Free, color-blind and ’21

It’s finally over. The year 2020 will forever be remembered–at least by today’s adults–as one of the worst in American history. Whether historians will put it in that category remains to be seen. By the time the first objective histories are written about the year, say in 2040 or so, today’s adults will have long since moved on to something else, one way or another.

Last night, my wife Sue asked me if I’d made any resolutions for the New Year. I said no. Well, there are the usual ones: drop a few pounds, really get into re-discovering my second language (German), get down to my hometown area in Grant County for my first extensive visit since 2018. And, a new book will be published. More about all of those things in a bit. But first, a little review…


The year of failed leadership.

If there’s one thing 2020 taught us, it’s the importance of leadership. For the first time since the 9/11 attacks, we were faced with an existential threat to our very way of life. We responded forcefully to that previous threat, and effectively–say what you will about how it was handled, but it can’t be denied that there have been no serious terrorist attacks on American soil since then. Our response to this new threat was not nearly as forceful and effective. You can’t look at a death toll of more than 330,000 Americans and say we did a good job of it. Yes, it could’ve been worse–remember those initial estimates of 2-3 million dead?–but it could’ve been better, too.

The purpose of this post is not to rehash everything that was done, or not done, to contain the coronavirus. Millions of words have been written and spoken about that and millions more will come. We won’t get any sort of objective look at the situation for many years. The good news, of course, is that a vaccine is now being deployed that shows every indication that it will end the cruel march of COVID-19 across our country, and eventually the world. As healthy people under 65, it will be a few months before Sue and I get our shots, but we won’t be among those skeptical and conspiracy-minded few who refuse to get inoculated.


When it’s here, we’ll be rolling up our sleeves


We’ve been victimized not just by an insidious and wily contagion, but by leaders in the worlds of politics and science who have been at best inconsistent, and at worst incompetent, in helping us get through this. Right from the beginning, we received contradictory messages from the so-called experts: it was okay to travel, then it wasn’t; masks weren’t necessary, but then they were; social-distancing was absolutely vital, except at political protests; “herd immunity” was within our reach, and then it wasn’t. On and on it went, and it still goes on. Governors and mayors and members of Congress tell their citizens to stay home, but then they hop on planes to visit relatives. They tell us to avoid gatherings of people from outside our immediate household, and then attend fancy dinner parties. They tell us to wear masks at all times outside the home, and then are seen unmasked at ballparks and protest marches. They tell us that hair salons must be shut down, then sneak inside one when they think nobody’s watching. They say churches must be closed but strip clubs can stay open. Schools have to close even though few children will ever get the virus. And worst of all, when anybody wonders about what they are telling us, those with honest questions and skeptical attitudes are accused of being against Science (which is such an authority now that many people give it a capital letter).

But enough of that. We all knew the narrative would start changing once the election was over and the vaccine started rolling out, and indeed that is happening. Many media elites are now wondering what they’re going to do when they no longer have a pandemic to hyperventilate about, and the president they despised is no longer available as a target in their next column or cable-news segment. The rest of us, that is to say, those of us in the real world, are moving on.

I’ve been reading a lot about leadership lately, in particular the styles that were utilized by two of the 20th century’s greatest presidents: Theodore Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower. Both books give today’s Americans an incisive look into what real leadership is about, long after their administrations ended and they went on to their final rewards. Hint: we’re not seeing any of it today, by comparison with what they gave us during nearly 16 years combined in the highest office in the land.


TR’s bully pulpit served us well from 1901-09…


…and Ike gave us peace and prosperity from 1953-61.

How did they do it? More importantly, what did they do that our present leaders cannot, or will not, do? Well, an entire post or two could be written about that, but I’ll leave that topic here with a couple of quotes from these two men, who did so much to shape not only the 20th century, but the 21st:

In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.  Theodore Roosevelt

The supreme quality for leadership is unquestionably integrity. Without it, no real success is possible, no matter whether it is on a section gang, a football field, in an army, or in an office. Dwight Eisenhower


It’ll get better in ’21…won’t it?

