Asheville Daily Planet, October 26, 2020

My favorite comic strip in the early 1950s was Pogo Possum, who lived with other magical characters in the Okefenokee Swamp.  I can still recite some of the dialogues.

My mother grew up just north of the Okefenokee.

So I have some background on swamps – the real, literal kind, anyway.  When the word is used as a metaphor, then “swamp” gets murky.

Ronald Reagan had a great one-liner: “Sometimes, when you are up to your elbows in alligators, it is hard to remember your original objective was to drain the swamp.”

It’s a good guess that his swamp was bloated government bureaucracy.  Washington alligators defend their homeland.

Ross Perot came along in 1992, railing against “pointy-headed bureaucrats” in Washington and promising to “throw their briefcases in the Potomac River.”  And I don’t doubt he would have shuffled the D.C. deck.  I did a fair bit of business with his buttoned-down, heel-clicking company in the 1980s. 

Donald Trump led his audiences in chants of “Drain the Swamp” in 2016, but I don’t think he thought much about the meaning.  I read that a campaign person suggested it to him.

And you’ve got to wonder what the crowds themselves thought as they chanted.  I think most outside observers heard “swamp” as equal to “corruption.”  He was promising war on lobbying and greed.  But many people supported Trump in 2016 hoping that a businessman would bring discipline to government.  Maybe they heard an echo of Reagan.

But in office, Trump took on neither graft nor runaway bureaucracy.  Size of government, measured by number of employees and by money spent, grew through 2019, before the pandemic. 

And corruption?  We all smelled the rot of Trump’s Cabinet officials as they left.  But they didn’t take the smell of corruption with them.  The stench still hung over the Oval Office.  Forbes Magazine senior editor Dan Alexander wrote a multi-part series this past August and September on the vast flow of donor cash from Trump’s reelection campaign to The Trump Organization – only one of the Trump family’s many, many hustles.    

The swamp stinks on.

But it’s a Trump Swamp now.  The old corruption and swollen bureaucracies are there, yes.  But now the U.S. government is his personal property, with all its resources and personnel, to be used for his own benefit.  Atlantic Magazine’s George Packer wrote how Trump has taken advantage of “the flaw in the brilliant design of the Framers” – that the government is composed of human beings, and human beings can be corrupted, cowed and crushed.

If he is reelected, centuries of American uniqueness will be melted into Trump’s image.

Joe Biden, on the other hand, if elected, will work to rebuild what has been cast down.  Congress will be restored as coequal branch of government.  Interference in matters of Justice will stop.  There will be leadership from the top on COVID-19.  International friends will be embraced and enemies marked.  America will lead in the world.  And oh yes, the president will act presidential.   

If Biden wins, he will have no trouble recruiting a towering Cabinet.  America’s best will leap to his cause, including many
Republicans.  I think of Henry Knox, FDR’s wartime Navy Secretary, who had been GOP nominee for vice-president in 1936.  He explained joining FDR this way: “I am an American first, and a Republican afterward!”  Biden will have close, wise advisers.  That’s what all of us would do in his place, I think.

My father was a civil engineer on the construction of Tampa’s Davis Island in the 1920s.  The project started with three swampy “keys” that were filled in – filled in, not drained.  I like “Fill in the Swamp” as a slogan, better than “Drain the Swamp.”  It’s a positive metaphor.  It says replace muck with merit.  Yes, we can replace!

Including, especially, this crowd:

(hand-made sign) Senators should have to wear uniforms like Nascar drivers so we can tell who their corporate sponsors are