nation is to execute a violent war against non-believers and anyone who stands in the way of creating a true Christian nation. They often speak of a new civil war, and they glory in the thought of donning the armor of God in preparation for the fight, perhaps shedding blood or even dying in what they view as a righteous holy war. (I previously wrote about the prospects for a new civil war in this post)

This is the part of Christian Nationalism that scares me most. They seem willing—even eager—to die for their cause. In many cases, they are heavily armed and believe that God has called them to fight for his kingdom here on earth. Many Christian Nationalists want blood and war. They want to fight for God against their fellow citizens, who they view as “the enemy.”  They are anxious for violence.

Diana Butler Bass recently wrote about this obsession with blood and war among Christian Nationalists, and her conclusion echoes that of David French. If Christian Nationalism is to be stopped, it is up to Christians to stop it.

“One of the possible futures for America is that the unholy trinity of theocrats, fascists, and authoritarians launches their desired Civil War to quench their thirst for blood.

“What can stop this?

“That’s a huge question. And, I suspect, it is also a question that many people and entities far beyond my purview are wrestling with right now. I admit to feeling a certain helplessness when listening to the news — or reading articles like the ones linked to today’s post.

“However, I do know one thing that might help — Christianity itself. Only Christians can finally and fully reject the bloody theology that has so often resulted in calamity and that threatens us now.

“Oddly and rarely, Christianity has risen above its bad blood to achieve its alternative vision of peace with amity. For every violent emperor, bad pope, twisted crusader, and abusive preacher, there have always been protesters, subversives, resisters, truth-tellers, healers, and saints.

“Whenever Christianity practices goodness and justice, it almost always emerged from the latter group — the quiet, the powerless, the prayerful, the questioners, the mystics, the heretics, the wise, and the wanderers. It is a Christianity that leans toward love, afloat in the waters of grace, and not a religion obsessed with blood. It knows that purity is not the point.

“That’s what will help unhinge this madness — risky goodness. Attentiveness to where theology can go awry. The only antidote to theocratic Christianity is the brave, kind, persistent, merciful, and insistent faith that stands with and for human solidarity and comity. We can’t afford blood-soaked religion any more.

“Christians must stand up, speak up, and do good right now. Civil war isn’t funny. We can’t let it happen. We don’t need purity. We need decency. And peaceable community.

“There can be no hedging of bets when other Christians are calling for blood to purify the nation. We must remove the curse of bad blood before it kills us all.”

Bass offers only a tiny glimmer of hope. There isn’t much good to grab onto when it comes to Christian Nationalism and the future they see for America. So, a little hope is a welcome thing. It may not be much, but I’ll take it.


Poetry As Song: This Is My Body


This is my body
Red southern clay
The river’s my blood
And my soul’s highway

I bow to the weather
Misfortune and time
And rejoice in the tangles
Of wild muscadine

The lakes are my eyes
Awake in the fields
My wrinkles are tracks
Of old wagon wheels

Watching the speed of
A peregrine sky
Clouds and eternity
Sailing on high

Pines and the oak trees
These are my hands
My feet are the roots
Where my heritage stands

And I call to the seasons
And sing for the storm
Praising the sunshine
Keeping me warm

My dreams are the echoes
Of grandfather’s days
Our voices resolve
Like sea island ways

Careless as summer
I welcome the rain
And flow to the oceans
Through satisfied veins

Tales of our children
The scuppernong sings
And the love of our mothers
And swallow-tailed wings

The pain of our fathers
Lies in the hills
Torn from the land
To never be still

This my body
Red southern clay
The river’s my blood
And my soul’s highway

–Jack Williams


Is Student Loan Forgiveness Good for the Country?

I am saddened, but not surprised, at the number of people who are screaming “It’s not fair” in response to the recent announcement that the government is going to forgive up to $20,000 of student loan debt for select Americans who currently have a student loan. I suspect that most of the people opposed to student loan forgiveness don’t know the history of student loans, and therefore have based their opinions on emotion or misinformation rather than facts.

For instance, my guess is that most people don’t know that when the government introduced guarantees on student loans, banks went into overdrive, often using predatory lending tactics, to make these loans. They saw student loan lending as easy money–a government guaranteed profit center– so they pushed student loans hard.

I bet most people don’t know that the insane increase in the cost of a college education corresponded with student loans becoming widely available, meaning that student loans drove much of the increase in the cost of college, simultaneously making student loans even more necessary.

Most people probably don’t know that when student loans became widely available and the cost of a college education skyrocketed, state legislatures across the nation began cutting support to state schools, transferring the cost of public universities from the state’s taxpayers to 18–22-year-old students looking for a better life. State legislatures saw an easy way to balance their budgets by cutting support to state universities, forcing the universities to raise tuition rates even higher, again increasing the need for student loans and forcing students to borrow ever more money.

For instance, the number of people who hold student loans increased from 38.8 million people in 2012 to 43.4 million in 2022. The amount of student loan debt being held also increased from $948.2 billion in 2012 to $1.6 trillion in 2022. The average student loan debt per person went from $24,700 to $36,800 during that same time.

During the 1970s and 80s, when student loans became widely available, corporations began requiring a college degree for many jobs, including those where a college degree was arguably unnecessary. With a college degree becoming a prerequisite, anyone that was looking for a career outside the trades or other narrow category of jobs, knew that without a college degree, they were going to be shut out from the most desirable, lucrative employment positions. For those people, getting a college degree appeared to be the best (maybe only) way to get ahead. At least, that’s what we were led to believe by people we trusted, like teachers, school counselors, financial advisors, and others.

And finally, I would guess that most people are not aware that since 2005, it’s all but impossible for borrowers to discharge their student loan debt as part of bankruptcy. They can discharge their mortgage. They can discharge their car loans. They can even discharge their credit card debt, no matter how irresponsible they were racking up that debt. But not student loan debt. Along with back taxes, student loans are one of the very few debts that can’t be discharged in bankruptcy.

Financial writer Zachary D. Carter writes in Slate:

“Capitalism would collapse without debt relief systems. Businesses get in trouble all the time—both good businesses that would work fine without a few onerous debt deals, and bad businesses that need to be liquidated or restructured. Sometimes bad things just happen. People get divorced. They get injured and are overwhelmed by medical bills. They get laid off. They have to pay for a parent’s funeral or care for children with special needs. And yeah, some people just don’t know how to manage their money and buy things they can’t afford. But we do not consign such people to never-ending financial servitude as a result of unforeseen circumstances, or even totally reckless spending habits. We have a formal process to eliminate debts and start over, with a reasonable chance of living a healthy financial life.

“But not for students who borrow money to attend college. In 2005, Congress passed a law that made it next to impossible to discharge almost any form of student debt. Even the most creative consumer lawyers estimate that only about $50 billion—less than 3 percent of the $1.75 trillion in outstanding student debt—had the potential to be wiped away, but only if students could persuade a court that they had been egregiously wronged, by say, non-accredited programs or institutions that didn’t actually offer degrees.”

While the charge of unfairness is the way opposition to student loan forgiveness is most often voiced, it totally misses the point. Is it fair that some people had PPP loans forgiven during the pandemic while others didn’t qualify for the loans? Is it fair that profitable corporations receive government subsidies every year? Is it fair that every year, farmers receive subsidies—often encouraging them NOT to plant crops—and most of the money goes to corporate farms?