On a personal level, I have high hopes for 2021. We have a new president about to take office, and without telling you how I voted, I am cautiously optimistic that Joe Biden will be able to start getting things done, especially in the oh-so-vital (and difficult) area of bringing us back together as a nation. But then, I’m always cautiously optimistic when a new president comes in, regardless of who it is. I’m not one of those who believes that if my guy (or gal) lost, I should oppose everything the winner wants to do. Indeed, the other day I tallied up all the presidential votes I’ve cast since my first one in 1976, and I’m batting only about .500 in backing a winner. A couple of votes for third-party candidates, and one write-in vote, skewed my stat sheet a little bit, but still, nobody ever has their person win every time. What do you do if your side lost? Well, a lot of people today seem to think that you must do everything you can to not only oppose the winner’s agenda but work to bring him or her down, by whatever means necessary short of assassination–and frankly, I’m surprised it didn’t get to that point, yet. 

So we’ll see what Mr. Biden can do. I hope he has a successful administration. I remember when George W. Bush was ready to hand over the White House to Barack Obama in 2009, and when Bush said that he wished Obama success, many people were shocked. After all, the candidate from Bush’s party had lost to Obama. How could he be pleased about that? But that wasn’t the point. What would happen to the country if the Obama presidency turned out to be a disaster? Well, nothing good, of course, and Bush knew that. It was one final example of strong leadership from a president who I believe exhibited quite a bit of that during his eight years. Maybe not at the TR or Ike levels, but we’ll see what the historians are saying in another forty years or so. 


Don’t expect to see something like this here in ’21.


Besides the prospects of getting the COVID vaccine and having a more calm and productive political world, I’m excited about 2021 for other reasons. We should have an NCAA basketball tournament this March, which means my Wisconsin Badgers will get a shot at the national title they should’ve been able to compete for last year. (An ESPN simulation predicted they would’ve won it.) My return to radio broadcasting in ’20 went well, so I have hopes that I’ll be able to do more games at the state hockey and basketball finals this season, and maybe baseball and softball in the spring. And with any luck at all, Major League Baseball will have a normal season and I can join my son Jim at Miller Park (or whatever they’re calling it now) in Milwaukee for one or two Brewers games. 

Today is a big day for us fans of the Netflix series Cobra Kai, with Season 3 coming online. As soon as I finish this, it’s lunchtime in front of the TV for yours truly. I got to meet William Zabka, who plays Johnny Lawrence, at Galaxycon in Minneapolis late in 2019, and I’m excited to follow Johnny as he continues along his tough road to personal redemption and honor. 


Will their students recover from the brawl that ended Season 2? Will Daniel’s obsession with his old rival derail his marriage and business? And will Johnny, the guy everybody’s rooting for, stay on his rocky road to redemption?


In 2020 we weren’t able to reconnect with old friends the way we wanted to. For only the second time in my life, I went through an entire calendar year without a trip to my hometowns of Potosi and Platteville, down in Grant County. I had to content myself with phone conversations with my best friend from high school, Dave Esser, who survived a bout with COVID-19 and resumed working in his thriving trucking business. He says he might be on the verge of selling it and going into retirement, in which case he and I are going to be taking some road trips in his RV. We’ve talked about going as far as the Yukon, which would be the ultimate road trip as far as I’m concerned, but our first one will likely be a lot shorter. I told him that I need to scout the Prairie du Chien area, in Crawford County, just across the Wisconsin River from Grant, because it’s the scene of my next book. The Man In the Arena will be my second stand-alone novel, about a small-town guy who retires from the Air Force and returns to his home area, wondering what’s next in his life. I’ve driven through Prairie many times on my trips home, but now I need to spend a day or two there, to get a better feel for the land and its people. 


With his career in USAF Special Ops suddenly over, what new challenges will confront Col. Scott Armstrong along the Mississippi? We’ll find out in ’22.


On the more immediate writing front, I’m finishing up my latest book. It’s the third entry in the White Vixen espionage series, and this one sends our heroine, USAF special operator Jo Ann Geary, to the top of Africa. Here’s the cover, revealed for the first time:



Expect to see the finished product available on Amazon by mid-April. I’ll keep you posted on it through this blog, and if you’re interested in signing up for my monthly newsletter, click on over to my website: and sign up. 

So here’s hoping you and yours have a very blessed and successful 2021. As we face the year ahead, I’ll leave you with a couple more quotes from TR and Ike. They still have much to say to us in today’s America. 


Nothing in this world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty.


A people that values its privileges above its principles soon loses both.



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