There have been many comments recently about Donald Trump’s promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington as part of his transition to our nation’s highest office. It is obvious that not everyone in the discussion agrees on what “drain the swamp” means. Some apparently feel that swampiness is defined by the personal power in one’s checkbook. Trump has put forward several cabinet appointees who are billionaires and all of his appointees are certainly people who cut a wide swath of personal influence.
I am just deplorable enough to think that I understand what the Donald means by “draining the swamp”, and so will go to bat for him on that point. Let me point out first that there is more than one swamp on this planet that needs to be drained. But it is not really fair to start the discussion by reading into Trump’s comments our own individual interpretation of which swamp needs to be drained first. Let’s talk about Trump’s swamp, then we can have productive discussion on whether the swamp he was intending to drain is the right one for the American people and the one most in his purview as commander-in-chief to go after.
It is clear both in terms of the narrative arc of Trump’s campaign and in the actual appointments that he has now put forward that the “draining the swamp” rhetoric was squarely aimed at career politicians, actual political decision-makers. If we are willing to identify those alligators as at least some of the critters in the particular swamp we are now attempting to drain, then we would likely have to say that at least through the appointee process, things are going pretty well. Any quick analysis of Trump’s appointee list make it clear that those with a life history of political decision-making are a vanishing species, at least so far.
Lobbyists were another category of swamp creature that Trump also has clearly identified as enemies to the health of American politics, and who of us would disagree? Is he draining the swamp of lobbyists? Trump has had to settle for mostly symbolic actions signaling an intention to change the lobbyist dynamic and degree of influence: for example,purging lobbyists from the transition team.
There is no question that a swamp-draining is underway. It is the swamp that Donald Trump claimed he would do something about.
This swamp-cleaning makes sense to a large degree to the electorate. The American people en masse had no trouble discerning Trump’s intention and agreed with this objective. The American people are the ones who have lived through the last several years of stalemate in our legislative branch. They are the ones who witnessed a political insider, Hillary Clinton, be defaulted as the Democratic Party candidate and then marched forward, seemingly no questions asked, to a disastrous defeat through the Electoral College. They are the ones who had to view the “dirty laundry” almost every morning of the Democratic Party and Clinton campaign as we daily had to slog through endless Wikileaks email dumps. They are the ones who had to hold the noses for an eternity waiting until the Clinton family was finally willing to at least acknowledge that the use the Clinton Foundation as a money-generator to seed Clinton retirements might be at least an ethical gray area.
At the same moment Trump is going about his own mop-up effort, the presence of even worse and more noxious cesspools of societal ill sit in the background and threaten all of us.
The growing problem of the accumulation and concentration of economic power into fewer and fewer hands does not get resolved by this current swamp clearing. The hard work that is ahead of us a society to begin to come to terms with the cancerous concentration of economic power is something that will not be defeated on this particular battlefield. We will need to fight that one in a sustained ground war of political dialogue where all of the main stakeholders see we all face a common enemy. Our own evolving history has placed this particular issue as squarely on our own front doorstep as the milkman used to deliver the daily milk jug. Thankfully, we also have in our own history at least precendents for dealing with such problems. We have already slayed the beast of uncontested power in the form of the trust-busting that went on in the last century.
Swamps there be aplenty.