The point is, every day, the government takes our money in the form of taxes and spends it on any number of programs—including grants, awards, and loan forgiveness—that most of us never qualify for or benefit from directly. That’s what governments do. These programs help run the country and provide benefits to citizens from all across the nation and from numerous walks of life.

To really understand student loan forgiveness, it’s necessary to look at the issue, not through the lens of fairness, but from the viewpoint of right and wrong, or if you’d like, good and bad.

I mentioned earlier the predatory tactics financial institutions used to indebt young borrowers. While it is true that people 18-years old and older can legally sign contracts, it can’t be denied that college age borrowers are inexperienced and unsophisticated when it comes to borrowing money. Financial institutions took (and continue to take) advantage of this situation, encouraging students to take out the maximum loan they qualified for, even if they didn’t need the entire amount to pay for college. I can tell you from first-hand experience that this happened often, including to me.

The right thing to do for borrowers in a predatory lending situation is to forgive their loans. Of course, forgiving loans isn’t enough. Forgiving loans doesn’t fix the system. It doesn’t prevent banks from continuing to take advantage of borrowers. The system needs to be totally revamped. That’s a conversation for another time. For now, it’s enough to recognize that, under the circumstances, forgiving student loan debt is the right thing to do for student loan borrowers.

In addition, it’s a good thing to do for the economy. Right now, many college graduates and those that attended college but did not graduate are failing to fuel the economy the way that was expected. Because of crippling student loan debt, many borrowers are delaying marriage, delaying buying a house, and they are often stuck in unfulfilling jobs they can’t afford to leave due in large part to having to pay student loans. Instead, the money these borrowers spend each month is funneled into one narrow industry (financial services), and not spread across the economy. Discretionary spending for these people is extremely limited, denying the use of this money in the rest of the economy.

In addition, the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia points out the corrosive impact student loans can have on the creation of new businesses. In a study done by the Federal Reserve, researchers found that an increase in student loan debt was negatively correlated to the start of small businesses. In other words, more student loan debt meant fewer small businesses being started. The reason is that small businesses often rely on personal borrowing for business startup costs. With less borrowing power due to student loan indebtedness, many would-be business owners simply do not have the borrowing capacity to fund a potential start-up.

One argument that has been made by those opposed to student loan forgiveness is that it will make inflation worse, hurting the economy. This charge is seemingly made by people who don’t fully understand how the forgiveness will work or how many years it will take to forgive the loans.

Someone who does understand the program, is Mike Konczal, Director of Macroeconomic Analysis at the Roosevelt Institute. Konczal analyzed the opinion of the Center for Responsible Budget (CFRB), who claimed that student loan forgiveness will “consume nearly ten years of deficit reduction” that was supposed to come from the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), and “would wipe out the disinflationary benefits of the IRA.”

According to Konczal, “[E]ven their (CFRB) own numbers show that canceling some student debt and restarting payments in the near future would reduce inflation versus restarting payments (alone). They argue that restarting payments would reduce inflation 20-basis points a year each year, versus a 15-basis point increase to canceling $10,000 in student debt. Thus a deal that canceled student debt and restarted payments would reduce inflation versus the status quo.”

Joseph Stiglitz, professor at Columbia University, echo’s this sentiment. “Whatever your view of student-debt cancellation, the inflation argument is a red herring and should not influence policy…A closer look at the student-debt-cancellation program suggests that the new student-loan policy may even reduce inflation; at most, its inflationary impact will be minuscule, and the long-term benefits to the economy are likely to be significant.”

Stiglitz goes on to point out that resuming student loan payments without forgiveness will likely do more harm to the economy than good. “Some of the critics demand that payments should simply resume without any cancellation. That would plunge a large number of student debtors back into immediate financial distress and further loan delinquency…This level of distress is bad for the economy, both in the short run, as we strive for a robust recovery, and in the long run.”

The issue of student loan forgiveness is an emotional one, but for the sake of our citizens and our economy, we should not base government programs on emotion, particularly uninformed emotion. Government programs should be based on the good they can do, the harm they can alleviate, and in the positive impact they can have on citizens and our economy. Basing them purely on a sense of, “I survived this hardship in the past, so you should have to survive it now” is a sure recipe, not only for more hardship, but for potential economic disaster.

President Biden’s student loan forgiveness program may not be popular with a certain segment of the population, but it is good for millions of student loan borrowers, good for the economy, and ultimately, good for the country as a whole.


Book Review: Reimagining Blue: Thoughts on Life, Leadership, and a New Way Forward in Policing

I graduated from high school in June 1978, and a few months later, I joined the Aurora (IL) Police Department as a cadet. In Illinois, police departments can hire people under the age of twenty-one to become cadets, which prepares them to become police officers. At the time, I was eighteen years old, immature, and had no real direction in my life. I needed to figure out what I was going to do for a living, and being a police officer seemed like a reasonable career path to follow.

Thirteen years after I joined the police department, Kristen Ziman became a cadet in Aurora. Unlike me, Kristen knew exactly what she wanted to do with her life. Her father was a police officer in Aurora, and she wanted to follow in his footsteps. And while I gave up on becoming a police officer, Kristen followed through, finishing her time as a cadet, became a police officer, moved up the ranks within the department, and eventually became the first female chief in the history of the Aurora Police Department.

I did not know Kristen, but I knew a lot of the same people she knew. I worked with her dad, Hans Kjendal-Olsen, an immigrant from Norway and former US Marine. Hans was always very nice to me. I remember him as a quiet man, a bit of a loner, who I always saw as a bit exotic because of his hyphenated last name. He was the first man I’d ever met with a hyphenated last name (I was not particularly worldly).

I also knew Mike Nila, a fellow police officer and one of Kristen’s main mentors. Mike unknowingly influenced my decision to quit the police department and instead go to college. For Kristen, Mike encouraged her to read widely and seek further education in her chosen profession. Mike had a profound impact on us both.

After Kristen retired as Police Chief in Aurora in 2021, she wrote Reimaging Blue: Thoughts on Life, Leadership, and a New Way Forward in Policing. The book is part memoir, part treatise on what it means to be a cop in modern day America, and part leadership lesson. I’m not exactly sure what I expected when I picked up Reimaging Blue, but I can say that it was much better written, much more interesting, and much more inspiring than I could have expected.

Kristen opens the book by recounting what must have been the worst day of her professional career, the mass shooting at Henry Pratt Company, where six people—including the shooter—were killed, and six people—including five police officers—were injured. In Ziman’s telling, the shooting comes to life. As I read, I could feel my pulse quickening and my heart racing.

The book has several police stories, but it’s much more than just memories of her time as a cop . Ziman shares personal anecdotes including stories about her dad’s drinking problems, her marriage to and divorce from a fellow police officer, and her coming to terms with her own sexual orientation. One of the things I appreciated so much about Ziman’s book is the rawness of her story, how she takes responsibility for many of the challenges she faced, and what she learned by dealing with those challenges.

I came to know about Ziman following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. I was sickened when I saw Floyd murdered by Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin, and my disgust was multiplied when I started reading comments from other police officers defending Chauvin or excusing his behavior.

Kristen Ziman was not one of those cops. In the aftermath of Floyd’s death, she wrote on her Facebook page:

“When I first watched the video of the Minneapolis police officer, I didn’t need to wait for more information to come in. I didn’t need to wait for the investigation to conclude before I made an assessment. When you place your knee on the neck of a human being for over eight minutes—a human being who is handcuffed and pleading that he can’t breathe—there is no defense…Resisting suffocation is not resisting arrest.”

