I remember the significant outcry in 2016 when Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the National Anthem, protesting racial injustice. The nerve of an athlete using his knee to desecrate our beloved anthem, many said. Last year, a video showed a police officer planting his knee on George Floyd's neck, suffocating him to death. The victim was a troublemaker, said many of the same people irate with Kaepernick. This year, one of the rioters storming the Capitol, bending over if not quite kneeling, used an American flag pole to beat a police officer nearly to death. The rioter was protesting the results of an election. The response I heard from a vast number of “patriots" was an eerie, haunting silence.
With a new White House beset by critical challenges, for now my attention is more riveted on the January 6, 2021 Capitol attack and desecration. With more FBI details emerging about the planning and execution of the insurrection, how deep the roots might reach, and how audacious the Trumpian strategy to possibly impose martial law, the words “shocking,” “unprecedented,” and “complicity” aren’t enough.
The realization that things could have been so much worse doesn’t mean that next time they won’t be worse. I’m not thinking of another attack on the Capitol. For now I’m hopeful of a period of positivity and peace. But there are far more things that can go wrong that we don’t know about, than things we do know. History has never moved so fast, attention spans been so short, memories so inundated and selective. Instead of divining the next decade by what you might feel and want, or what you think is just and right, study history. Read about the cycles of governments, dynasties, and political parties. Nothing lasts forever, but your dreams will last longer if you don’t let your guard down. When the future arrives, you want to be able to recognize it.
The earlier book, The Beginners Guide to Winning an Election, about a no-holds-barred high school political campaign, began to strike me as having more plot and characterization potential than I could have foreseen three years ago. The ability of a cunning virus to devastate cities and their economies is matched by its power to create terror, depression, and anxiety about the unknown. Meanwhile, America’s age-old struggles over racial justice, income equality, women’s rights, and affordable education, to name a few, rage on. The will to find legislative compromises has given way to stalemates, distrust, and deviousness. In addition, politics has taken on the aura and importance of religion.
My new novel, Cliffhanger, probes deeper into two, starkly different candidates in an Indiana high school election. The year is 2030. The idealism and candor of novice politician Brit is no match for her experienced, charismatic opponent, Matthew, or his shoot-from-the-hip campaign manager, Nathan.
There are good reasons never to bet against Matthew in any election, though few in the thousand-strong student body are aware of his and Nathan’s secrets for winning.
A revered and eccentric history teacher at the school has another take on the election. Without saying it out loud, for fear of ridicule, Mr. Wilson believes one of the two candidates could be pivotal in helping save civilization in the 21st Century. A 16th-century mystic and prophet, Nostradamus, predicted that in the year 2048 an elected government would deliberately create enough paranoia and anxiety to chip away at everyone’s sanity.
Years after their high school graduation, Matthew and Brit separately come to the same conclusion. As they watch their school and home town collapse in unexpected ways, they form a team for protection. A romance blossoms, only to erode from their clashing wills, but it revives when the two have to face a common enemy: An annoying kid from high school has become a leader of a new political order with chilling intentions.
In the sequel, Apostles In Black (to be published fall 2021), lessons first learned in high school politics become a map to Mathew’s and Brit’s survival.
Michael R. French
Michael French is a graduate of Stanford University and Northwestern University. He is a businessman and author who divides his time between Santa Barbara, California, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.