“Drain the swamp!” Wow, what an effective political slogan it was in 2016. It encapsulated public frustration with the swampy mess of lobbyists, money-grabbing congressmen and regulation-making bureaucrats in Washington. Trump was just the guy who would rip apart those lowlife hucksters like Mr. Clean.
As an image, swamps represent corruption and evil that must be cleansed. Trump described the quagmire of Washington in terms of the power of money to buy influence. Of course, such a rich man would not be chained to Wall Street and the banks that had denied him loans. Essentially, Trump claimed to be a reformer immune to murky swamp-borne diseases and able to do what no one else could do to the wealthy.
That’s what voters thought Trump meant when he referred to the swamp. What he really meant, as cabinet appointments and his personal example show, was not at all what he led the public to believe.
Before we compare public expectations to what happened, we need to realize that trades are good things. The popular images, used so effectively by Trump, are not what our children are learning about environmental science. History books once praised the advance of civilization, as the drainage of swamps was an impressive achievement in the expansion of human settlement. But wetlands filter out toxins and support wildlife in ways that are extremely important. The Army Corps. of Engineers is now restoring wetlands, not removing them, in the interest of environmental health.
Let’s move on to Trump’s idea of bad swamps. Before the election, there were reasons for skepticism about his independence from big money, especially when he refused to release his taxes and continued his bid to open a Trump hotel across the street from the White House. Right after the election we began to see that he intended to run the country and his personal business at the same time. He seemed surprised to discover that the president is the only government official who cannot have a conflict of interest. What an announcement from a man who promised reform!
Then came his cabinet appointments. Options were noted for their wealth, Wall Street connections, and lobbying interests. He also brought his family to the White House like never before.
Trump’s 2016 campaign mirrored the themes of Warren Harding in 1920, promising a return to better times. His reputation has also rivaled Harding’s lewd activities, and Mike Pence looks and acts like Calvin Coolidge. He then imitated Harding by appointing a cabinet of very rich people whom he promised to get rid of. It shouldn’t have been a surprise when it soon became clear that they were just as corrupt as Harding’s scandalous election.
The actions showed that the swamp Trump intended to drain was not the one voters thought he was talking about.
What did you attack? First, the intelligence community, all the agencies tasked with upholding national security through reliable information about our adversaries, were dismissed when they exposed Russian meddling in the election, the fruits of which Trump openly embraced and gleefully used. Next, a Justice Department official (not a Trump appointee) warned him that his choice as National Security Advisor was compromised by a foreign adversary. He refused to act until the news was leaked to the press. Realizing that an investigation was underway, he tried to influence the FBI and fired the director when the investigation did not stop. When congressional investigations led to a special prosecutor, Trump launched an all-out attack on intelligence agencies, the FBI, and the Justice Department, in the process undermining a congressional committee as he demanded loyalty to himself above others. everything.
In addition to these actions, he failed to make appointments to important diplomatic roles and pushed Rex Tillerson to clean house at the State Department. Anyone who had been there under Obama and Hillary was tainted and untrustworthy.
The swamp that has been attacked is, in fact, the real Washington swamp, the one that performs the healthy functions that scientists know result from its activity. Below the level of political appointees in each federal agency are career officials who become specialists in their programs, serving whatever party controls Congress and the presidency. Those officials have personal views that cannot influence their actions. When they do sometimes emerge in political roles, such as Director of the FBI, they do the job in a nonpartisan manner.
Career employees ensure competition, continuity and national security for the American public when political winds blow one way then the other. For Trump this was an intolerable quagmire. It had to be politicized. People must be put out of it, no matter how incompetent, to ensure the main criterion of service: loyalty to Trump.
Unfortunately, this is not a new trend in the Republican Party. They politicized the selection of district and Supreme Court judges, claiming to limit judicial overreach but ensuring the dominance of their political and social views. That strategy succeeded in 2000 when a majority of Republicans on the Supreme Court stopped counting the votes and declared the Republican candidate the winner. Then Mitch McConnell and a Republican Senate refused to honor Obama’s appointment of a Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and campaigned in 2016 for a clearly Republican judge to be appointed.
Donald Trump took Republican disrespect for nonpartisan competition to the extreme. Republicans have supported it because that’s where they’ve been heading for a long time.
Now we need candidates, wherever they come from, whose motto is “Bring Back the Swamp.” We need nonpartisan competition in federal agencies, and a less partisan Supreme Court, to filter out the toxins that destabilize our system of checks and balances when politics seeps in to undermine loyalty to the constitution.