Although I didn’t know Ziman personally, I sensed a kindred spirit who saw the job of police officers in much the same way I did. Ziman saw cops as community defenders and community builders. Without a doubt, she is a supporter of law enforcement officers, who she views as doing a noble and necessary job. However, she sees big problems with the warrior mentality a lot of cops exhibit. While far too many cops view their jobs with an “us against them” mentality, Ziman says there is only “we.” She advocates a police-servant mentality, building relationships in the community and being a good, respectful, and dependable neighbor.

Let me put a finer point on Ziman’s approach to policing. She has no time for cops who abuse their power or use their position for personal gain. She is a tireless promoter of the profession, but she understands that in many communities, police are not always welcome. She supports a more compassionate approach to policing that builds a partnership with the communities being served.

One thing that has impressed me about Ziman is the way the people she leads willingly and happily follow her. She really didn’t discuss this in the book, but I have seen it from afar. Ziman is a petit female in a profession dominated by macho males. Yet, she rose to the level of chief of her department on her own merits despite the obstacles that were thrown at her along the way.

For Ziman, “leadership is about aligning a vision and taking people where they need to go but otherwise wouldn’t. It’s about setting clear goals for your people and getting work done through others.” This is pretty standard stuff, but it’s foundational to being a leader.

When Ziman attended a three-week course at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, she learned another definition of leadership from Prof. Marty Linksy. Linsky suggested that leadership is about disappointing people at the rate they can absorb. Initially, Ziman rejected the idea. Disappointing people? Isn’t leadership about building people up, motivating and encouraging them? What was Linsky talking about?

Ziman left Harvard not understanding Linsky’s message. But when she got back to her office and had time to reflect on what her professor had said, she had a light bulb moment. As she describes in the book:

“When you are the top person in an organization, you can no longer point to someone above you and shift responsibility. That means that every decision is yours and yours alone. And even if you’ve collected other opinions and data, and made an informed decision, it’s still not going to please everyone. Even with the best of intentions, a leader is going to upset someone. Whether it be through a policy decision, a choice for promotion, or administering discipline, leaders disappoint people. Even when attempting to implement something new and big, that will change an organization for the better, people resist because it’s different from what they are used to. People are creatures of habit and they don’t particularly like to be forced out of their comfort zones. When their environment shifts, they stand their ground in defense of it…Being a leader who actually transforms an organization invariably means that some people are going to get left behind. It also means that you (the leader) have to find the precise amount of transformation, because people who walk in and decide to scrap everything are making a mistake. Every organization has a lot of wonderful in it, and those things should be left exactly as they are. But the things that need to be changed should be changed, even if it means that people are going to be disappointed in the process.”

Weeks after reading Reimaging Blue, I continue to be struck by the stories told and the lessons shared by Ziman. She shared them with authenticity, competence, hard-earned wisdom, and compassion. And she offered them in a way that is extraordinarily accessible to the reader.

Ziman is a young woman who, despite being retired, has much still to offer the police profession. I don’t know what the future holds for her, but I suspect she will play a leadership role in transforming another police department or law enforcement organization in the same way she transformed the Aurora Police Department.

Reimagining Blue is an informative, entertaining read that can be enjoyed by anyone. For law enforcement officers—particularly those in leadership positions—Ziman’s book should be required reading.


Is the United States Heading Toward Civil War 2.0?

Is the United States on the verge of Civil War 2.0? The answer is…well, complicated. Let me explain.

The United States is already in the throes of a type of civil war that involves two distinct sides and a good deal of violence. However, unlike America’s first civil war, the new civil war will not involve states succeeding from the Union or the creation of state-sponsored standing armies. The violence we’ll experience will be intermittent and isolated. There will be no battlefields like in Civil War 1.0 and our divisions will be values-based rather then geographical.

The idea of a civil war in the United States, up until a few years ago, was not on anyone’s radar. That doesn’t mean that civil wars were a mystery. Plenty of countries over the years have engaged in civil war. In fact, there have been more than 200 civil wars around the globe since the end of World War II. Those civil wars have been monitored and studied by political scientists, sociologists, and other academics. What they found is that civil wars are predictable and have similar causes.

The Office of Net Assessment, an internal think tank within the Pentagon, recently commissioned a study by political scientist Michael  J. Mazarr of the Rand Corporation to assess the danger of our national decline. The study, entitled “The Societal Foundations of National Competitiveness,” came to some stark and sobering conclusions.

First, the study found that there are seven attributes that are necessary for national competitiveness: national ambition and will; unified national identity; shared opportunity; an active state; effective institutions; a learning and adapting society; and competitive diversity and pluralism. Sadly, Mazarr found that the United States is losing in almost all of these categories.

For instance, our nation’s ambition and confidence is waning. The majority of Americans believe that we are on the wrong path, although there is no clear agreement about what path we should be on. Only 25% of Americans polled believe the United States is heading in the right direction, while six-in-ten feel more fear than hope for the future. Just 10% are “very satisfied” with how our democracy is working, with two-thirds of those surveyed believing public officials don’t care what they think.

In addition, national unity and cohesion are on the decline. Traditionally, the United States has been effective at assimilating diverse groups into the “American melting pot.” Not so anymore. Rather than assimilating, individual groups are more often retaining their previous identities, not melding into the larger American society. According to Mazarr, “A country with a rapidly diversifying population—though it gains competitive advantages from this diversity—will also face greater hurdles to sustaining a sense of coherent national identity.”

The United States, long known for the opportunity it provides, is experiencing increasing constraints on the opportunities offered to its citizens. This is due in large part to rising inequality. The United States is becoming a country of “haves” and “have nots.” For instance, between 2001 and 2016, the median net worth of the middle class fell 20%. The working class did even worse, losing 45% of its net worth. For the first time since the end of World War II, millennials and the generations that have followed are likely to earn less than their parents did.

There is some debate over whether or not the government can fix these problems. It would seem that, at the very least, the government can have some positive impact. However, to date, the US government has been largely unwilling to intervene on behalf of the middle and working classes. According to the World Bank, over the past twenty years, the United States government has been ineffective at improving the prospects of most of its population. The wealthy have seen their net worth skyrocket and their taxes decrease, but very little has been done to meaningfully aid the rest of the population.

At the same time, private-sector productivity has been stagnant, and corporations have struggled with bureaucracy and bloat. The same is true of universities, which spend nearly as much on administration as teaching. Likewise, a third of all dollars spent on healthcare in the United States is spent on administrative costs, making the American healthcare system one of the costliest and least effective in the world. The result has been higher costs for consumers, runaway student debt to secure an education, and healthcare costs that bankrupt an increasingly large number of Americans.

Traditionally, the United States has had a “can do” attitude, fixing whatever problems it faced. Sadly, those days may be over. Mazarr points out that, when countries start to fail, “it is a negative feedback loop, a poisonous synergy.” When a country starts to decline, it is hard to turn things back in a positive direction. The energy of the citizenry that is needed to reverse the slide is sapped by mistrust and misinformation. Rather than improving things and returning the country to the greatness it once experienced, some people channel their energy into burning things down in the hopes of starting over.

