Social Commentary

Money Changers in the Swamp!

March 5, 2017

When Mr. Trump introduced the campaign slogan, “Drain the Swamp!” last fall, he connected with a truth that resonated deep and broad within the American psyche.  Even I, progressive, left-leaning, self-proclaimed benevolent anarchist that I am, experienced a tinge of jealousy that the Right gets all the good slogans.  (Fortunately, the left still has all the good rock and roll which is, on balance, a pretty good deal for us.) So today, I thought it might be a good idea to examine the idea of “draining the swamp.”  Who knows, there might be more substance to the idea than just a catchy campaign slogan.

In an Oct. 17, 2016 press release Trump pledged to “drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.,” after which he tweeted: “I will make Our Government Honest Again – believe me. But first, I’m going to have to #DrainTheSwamp.”

The concept for draining the swamp predates the campaign slogan by quite a bit.  No, Jesus didn’t cry out “Drain the Swamp!” as he overturned the money changers’ tables in the Temple, but he had a similar idea going. In his day, there were merchants doing business in the outer courts of the Temple, making money off pilgrims by selling them doves, sheep, and other livestock for sacrifice. They also had a pretty good business exchanging foreign currency, right there in the Temple. No doubt, the Temple officials got a sweet piece of the action, too.  What Jesus did say while overturning the tables of the money changers was, “My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.” Mt. 21:13

Hang in there with me, because the last thing I would want you to conclude is that I think #45 is the return of the Messiah.

The actual phrase “drain the swamp” seems to originate from 1903, when it was used by Democrat Winfield E. Gaylord as a political metaphor.  The public was already familiar with the literal concept of draining the swamp from the Panama Canal building project that began that same year. Ronald Reagan again used the metaphor in the 1980’s to target wasteful bureaucratic spending, possibly serving as Trump’s model.

Workers on the Panama Canal. Photo credit ThingLink.

The idea of “Draining the swamp” begs the question, “Drain the swamp of what?” In a literal swamp, such as encountered in the course of building the Panama Canal, it would be water, the draining of which would reduce mosquito habitat in an effort to control the outbreak of malaria. Taking this wisdom into our swampy political metaphor, the only answer can be, “money.”  You can remove all the ‘skeeters and the ‘gators from a swamp, but they will just come back again unless you dry out their murky habitat.  Likewise, if you want to make our government honest again, it is the corporate money that must be drained out of Washington.

Yes, corporate money in government is the habitat of the corrupt.  Candidate Trump promised to “Drain the swamp.”  How’s #45 doing on that?  Appointing the wealthiest, most corporatized, cabinet in American history, that’s not draining the swamp.  Hiding his tax returns and business affiliations, as well as failing to divest himself of his business interests, that’s not draining the swamp.  Even if he were to send some political scoundrels packing, and replace them with honest American citizens, corporate money would soon find a way to corrupt many of them as well, so that’s not draining the swamp. Sorry people, I have seen no evidence that #45 has any intention whatsoever of truly draining the swamp.

Draining the swamp starts with campaign finance reform; limiting, or eliminating, the role of corporate and PAC money in campaign advertising and support; demanding congressional lobbying reform; and overturning the Supreme Court travesty called Citizens United, which legitimizes corporate money in politics as “free speech.”  And yes, it must include legislation that all candidates for elected national office reveal their taxes and divest themselves of any potential business-related conflicts of interest.  I realize that calling for these kinds of reforms isn’t popular in the offices of the mainstream politicians — liberals and conservatives alike.  I do believe, however, that these reforms may be a starting point for actively engaged American citizens, from both left and right, to synthesize a new coalition that is dedicated to the progressive reform of our government.

Yes, I’m a dreamer, a snowflake sullied by the corporate coal-rollers.  I will own it, and will go even further to say that our American government is supposed to be a Temple of Democracy.  Time to come together on this sacred, common ground, drain the money from the swamp, and send the money changers packing.

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