Circle of Strife
The day before the presidential election in 2016, I was feeling optimistic about our country. We had elected a Black president, and now we were going to elect a woman for the first time. Despite the world dying from climate change and gun violence spilling rivers of blood all over the US, it felt, for a moment, that we were becoming the country we had always aspired to be.
When it was clear on election night that seventy million people supported the racist, misogynist clown with the fake tan and spray-on hair, I was pistol-whipped by my own naïveté. Watching the president-elect interact with the real adults of the Obama administration in the days before he took office, I knew the Cheetoh-in-chief would never relinquish power. Peacefully handing over the levers of government would require a level of humility and wisdom this silly old man could never possess.
The travesty and corruption of the next four years were operatic in scope and cartoonish in execution. The Supreme Court’s recent rulings, days apart, removing restrictions on concealed handgun carry and allowing states to create an institutional theocracy over women should have everyone waking up to the fact that the cold war between left and right is heating up in dangerous ways.
The bad guys in my Knight Nurses of the Order of St. John series follow this mold. I throw the radical right a bone by imagining they are being manipulated by an evil corporation from another dimension. I am not surprised that people from the neo-fascist side of the political spectrum have taken offense, but what’s really interesting is how and why they take offense. These critics hide their disdain for my portrayal of their politics in the language of the modern book review.
Racists have taken me to task for my “divisive” story and have bashed my work as propaganda. One young reviewer said I “got lost in [my] message.” Readers who disagree with my politics (or are so oblivious about their privilege that they can dismiss it as a “message”) are advocating for more sympathetic Nazis, white nationalists, fundamentalist pro-lifers, and homophobes, more nuanced cartoons. To quote one reviewer, institutional racism doesn’t “exactly make [a] good protagonist.” (Yes, you can assume this reviewer’s demographics and be correct.)
Fifty years from now, it might be interesting to look back at this moment and marvel that Richard Spencer loved cats, or Alex Jones raised orchids, much like we now enjoy stories about Nazis who had a redeeming quality or two.
But during the war was not the time for this level of complexity. Capra’s Why We Fight films were not supposed to be even-handed. The first film quotes General George Marshall: “compromise is not possible.” We can only be satisfied with the “utter defeat” of the German and Japanese war machines. Marshall characterized the allies as “the democracies.” To believe that the Nazis in America today are any less of a threat to democracy is to be as woefully naïve as I was before the 2016 election.
The Knight Nurses of the Order of St. John have been around for hundreds of years and have seen this cycle repeated over and over. In fact, they have been through it so many times that they are incapable of hoping the cycle will ever break. The K-Nurses know that there might be periods of enlightenment and equity, but societies will always fall to ignorance and xenophobia. If the present day is any indication, the moral arc of the universe may bend toward justice, but it invariably circles back around to hatred and oppression.