Following the Great Depression, Americans, in large part, were pulling in the same direction. To be certain, there were those that disagreed with and fought against FDR’s New Deal, but the vast majority of the country wanted the same thing: to restore prosperity to the entire nation. That doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. It’s not that we agree on our destination, but disagree on how to get there. We can’t even agree on where we should be going. In fact, we often can’t agree on the reality of the issues we face.

Civil War 1.0 was fought primarily over slavery. I know that many people disagree with that assessment, instead pointing to disagreements over economic issues, especially in the South. But what were those economic issues? Oh yeah, slavery.

In any case, the point is that there were legitimate, realistic issues that led to Civil War 1.0. Not so with our current conflict. According to Tom Nichols, writer for The Atlantic and former professor at the Naval War College, “[c]ompared with the bizarre ideas and half-baked wackiness that now infest American political life, the arguments between the North and the South look like a deep treatise on government…The United States now faces a different kind of violence, from people who believe in nothing—or at least, in nothing real. We do not risk the creation of organized armies and militias in Virginia or Louisiana or Alabama marching on federal institutions. Instead, all of us face random threats and unpredictable dangers from people among us who spend too much time watching television and plunging down internet rabbit holes. These people, acting individually or in small groups, will be led not by rebel generals but by narcissistic wannabe heroes, and they will be egged on by cowards and instigators who will inflame them from the safety of a television or radio studio—or from behind the shield of elected office. Occasionally, they will congeal into a mob, as they did on January 6, 2021.”

Nichols brings up two important points. First, addressing the issues our nation faces is made difficult by the fact that, as a people, we no longer have a shared reality. We can’t even agree on the problems we face, let alone effectively address them.

Second, Civil War 2.0 will not be what you might expect. It will involve random acts of violence by individuals or small groups who have only the foggiest notion of what they are fighting for or against. They will attack a pizzeria because they think pedophiles are abusing children and drinking their blood in a non-existent basement. They will mount a charge on an FBI office because they disagree with FBI agents from a different office carrying out their legal duty. They will attempt to kidnap a governor for vague reasons they can’t fully articulate. They will blow up a federal building because “government bad.” They will attack the Capitol of our democracy because their leader told them to do it based on some unproven claim that the election had been stolen.

Edward Luce, writer for the Financial Times, made a comment on Twitter bemoaning the illiberal politics and violent tendencies of the MAGA Republican Party. “I’ve covered extremism and violent ideologies over my career,” he wrote. “Have never come across a political force more nihilistic, dangerous, and contemptible than today’s Republicans. Nothing close.” That tweet was then re-tweeted by General Michael Hayden, former CIA Director under Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who added “I agree. And I was the CIA Director.”

Perhaps the best science conducted on the subject of a potential civil war is being carried out by the Center for Systemic Peace. The Center’s Polity Project predicts civil wars around the world. Dr. Barbara F. Walter, a quantitative social scientist, has done a brilliant job of analyzing the data from the Polity Project and applying it to the United States. (For a great education about Dr. Walter’s work, I recommend this video where Dr. Walter discusses her research with Michael German of the Brennan Center.)

According to Dr. Walter, there are two overriding issues that help predict a potential civil war. The first is anocracy. An anocracy is a government that is neither democratic nor authoritarian. An anocracy is a middle ground between the two. It is usually unstable and transitioning, involving either a democracy transitioning to an autocracy or an autocracy becoming more democratic. The faster a country is transitioning from one form of government to another, the higher the likelihood for a civil war.

These anocracies can go by several names. For instance, they are sometimes referred to as “partial democracies,” “hybrid democracies,” or “illiberal democracies.” An example of this type of democracy is one where people are allowed to vote (although barriers may be erected to discourage voting), but their vote is either not counted or not given full weight.

For example, next term, the United States Supreme Court will hear the case of Moore v. Harper which will give the Court the opportunity to rule on the independent state legislature (ISL) theory. The ISL theory posits that, while Americans have the right to vote in federal elections, the state legislature has the authority, if it chooses, to ignore the will of the voters and send a congressional delegation to Washington or appoint presidential delegates to the electoral college that do not correspond to the election results. The implications are obvious.

Assume a state, based on the popular vote, elects Joe Biden over Donald Trump for President. Traditionally, that state would then send Biden electors to the electoral college. Under the ISL theory, the legislature can ignore the voters and instead send Trump electors to represent the state in the electoral college. In other words, in theory, citizens have the right to vote, but it is up to the state legislature to decide if those votes will count or be ignored.

The second primary cause of civil wars involves identity. Rather than forming a government around ideology—for instance, conservative or liberal beliefs—countries that form around identities (i.e., race, ethnicity, religion, gender, etc.) tend to be more prone to civil wars. This is especially true in countries where the identity group that is relegated to second class citizenship once held power (or some level of power) in the country.

The Polity Project ranks countries on a scale of positive-ten to negative-ten. The most democratic countries (Denmark, Switzerland, Canada) are ranked from positive-six to positive-ten. The most authoritarian countries (North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain) are ranked negative-six to negative-ten. Those in the middle—from positive-five down to negative-five—are anocracies and are most prone to civil war.

The United States was rated as a positive-ten up until 2016, when it was downgraded to positive-eight. In 2018, Dr. Walter was on a task force studying the data from the Polity Project when she realized that the two most important predictive factors they were looking at suddenly applied to the United States. Until that time, the task force had never looked at the United States because the belief was that the United States was, if not immune to civil war, in the very least, a civil war in the US was extremely unlikely. But as Dr. Walter realized, things in the United States relative to these two predictive factors were changing, and they were changing fast. In fact, the United States was downgraded again in 2019 to positive-seven, and at the end of 2020, it dropped down to positive-five, into the anocracy zone. Although the task force was not allowed to put the United States on a watch list for civil war, Dr. Walter said that if they were, the United States would have gone on the watch list at the end of 2020.

The good news is that once the peaceful transfer of power took place in January 2021, the Polity Project upgraded the United States to positive-eight. Unfortunately, the United States lost its title as the world’s longest running democracy. That title now belongs to Switzerland.

Before we start to celebrate our new ranking of positive-eight, it is important to point out in the years immediately before Civil War 1.0, the United States was also at a positive-eight ranking. By no means are we out of the woods.

So, where do we go from here? I’d like to believe that our political leaders will find a way to move forward in a peaceful, bipartisan way. Sadly, that is highly unlikely. The Republican Party has abandoned any pretense of supporting democratic institutions or values. The leaders of the Republican Party have embraced a “win at all costs” mentality which puts them at odds with our democratic traditions. Throughout the country, they have assaulted voting rights laws, making it increasingly difficult for people to vote, in particular, poor and minority voters. They have also embraced violence as a legitimate political tool, often encouraging or defending violence on the part of their supporters. These two illiberal elements are hallmarks of authoritarianism and show a willingness on the part of Republicans to abandon our democracy if it means they can gain power.

“There is no single principle that unites these Americans in their violence against their fellow citizens,” Nichols writes. “They will tell you that they are for ‘liberty’ and ‘freedom,’ but these are merely code words for personal grudges, racial and class resentments, and a generalized paranoia that dark forces are manipulating their lives…What makes this situation worse is that there is no remedy for it. When people are driven by fantasies, by resentment, by an internalized sense of inferiority, there is no redemption in anything. Winning elections, burning effigies, even shooting at other citizens does not soothe their anger but instead deepens the spiritual and moral void that haunts them.”

