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Slaying Paper Dragons: America in the Midterms

Updated: Nov 10, 2018

I left the voting station at around 9:30 at night and headed home to the vodka martini I had prepared during one of my lunch breaks. Three parts vodka, one part vermouth with a slice of lemon peel applied to the rim of the glass to pacify the inevitable sting of unnecessarily strong refreshment. The lemon peel was meant to satiate my tongue, however the extra vodka was to serve as my emergency parachute. I knew the races would be close and they were already contentious so I stored it in the freezer as a late night remedy for the possible election results. I’m not sure it was well deserved but it was most definitely needed. It had been a long day. According to my colleagues the 2018 midterms was one of the busiest in recent memory. Some of them who had worked every election for over a decade and they had never seen a turn out like this for a mid-term election. One polling machine jammed seven times. Another jammed three. Ballots were stacked so high they had to be stuffed further into the ballot box to hold more. As poll coordinator I was tasked with unjamming them, running back and forth across between machines in this elementary school gym trying to ensure the voting continued uninterrupted by mechanical error. I knew what was at risk this election cycle and so I did everything I thought I could to prepare for it. I canvassed for a Democrat in Queens, who I may not have otherwise supported in normal circumstances, and I argued with just about anyone who showed even the slightest inkling of support for our President turned Caligula. And of course, I voted. So when I finally got home and opened my freezer, I poured out my libation and toasted to the American Republic, hoping it would still be there in the morning. Then I waited.

I hate to say I was disappointed but I am trying to be realistic in a world that is falling faster and faster into unreality. The most anticipated victors, such as Democratic hopeful Beto O’Rourke in Texas who was positioned to replace the useless Ted Cruz, turned out to be flops. In some cases they were major disappointments, it doesn’t matter how you spin them. However the night was not without its victories. The Democratic Party now has control of half of one branch of government, taking the majority in the House of Representatives. But the Democrats also made major strides at the state level. They took seven state legislatures as well as flipping many state Houses and Senates as well as seven governorships. The Democrats now control all three statehouse branches in thirteen states including Washington D.C. There were also more historic victories. There are now more women in Congress than there ever has been in the history of the United States, with over a hundred women being declared winners this Tuesday. Making up 50.8% of the population, it seems they are finally getting the representation they deserve. However that was not the only first. New Mexico elected its the first Native American congresswoman and first Latina governor, Minnesota and Michigan elected the first Muslim Congresswomen, Colorado has elected the first openly gay Jewish governor, New York elected the youngest woman congresswoman in US history, Connecticut and Massachusetts elected their first black female congresswoman, Tennessee has its first black Senator, North Dakota has its first black Governor, as does Maine. Though the most important result of this mid-term is the Democratic Party can now serve as a tangible check on the President of the United States both at the state and national level. This is not to say all of the previously mentioned progress regarding women and tolerance are trivial but this social progress and discussion will become irrelevant if we do not have a democracy to shelter them. In that respect the American political system has won a small victory.

Despite all of this, the celebration by many on the left is premature and overrated. This fight is far from over. Donald Trump is still in the White House dangling, and occasionally dropping, his sword of Damocles over innocent heads and cherished institutions. The Republican Party, which bends to a pathetic level towards the President, still holds a sizable level of power with no signs going anywhere anytime soon. A considerable part of the country still supports the President and his party. Not only that but many in the media have finally come to the realization that Republicans are not interested in speaking to pollsters or are at the very least lying to them, and the numbers being reported cannot be trusted to vote out Trump’s enablers.

As I left the polling station on Tuesday, stepping into puddles with rain splashing on my face, looking forward to my vodka martini, thinking about all that bluster of a “Blue Wave” and how far from certain that actually was, an old essay by George Orwell came to mind. It was written in August of 1941 just a few months before the United States entered the Second World War. “Creatures out of the Dark Ages have come marching into the present,” he wrote. “And if they are ghosts they are at any rate ghosts which need strong magic to lay them.” The essay was titled Wells, Hitler and the World State. It served as a criticism of author H.G. Wells and his mistaken assumption that the invasion of the Soviet Union by Nazi Germany marked the beginning of the end for Hitler. Little did he know the conflict would continue for four more arduous years. “Hitler is all the warlords and witch doctors rolled into one,” writes Orwell. “Therefore, argues Wells, he is an absurdity, a ghost from the past, a creature doomed to disappear almost immediately…All sensible men for decades have been substantially in agreement with what Mr. Wells says, but sensible men have no power and, in too many cases, no disposition to sacrifice themselves.” Orwell grounded my optimism. He reminded me that the small victory won this week was a skirmish. It tells the world that we are still in the game and the country has a fighting chance. “Wells is too sane to understand the modern world,” said Orwell. “Since 1920 he has squandered his talents slaying paper dragons.” It has become increasing clear since 2015 that Donald Trump could never seriously be compared to Adolf Hitler. Despite all his atrocities, obvious derangement and fascist ideals Hitler was able to maintain some level of intelligence, even if he lacked sanity. However here I think the comparison is fair. We as a country are not taking the threat to our democracy seriously enough. Over the past two years liberals have been acting as H.G. Wells was back in 1941. We slay paper dragons, exaggerate the small victories and all the while miss the big picture, assuming this anachronistic swamp monster will inevitably dry out because that is what bad guys do, they lose. This election proved how difficult it will be over the coming years to remove Trump’s stench from our country’s politics and culture. Take it from Orwell, where the comparisons are almost eerily similar:

Hitler is a criminal lunatic, and Hitler has an army of millions of men, aeroplanes in thousands, tanks in tens of thousands. For his sake a great nation has been willing to overwork itself for six years and then to fight for two years more, wheras for common sense…hardly a human is willing to shed a pint of blood. Before you can even talk of world reconstruction, or even of peace, you have got to eliminate Hitler.

I do not mean this as a call to arms against the President of the United States. However I do believe the beginning of the ends starts with voting him out of office and removing him from any position of authority where he can protect himself at the expense of the entire country. That is when we can begin to heal, rebuild, have a strong vodka martini and think about what we just did to ourselves.


Wells, Hitler and the World State. Horizon, August 1941. All Art is Propaganda by George Orwell, complied by George Packer. First Mariner Books, New York. 2009

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