Why Trump Cannot “Drain the Swamp”
President Trump labeled Washington, D.C. “a swamp” when he was running for president and he promised “to drain” it if elected. So far, “the Donald” has been anything but successful in “draining the swamp.” And there is a simple reason why: Because D.C. is not a swamp. It is a political artifact; so the only way to change it is to adopt a different kind of politics.
“A political artifact, you say. What does that mean?”
Well, as some of the Anti-Federalists foresaw, the ten mile square governmental district that was to be established after the proposed constitution was ratified reflected a kind of politics that would be inconsistent with a republican scheme of government. For the Anti-Federalists, a genuinely republican scheme of government was one that was a reflection of the people it governed, not a refinement as the Federalist wanted. For the Anti-Federalists, to be a republic meant to be representative and to be representative meant to be reflective; that is, a republican government should look like, even mirror the people.
For the Anti-Federalists, the proposed constitution did not look to, was not calculated to create a government reflective of the people. It was meant to be a refinement of the people, meaning that there would be distance, both demographic and geographic, between the new government and the people. And the ten mile square district to be created would help maintain these distances. That district would be something like a refuge, a place set apart from the people and, hence, from the popular will. Life in that district would not resemble life outside it, which is recognized today when people speak about life “inside the beltway” and life outside it. It is also reflected by the fact that most Americans go to Washington as tourists, much as they go to foreign countries.
Insofar as this is correct, then contrary to what Trump – and many others – think, “the swamp” that is D.C. can only be changed by adopting a more republican scheme of government or kind of politics. That is, we need to recover the understanding of a “republican government” as a government that reflects the people and their will, that seeks to follow, not refine, the popular will. How to do this? Besides jettisoning the thought that we the people need “visionary leaders,” term limits would help as would having presidents vacate the White House, thereby separating the president’s residence from his office, or his persona from his official status, like other modern executives. Trashing “Hail to the Chief” would also help.
As has been argued here frequently, our problems, our issues, our defects are political problems, political issues, and political defects. They cannot be adequately dealt with except by changing our politics. Otherwise, as in attempts to “drain the swamp” that is said to be D.C., our politics will be “Promethean;” that is futile.