Sadly, Republicans see their violent, illiberal crusade as more important than peaceful coexistence, more important than the rule of law, and more important than the democracy our fellow citizens fought and died to preserve. They have given up on the Great American Experiment, but not for any noble or high-minded reason. No, they have turned their back on our democracy for the most ignoble reason imaginable; to gain power, to control their fellow citizens, to be above the law.

I’d like to disagree with Tom Nichols when he says there is no remedy for what currently ails us in the United States. I fervently hope he is wrong, but I can’t help but fear he is right.


My Proposed IndyCar Schedule

I’m in the mood to write a couple thousand words about one of my favorite sports, IndyCar racing. This past week, the IndyCar series announced their 2023 schedule, and it got me thinking about what I would like to see change with the schedule. I love the series, but I’ve never understood why their season ends so early every year. This year, for instance, the final race of the season is on September 11, a full two months or more before most American-based motorsports series end.

In addition, I’ve always felt that IndyCar should be more of an international series. One of the reasons for this is that every year, IndyCar features some of the best drivers from around the globe. Last year’s champion is from Spain. The leader in the points at the moment is from Australia. Several other countries are also represented. Years ago, IndyCar boasted races in the US, Canada, Mexico, Brazil, Germany, Australia, and Japan.

Does that mean IndyCar should go back to those venues? In a perfect world, maybe. But this isn’t a perfect world. Costs are through the roof, and it would be difficult to justify spending an inordinate amount of a team’s budget to go to one race far away from their US home base.

Having said that, IndyCar should have more of a presence in Canada. The pandemic kept the series out of Canada for the past few years, and just a  month or two ago made a return to the streets of Toronto. Even though IndyCar is back, I think an argument can be made that Canada deserves another race or two.

In addition, racing in Mexico is a no-brainer (providing IndyCar can find a willing promoter). Look at the turn out and hype over Formula 1’s annual visit to Mexico. Mexican fans would welcome IndyCar to their country.

Of course, adding races in Canada and Mexico means eliminating races in the United States. Or does it? What if, rather than continuing with a 17-race schedule, we were to expand the schedule to 20, 22, or 24 races?

In putting together my mock schedule, I was as open-minded as possible to the length of the schedule, the number of races, the history of IndyCar (without being overly sentimental), as well as the good and bad of each potential race and venue. My goal was to put together a portfolio of events that was balanced between ovals, street circuits, and permanent road courses.

Let’s start by cutting the fat out of the schedule. There are a few tracks the series races at that I would not return to. Tops on that list is Texas Motor Speedway.

Texas used to be one of my favorite tracks. When at least two lines were available for racing, TMS was one of the most exciting venues on the schedule. But when they added PJ1 sealant to the track surface to increase grip for NASCAR competition, the track was reduced to just one drivable lane for IndyCars. For the past few years, the races have been mostly “follow the leader” races, with an occasional pass thrown in for good measure.

In addition, the races at TMS have not been particularly well promoted. Motorsports journalist Jenna Fryer commented last year that she was in Dallas/Ft. Worth for another event on the IndyCar weekend at TMS, and she did not see any marketing hyping the race. It appears TMS has in effect given up on IndyCar. I think it’s time IndyCar give up on TMS. When the PJ1 disappears from the track, maybe then it will be time to reconsider racing there again.

Portland is another race that should probably go away. The racing is never particularly interesting there (unless you consider a huge pile up in turn 1 interesting), and the event itself is just kind of blah. There doesn’t seem to be much excitement over the race in Portland. Why insist on going back year after year?

One argument to keep Portland is that IndyCar should have a presence in the Pacific Northwest. I agree with that sentiment and will address it in just a bit.

In addition, I would do away with the second visit to the road course at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The series is already missing out at racing at many deserving tracks. It doesn’t make sense to schedule two races each season at the Indy road course. If the series insisted on holding two races there, the least they could do is change up the configuration of the track for one of the races or run a different distance to complicate strategy. As it stands, the current schedule features two identical races, which really doesn’t make sense. For my purposes, I’m going to eliminate the August race at Indy traditionally known as the Harvest Grand Prix.

Of course, by eliminating this race, I’m also eliminating the triple-header with NASCAR. I actually like sharing a weekend with NASCAR, so I’ll try to add that back into my proposed schedule.

So, we’ve eliminated three races from the current schedule, which leaves the following events on the calendar:

  • St. Petersburg Street Circuit
  • Long Beach Street Circuit
  • Barber Motorsports Park
  • Indy Road Course
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Detroit Street Circuit
  • Road America
  • Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Toronto Street Circuit
  • Iowa Speedway (Double)
  • Nashville Street Circuit
  • Gateway International Speedway
  • Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca

A couple thoughts about these races: First, I’m not in love with the races at Barber Motor Sports Park or Mid-Ohio. I like them, but I don’t love them. It wouldn’t take a lot to convince me to replace both races on the calendar.

I know some people don’t like the doubleheader at Iowa Speedway. I do. Not only is the racing fast and furious, but having races on back-to-back days is a real challenge for both the driver and teams, which adds to the allure of the weekend. Considering the fantastic job Hy-Vee does to promote the race and stage concerts by big-name acts, I view the doubleheader at Iowa as a huge win for the IndyCar series.

Although I like the doubleheader, I don’t like double points. There’s no debating that the Indy 500 is the crown jewel of the series, but I don’t think winning it should pay double points. Having said that, because of the unique nature of the two weeks surrounding the Indy 500, I do think double points should be on offer. I just don’t think they should all be awarded for the race. I’d like to see qualifying become a points paying event, with as many points on the line as in a normal race. In other words, winning the pole will pay as many points as winning a race.

Let’s talk just a little more about this suggestion. Teams put so much effort into qualifying for the Indy 500. They practice for a week prior to qualifying, then spend an entire weekend competing for the pole. This effort should be rewarded more than it currently is. Because so much effort and expense goes into qualifying, I’d like to see points awarded based on qualifying position in the same way points are awarded for finishing position in the race.

I’d also like to see double points eliminated from the final race of the season. It’s too gimmicky for my taste. It’s nothing more than an attempt to inject some faux suspense into the driver’s championship. The final race should be no more important than any other race on the calendar. Pay the same points in the final race as you do for every other race and let the driver’s performance over the entire course of the season determine the championship.

Okay, we currently have fourteen races on our proposed IndyCar schedule. What tracks should we add?


Let’s start by talking about street circuits we could add. I mentioned previously that IndyCar needs more races in Canada as well as in the Pacific Northwest. Let’s add street circuit races in Seattle, WA and in Vancouver, BC.

Seattle would be a terrific opportunity to add an event in a town loaded with high-tech companies. There could be some real synergy there for showcasing IndyCar in a target rich environment for sponsors and potential sponsors. In addition, Seattle is traditionally a town that supports sporting events, so I think they would welcome IndyCar with open arms.

Once upon a time, IndyCar (in its Champ Car iteration) ran on the streets of Vancouver in what was then known as Molson Indy Vancouver. The race took place near BC Place, and was a really popular event, attracting more than 100,000 people over most race weekends. In 1996, the race hosted the largest single-day crowd up to that point in the history of Canada. IndyCar hasn’t been back since 2004, but I think its time for a return.

By adding street circuits in Seattle and Vancouver, the IndyCar calendar will now boast seven street circuits.


