Sunday, December 02, 2018


Ross Douthat writes:
With Trump there is no pretense of respectability or rectitude. There is only the open, shrugging grift.

This shrug makes it hard for his critics to fathom how the Trump campaign ever persuaded anyone that its candidate would actually “drain the swamp.” Some of the liberal fixation with fake news reflects an attempt to explain Trump’s anti-corruption pitch as just a fraud that voters swallowed (or were force-fed by the Russians). And indeed, a portion of Trump’s supporters choose to live the fantasy worlds of Pizzagate and QAnon, where the most impeachable of presidents is as a white knight taking on a fictive ring of pedophiles.

But the more common reason a certain kind of Trump supporter accepted his anti-corruption pitch was less conspiratorial and more cynical. He’s bad but they’re all like that, the whole elite class is rotten, so why not send a grifter to catch a bunch of grifters?
I don't buy this.

Obviously, in 2016 the corrupt nature of Donald Trump's business career was covered far less zealously than Hillary Clinton and her emails. But quite a few potentially damaging stories were published throughout the campaign. The problem was that none of it could dislodge the image of Trump that had been pounded into America's consciousness by a decade and a half of The Apprentice on TV: Trump as not just a businessman but the wisest of all businessmen, the consummate judge of what's right and wrong in business. The public didn't believe that it takes a thief to catch a thief -- the public (or at least the 46% that voted for Trump) believed that it takes the world's greatest businessman to catch all the thieves.

Also, recall that Trump didn't start talking about "draining the swamp" until the last month of the campaign -- the phrase wasn't as central to his message as immigrant-bashing or Hillary Clinton-bashing.

When Trump talked about "the swamp" in 2016, it's true that he was referring to the ethics of Washington. His plan included items such as a limit on lobbying by former government officials. But once he was in office -- as I've said many times here -- what he and his followers meant by "the swamp" changed considerably.

The following is part of a post I wrote in April, after a Trump interview on Fox & Friends.
Here's what Trump said this morning about his appointment of Dr. Ronny Jackson to be the head of the Veterans Administration, just as it was being revealed that Jackson had withdrawn from consideration:
TRUMP: You know, these are all false accusations that were made. These are false and they're trying to destroy a man. By the way, I did say welcome to Washington. Welcome to the swamp. Welcome to the world of politics.
To Trump, that's the swamp -- not people who are corrupt but, rather, people who say bad things about one of his appointees. The swamp is everyone who's not loyal to Trump.

He uses the word later in the interview, at a moment when he's asked to give himself a grade as president, though he's distracted by his own anger at the Russia investigation:
TRUMP: Look, I'm fighting a battle against a horrible group of deep-seated people — drained the swamp — that are coming up with all sorts of phony charges against me, and they're not bringing up real charges against the other side. So we have a phony deal going on and it's a cloud over my head. And I've been able to do — to really escape that cloud because the message now everyone knows — it's a fix, okay. It's a witch hunt, and they know that, and I've been able to message it. I would give myself an A+.
Again, the swamp isn't corrupt people -- it's "deep-seated people." It's anybody who was in government before Trump was and who is loyal to anything -- governing norms, the rule of law -- other than Trump himself.
That's what Trump fans now mean when they talk about "the swamp" -- it's the non-conservative media plus all Democrats, as well as any Republicans (Robert Mueller most of all) who do anything Trump doesn't like. "The swamp" isn't economic or political corruption -- it's all anti-Trump activity.

Douthat really should know this.

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