Let’s turn our attention to permanent road courses. I already eliminated the oval at Texas Motor Speedway from the schedule, but I don’t want to abandon Texas completely. That’s why I’m adding a race at Circuit of the Americas (COTA) in Austin. I’ll be honest, COTA isn’t my favorite track, but it is a beautiful facility in a town and state where IndyCar should be on display.

I’d also like to add a race at Watkins Glen. It’s a terrific track for IndyCar racing and it has been off the schedule for too long. Watkins Glen is one of the most historic road courses in the country and deserves a place on the calendar.

Adding Watkins Glen could also be an opportunity to move the IndyCar/NASCAR tripleheader. NASCAR already races at Watkins Glen. Maybe the event could be made even bigger by adding IndyCar to the weekend.

Next, let’s add Road Atlanta. This permanent road course is fast, challenging, and exciting. The track might have to make some safety changes, especially in the area around the esses, but they shouldn’t be too hard or expensive to do. If you’ve ever seen a race at Road Atlanta, you can only imagine how fun it would be to watch IndyCar on the track.

I mentioned previously that I didn’t love the race at Barber Motorsports Park. It’s possible that a race at Road Atlanta could replace a race at Barber. I have heard that the agreement with Barber is that IndyCar is prohibited from holding races in Georgia or Tennessee. If that is the case, I’d say “so long” to Barber and move the race to Road Atlanta, a more interesting track that would provide better racing, in a more desirable (for the series) location.

The final road course addition to the calendar isn’t a road course at all. It is a temporary circuit, but not a street circuit. So, what is it? It is Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland. IndyCar ran the Grand Prix of Cleveland at Burke Lakefront for twenty-five years. They were last there in 2007. The Cleveland race was popular with drivers and fans alike (although drivers did complain about the bumpiness).

Cleveland is a very hot market right now and IndyCar should take advantage of it. Some people might complain that Cleveland is too close to Mid-Ohio and keeping both races could water down attendance at both events. I’m not sure that is true. I think the schedule can be organized so neither event impacts the other. If it is true, maybe it’s time to give Mid-Ohio a rest and give Burke Lakefront Airport in Cleveland a try.

There is one track I didn’t add to the schedule that could potentially be a terrific track for an IndyCar/NASCAR tripleheader weekend. That track is the Charlotte Roval at Charlotte Motor Speedway. I think the location would be awesome, introducing IndyCar to the diehard NASCAR fans in the Charlotte area. The thing I’m not sure about is how well IndyCars would race on the Roval. Josef Newgarden did a few demonstration laps in an IndyCar a few years ago on the Roval and says he thinks IndyCar would put on a great race there. A little more investigation is needed, but the Charlotte Roval could be a welcome addition to the IndyCar calendar.


That brings us to ovals. One of the complaints I hear most is that IndyCar doesn’t have enough ovals on the calendar. When you think about what sets IndyCar apart from other open wheel series (particularly F1), it’s the challenge of racing on ovals, as well as street and road circuits.

There are three ovals I’d like to see added to the IndyCar calendar. First, is Richmond International Raceway. IndyCar ran there from 2001-2009. Since leaving, there has been a pretty steady drumbeat of oval fans pushing to get IndyCar back to Richmond. This would be a good chance to run on a short oval under the lights on a Saturday night. I like that idea.

The next oval addition is Homestead-Miami Speedway. IndyCar has a long history of racing in the Miami Grand Prix. Open wheel cars raced in Miami dating back to 1926. IndyCar came to Homestead in 1996 and continued racing there until 2010, including running a doubleheader with IMSA for a few years.

Miami is a terrific market for IndyCar and it would be good to see them get back there. Homestead used to be home to official IndyCar spring training. The 1.5 mile oval provides fast, close, exciting racing. What more could you want?

The final oval on my proposed schedule is the Milwaukee Mile. This one-day event was once one of the most popular on the IndyCar calendar. The races in Milwaukee were among the favorites of drivers and fans alike. The one-mile track is said to run a bit like a road course, with lots of speed and plenty of overtaking opportunities.

This is what the entire schedule would look like:

  • St. Petersburg Street Circuit
  • Long Beach Street Circuit
  • Barber Motorsports Park
  • Indy Road Course
  • Indianapolis Motor Speedway
  • Detroit Street Circuit
  • Road America
  • Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course
  • Toronto Street Circuit
  • Iowa Speedway (Double)
  • Nashville Street Circuit
  • Gateway International Speedway
  • Weathertech Raceway Laguna Seca
  • Seattle Street Circuit
  • Vancouver Street Circuit
  • Circuit of the Americas
  • Watkins Glen
  • Road Atlanta
  • Cleveland Burke Lakefront Airport
  • Richmond International Speedway
  • Homestead-Miami Speedway
  • Milwaukee Mile

*Dates to be determined

That’s a total of 24 points paying events (including Indy 500 qualifying and Iowa Speedway doubleheader). To accommodate all of these events, IndyCar will have to extend their season from late February/early March into October or November. I’d like to see an eight-month season and a four-month off season. I think this breakdown is good for both the series and the fans.

One final thought. I started off by saying IndyCar should run in Mexico, then I didn’t add a race in Mexico. Although I like the idea of taking IndyCar south of the border, it doesn’t seem realistic at the moment. I tried to be as realistic as possible when putting the schedule together. All of the tracks I listed could realistically host an IndyCar event next year. But at the moment, there doesn’t seem to be a realistic promoter and/or venue for an IndyCar race in Mexico. If that changes, I’m all for adding Mexico to the calendar.

There it is. IndyCar, if you’re reading this, feel free to reach out. I have a lot more ideas to improve the series. Just ask.


The Lament of a Life-Long Cubs Fan

The other night, the Cubs were on Sunday Night Baseball on ESPN playing the Giants. I was looking forward to watching the game because earlier this year, I gave up my MLB.TV subscription and had not seen many Cubs games. But when game time approached, I decided not to watch the game. I just couldn’t do it. Watching the Cubs this year has been too depressing, and I wasn’t in the mood to be depressed again. As it turned out, the Cubs lost the game 4-0 and, from reports I read after the game, they played just as badly as I feared.

I’m a life-long Cubs fan, and for most of my fandom, the Cubs have been pretty bad. When Tom Ricketts and the Ricketts family purchased the Cubs prior to the 2009 season, I had hope that they would improve the team, turning them into a perennial winner. Ricketts brought in Theo Epstein—the man who built the Boston Red Sox into a World Series winner—to lead the team’s efforts. Like a lot of fans, my hopes were high.

Sadly, the first thing Epstein and the Cubs did was dismantle the team. They said the teardown was necessary to rebuild the organization the right way, including improving the farm system, and setting the club up to be a consistent post-season threat.

Over the next six years, the Cubs were horrible. They had losing seasons in five of those years, building an overall 429-542 record, winning just 44% of their games.

It was tough to be a fan of the team during those years, but our patience was rewarded in 2015 when the team did unexpectedly well in the playoffs, eventually losing to the Mets in the NLCS. Our hopes were high. Then in 2016, the unimaginable happened. The Cubs won the World Series for the first time in 108 years. It seemed that all of our sacrifice and heartache had been worth it, not only because the Cubs had won the World Series (although that was huge), but because the team was set up to compete for championships for years to come. Or, at least, that’s what we thought.

As it turned out, the Cubs never did make it back to the World Series. Over the next five years they got progressively worse, ultimately selling off their best players at the 2021 trade deadline and promising another rebuild.

Of course, Epstein is gone, and Jed Hoyer, Epstein’s former second-in-command, is running the team now. In his time at the helm, Hoyer has shown no indication that he has a plan or a timeline to get back to being competitive. Now, during the 2022 season, the Cubs are 41-60 (as of 8/2/22), 15 ½ games out of first place in the NL Central, and 13 ½ games out of the newly expanded Wild Card.

From where I’m sitting, the Ricketts/Epstein/Hoyer era with the Cubs has been an abject failure. I say this despite the 2016 World Series victory. After 108 years of futility, winning the World Series was huge, but it wasn’t the primary goal. Epstein & Company were supposed to be building a perennial winner, not a one-time winner.

Fans endured six years of horrible baseball between 2009-2014 with the understanding that, once the rebuild was finished, we could expect a Cubs team that would compete for championships for years to come. That didn’t happen. Today, as I write this, the Cubs are far out of contention, suffering through their second consecutive losing season, they are selling off their players once again at the trade deadline, and they have the 18th-ranked farm system, with just two players in the top 100 in the league. By any measure, that is not a success.

In talking to people about my feelings, a few times I have heard that it is unrealistic to expect the Cubs (or any team) to be good every year. They point to the good years the Cubs had around their World Series championship.

Since the Ricketts took over the team, the Cubs have had seven winning seasons and six losing seasons. During that same period, the St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs biggest rival, has had thirteen consecutive winnings seasons, including two trips to the World Series and a World Series championship. The Cardinals are perennial winners. The Cubs are not.

In addition, the Cardinals have continued to build their team, bringing in Paul Goldschmidt in 2019, Nolan Arenado in 2021, and as I write this, they are in the hunt to land Juan Soto from the Nationals. Even if they don’t trade for him, it’s clear they are building their team for the future. They didn’t take a break and endure several losing seasons in order to have a few winning seasons. In other words, what the Cubs did was not just unnecessary, but in hindsight, was counterproductive.

Another way to look at the Cubs vs the Cardinals is at their market size and payroll commitments. The Cubs play in Chicago, the nation’s third largest market. By contrast, the Cardinals are in the nation’s 23rd largest market. And, although the Cubs have spent more on player payroll than the Cardinals during the Ricketts era, the difference isn’t as much as you might think. Between 2009 and 2021, on average, the Cubs spent less that $15 million more per year than the Cardinals.

You’d be correct if you pointed out that the Cardinals are now, and have been for some time, one of MLB’s most successful franchises. You might say that it is unfair to compare the Cubs to the Cardinals. I don’t agree that it is unfair. There’s no reason the Cubs, in one of the largest markets in the country and having one of the most rabid fan bases in MLB, can’t and shouldn’t be one of the league’s most successful franchises. Even so, if you think the comparison is unfair, let’s instead compare the Cubs to another NL Central rival, the Milwaukee Brewers.

Since 2009, the Brewers have the same number of winning seasons as the Cubs (7) but have actually won more games. The Cubs have an overall record between 2009-2021 of 1005-998 (.502), while the Brewers have a record of 1028-997 (.513)

The Brewers have accomplished this while playing in the 37th largest market in the country (the smallest in MLB) and spending an average of about $45 million less on player payroll than the Cubs. And as the Cubs tank the 2022 season, selling off every player they can, the Brewers are leading the NL Central and adding players at the trade deadline.

All of this is to say that, as much as I love baseball, I’m really questioning my fandom. My favorite team doesn’t seem willing or capable of building a consistent winner. And watching them trot out a AAAA team day after day to play mediocre (at best) baseball just isn’t very fun.

Rumor has it that the Cubs are going to be big spenders in the upcoming off-season, supposedly being in the running for big name free agents like Trea Turner and Carlos Correa. I hope that’s true, but to be honest, I don’t have any confidence in the current regime to either spend money intelligently or build a team around one or two big names.

I’ve been a fan of the Cubs all my life, but I have to say, I feel like I’ve been taken for granted. I know a lot of other fans feel the same way. The team seems to consistently be on the verge of doing something big, but with one exception, never delivers on their promise. The current re-build seems to be just another empty promise made by an organization that makes lots of money off of it’s fans, but can never seem to build the consistent winner they lure us in with.

Maybe it would be more fun to watch the Cardinals or Brewers.


The Barn Where It Happened

It isn’t much to look at. It’s not ugly, but there’s nothing beautiful about it either. It’s just an old barn. Gray, weathered boards cover the exterior, along with a few mismatched sheets of unpainted brown plywood here and there covering holes in the walls. The roof is covered with gray corrugated steel, the edges rusty and worn.

Big sliding barn doors, the same color as the plywood patches, cover the entrance. The bottom of the doors are rotting away, delaminating. The doors still do their job, but they don’t look as good as they once did.

The barn is unremarkable on its own,  but it’s part of a larger scene. Deciduous trees grow next to the barn, and a sloping, manicured lawn surrounds it, along with a winding dirt path. The sky above is azure blue, punctuated by fluffy, white clouds. The barn is the centerpiece of a serene, pastoral scene. It’s peaceful, comforting, relaxing.

But if those gray, weathered walls could talk, they wouldn’t talk about anything serene or peaceful. They’d speak of evil, of hatred, of violence. They’d tell a story that happened nearly seventy years ago, and which still haunts the barn, the community, the state, and our nation.


In 1955, Emmitt Till was on the cusp of becoming a man. At 14-years-old, he wasn’t a man yet. He was still a boy. But as with all boys of a certain age, things were changing. His voice was changing, his body was changing, his thoughts and ideas were changing. He was taking his first steps toward manhood.

During that summer, Emmitt was visiting family in Mississippi. He traveled with his mother, who tried to prepare him for the visit. She told him that Mississippi was not like Chicago, where Till and his mother lived. She told him that he had to show respect to his elders, especially white elders, calling them “sir” and “ma’am.” She told him not to look white woman in the eye. He needed to be respectful, quiet, invisible.

Emmitt was staying with his great-uncle, Mose Wright, at his home on Dark Fear Road near Money, Mississippi. Mose’s youngest son, Simeon, and another cousin, Wheeler Parker, took Emmitt along with them to Bryant’s Grocery, a small convenience grocery on a rural road near Money. The boys were looking around the store when Emmitt spotted 21-year-old Carolyn Bryant.  He whistled at her. There have been stories written claiming he never whistled, but the truth is, he did. Simeon and Wheeler confirmed it.

A black boy whistling at a white woman in 1950s Mississippi was a foolhardy, dangerous act, but Emmitt didn’t immediately understand what he had done. Simeon and Wheeler, they knew. They were both older and used to the mores of life in Mississippi, and they knew that Emmitt’s action was going to cause them trouble.


Simeon thought about telling his father what had happened at Bryant’s Grocery–how Emmitt had broken one of the many unwritten rules that existed in Jim Crow America. Maybe they could sneak Emmitt out of town until his crime was forgotten. Maybe they could hide him from what Simeon feared would be a quick and severe punishment from the white people in town. Simeon decided not to say anything. It was a decision he regretted  later that evening, and for the rest of his life.

Emmitt was fast asleep when two white men walked into his darkened room. The men, Roy Bryant, the husband of the woman Emmitt whistled at, and J.W. Milam, who held a flashlight and a pistol, woke Emmitt, demanding he come outside with them. Emmitt was groggy, asking the men if he could put on his socks. The men become agitated, demanding Emmitt move. Moses’ wife, Emmitt’s great-aunt, begged the men not to take her nephew, but their minds were made up. They weren’t leaving the house without Emmitt.

Outside, the night was still, the buzzing of insects filling the silences. Mose followed the men as they dragged Emmitt out of the house. He heard a woman’s voice tell them that, yes, they had gotten the right man.  Mose saw them force his nephew into the back of a pickup truck, then pull away, driving down Dark Fear Road until they disappeared into the Mississippi night.


Leslie Milam, the brother of J.W. Milam, lived in an old farmhouse on a plantation owned by Ben Sturdivant. The house was run down and in need of new paint. A barn, used to store cotton and farm equipment, stood behind the house on the top of a small rise. The barn was worn and weather-beaten, with faded gray walls and a metal roof, it’s edges rusted from years exposed to the elements. Two large, sliding doors stood open, revealing the interior of the barn.

The Milam brothers, Bryant, and a couple other white men—no one is exactly sure how many—pulled Emmitt from the bed of the truck and dragged him into the barn behind the farmhouse. Wille Reed, an 18-year old black man saw this happen. He stayed out of sight near the road and listened to Emmitt screaming for the men to stop beating him. At one point, Reed saw J.W. exit the barn to get a drink of water, a pistol holstered on his hip. J.W. rested for a moment, then returned to the barn. When he did, Emmitt’s screams turned to moans, then to silence.

J.W., Roy, and the others talked about taking Emmitt to the hospital, but all agreed that he was beyond saving. Their beating had gone too far. One of the men—presumably J.W.—shot Emmitt in the head, ending his misery. They spread cotton seeds on the barn floor to soak up the blood.

The men then loaded Emmitt’s lifeless body into the pickup truck and drove to a bridge over the Tallahatchie River. There, they tied a cotton gin fan around his neck and tossed him into the murky water below.


Willie Reed told his grandfather what he had seen at the Milam barn, and his grandfather begged him not to talk about it with anyone, especially not the police. Willie thought it over. He struggled with his decision. In the end, he chose to talk.

J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant were tried for the murder of Emmitt Till. Willie, Mose, and others testified about what had happened to Emmitt. It didn’t matter. Milam and Bryant were both acquitted by an all-white jury.

After the trial, Willie ran for his life, having to escape the area to avoid a mob that was searching for any witnesses. He made his way to Memphis where he met up with Detroit Congressman Charlie Diggs, who flew with Willie to Chicago. It was Willie’s first time on an airplane.

Willie started a new life in Chicago,. He changed his name to Willie Louis and met a young nurse named Juliet. They married and bought a home in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago. He avoided visits to his old home and didn’t talk about what he had seen that night. Willie and Juliet were together for more than twenty years before she first learned about his old name and his connection to Emmitt Till. Willie died near his Chicago home in 2013.

After the trial, Life Magazine paid J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant to give a full confession they could print for their readers. The two men obliged. It was a mistake. They became ostracized in the community, not so much for the murder, but for bragging about it in a magazine. People in the community felt the paid-for confession brought disrepute on them and their fellow Mississippians. By bragging, Milam and Bryant had made them look bad.

Carolyn Bryant testified at the murder trial of her husband and JW Milam that Emmitt not only whistled at her, but grabbed her and made a lewd comment. That was almost certainly a lie. Emmitt’s cousins, Simeon and Wheeler, said Emmitt only whistled. Nothing else.

Carolyn and Roy Bryant remained married until their divorce in 1979. Carolyn is still alive today, living in a senior living center in Raleigh, NC. Last month, a team investigating the Emmitt Till murder discovered a warrant for Carolyn Bryant’s arrest. In 1955, the Laflore County, MS Sheriff indicated that he would not serve the warrant because Carolyn had two children at home and he didn’t want to bother her. After that, the warrant was forgotten until it was rediscovered last month. Some groups have called for the warrant to be served and for Carolyn Bryant to be tried for her role in Emmitt Till’s murder, but it is unlikely that a prosecutor would agree to move forward with charges against the 88-year old Bryant so long after the murder.

Carolyn’s husband, Roy Bryant, ended up closing his store. Since most of his customers were black, business had slacked off after the murder. He spent the rest of his life broke, moving from one run-down rental to another, shunned by his neighbors and former friends. He died on September 1, 1994.

J.W. Milam lived out his days in a poor black neighborhood. It was the only place he could afford to live. He spent his life skirting the law, committing assault, writing bad checks, using stolen credit cards, and committing other petty crimes. He died on December 31, 1980.

Three months after the murder of Emmitt Till, Ben Sturdivant evicted Leslie Milam and his wife from the old farmhouse and fired him from his job on the plantation. Ben’s grandson, Walker Sturdivant, who still lives in the area, said that his grandfather didn’t approve of what happened in the barn and didn’t want any part of it.

Nineteen years later, Frances Milam, Leslie’s wife, called a Baptist preacher named Macklyn Hubbard, and asked him to visit their home. Leslie was sick and wanted to confess the role he played in the Emmitt Till murder. Hubbard listened as Milam unburdened himself. “He was releasing himself of guilt,” Hubbard later said. “He was belching out guilt.” After giving his confession, Leslie Milam fell asleep and died.

Years later, the Milam home was bulldozed and replaced with a nicer, newer home. There’s even a built-in pool. Off in the backyard, on a slight rise, stands the barn, with its gray, weathered exterior, metal roof, and a story to tell. It’s a tough, emotional story about evil, and hate, and violence. It’s a story that reminds us of who we once were as a country. It reminds us of how far we’ve come and how far we still have to go. Even though it’s hard to hear, it’s a story we should listen to. It’s a story we should never forget.


Poetry As Song: Yesterday, When I Was Young


Yesterday, when I was young
The taste of life was sweet
Like rain upon my tongue
I teased at life as if
It were a foolish game
The way an evening breeze
Would tease a candle flame

The thousand dreams I dreamed
The splendid things I planned
I always built to last
On weak and shifting sand.
I lived by night and shunned
The naked light of day
And only now I see
How the years have ran away

Yesterday, when I was young
There were so many songs
That waited to be sung
So many wild pleasures
That lay in store for me
And so much pain my dazzled
Eyes refused to see

I ran so fast that time
And youth at last ran out
I never stopped to think
What life was all about
And every conversation
That I can recall
Concerns itself with me
And nothing else at all

Yesterday, the moon was blue
And every crazy day
Brought something new to do
And I used my magic age
As if it were a wand
And never saw the waste
And emptiness beyond

The game of love I played
With arrogance and pride
And every flame I lit
So quickly, quickly died
The friends I made all seemed
Somehow to drift away
And only I am left
On stage to end the play

Yesterday, when I was young
There were so many songs
That waited to be sung
So many wild pleasures
That lay in store for me
And so much pain my dazzled
Eyes refused to see

There are so many songs
In me that won’t be sung
I feel the bitter taste
Of tears upon my tongue
And the time has come for me
To pay for yesterday
When I was young.

–Herbert Kretzmer & Charles Aznavour


Be Like Claire

Want to be a better person?

Want to live a better, more fulfilling life?

Follow this two step process:

  1. Watch this video about Claire Wineland
  2. Be more like Claire