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Drain the swamp 清除弊病源头

中国日报网 2019-09-03 11:49

Reader question:

Please explain “Washington swamp” in this sentence: Donald Trump promised to drain the Washington swamp.

My comments:

Washington here refers to Washington, D.C. (District of Columbia), where the American federal government is seated. There’s also the state of Washington, but that West Coast province has nothing to do with “Washington swamp.”

Not that the state of Washington has no swamps, i.e. wetlands and quagmires, just that the swamp in “Washington swamp” is not to be taken literally.

Washington swamp refers, you see, not to the muddy waters of actual swamps, but to the muddy waters in Washington politics.

In other words, Washington swamp refers to, let’s be totally honest and blunt, corruption in American politics.

Having said that, let me explain further. Physically, of course, to drain an actual swamp is to try to dry it up by digging tunnels and canals and ridding the swamp of all its muddy waters – plus, and hence in good consequence, all the mosquitos that thrive in it.


Yes, believe it or not, one time in the past, Americans believed they had to drain all the swamps in order to effectively fight malaria. If they could drain the swamps, they thought, they’d be able to keep mosquito populations low and under control. Once that were done, people wouldn’t be dying en masse because of malaria, which is a fever caused by, according to dictionary definition, a protozoan parasite that invades the red blood cells. The parasite is transmitted by mosquitos.

Malaria, of course, has caused more human deaths than another other disease in history.

Anyways, if Americans could drain their swamps, they believe they’d be able to kill all mosquitos or at least keep their populations under safe levels. By analogy, if they could drain Washington of its political swamps, why, Americans believe they could rid their politics of its many ills, partisanship, revolving door, red tape, cronyism and corruption in general.

Partisanship, revolving door, red tape?

Never mind those for now. Never mind, either, that Donald Trump promised to drain the Washington swamp.

In fact, I don’t even want to comment on Trump’s promise, I mean on whether he lied when he made that promise (as he has lied practically every day and on every subject matter).

I will just say that, I really feel, mosquitos will live forever.

Unlike Trump.

Kind of. Relatively speaking. For richer or poorer. For better or worse.

At any rate, right now, let’s be satisfied that we’ve learned another great American idiom, and here are media examples of “drain the swamp”:

1. On October 17th, during a speech on ethics reform, Donald Trump announced, “It is time to drain the swamp in Washington, D.C.” A day later, he repeated the phrase in a tweet, adding the hashtag #draintheswamp for good measure. It was late in the campaign for a new slogan, but soon audiences were chanting it.

Trump’s use of the phrase was not the first. Ronald Reagan was fond of it back in the nineteen-eighties, and decades earlier, at the opposite end of the political spectrum, socialists had also sought to “drain the swamp”—of capitalism. Trump himself was wary of the locution at first. At a rally in Des Moines, he told the story:

Funny how that term caught on, isn’t it? . . . I tell everyone, I hated it. Somebody said “Drain the swamp,” and I said, “Oh, that is so hokey. That is so terrible.” . . . I said, all right, I’ll try it. . . . So, like a month ago, I said, “Drain the swamp,” and the place went crazy. And I said, “Whoa, what’s this?” Then I said it again. And then I start saying it like I meant it, right? And then I said it—I started loving it, and the place loved it. Drain the swamp. It’s true. It’s true. Drain the swamp.

There are moments in a hard-fought campaign when a catchy cluster of words can suddenly bubble up from the depths, a shiny new lily pad. “Drain the swamp” worked on many levels—it was active, it was funny, and it sounded like something a man in the real-estate business would actually say. It offered no details—another plus—and held a folksy charm.

It was also historically accurate. Indeed, the candidate had landed on a point the Founders had gone to some trouble to conceal—that the foundation upon which they built their capital included a great deal of water, sand, and mud.

The swamp in question has never been easy to drain, or, for that matter, even to locate. From its founding, on not very solid ground, Washington, D.C. has been terraqueous; a city of both land and water, where maps chart realty and reality interchangeably.

- Draining the Swamp, NewYorker.com, January 19, 2017.

2. House Democrats are promising to start 2019 with a familiar pledge: They want to drain the swamp.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., who plans to run for speaker, announced Tuesday that Democrats plan to use their majority in the House to act as a check on President Trump and on corruption in Washington.

We will drain the swamp of dark-interest money,” Pelosi said to cheers from Democrats and supporters at an election night party near the Capitol on Tuesday. “The Democratic Congress will be led with transparency and openness so the public can see what's happening and how it affects them.”

Pelosi said a vote on campaign finance reform legislation is at the top of the agenda.

While House Democrats could pass legislation to curb outside spending in campaigns and force disclosure of big donors’ contributions, any bill on this issue is not expected to succeed in the GOP-controlled Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is a defender of the current system and will be focused on continuing to confirm Trump’s judicial nominees.

Pelosi and other top House Democratic leaders say their other top responsibility is to oversee how Trump administration officials have managed federal agencies and changed government regulations. They also will launch a batch of investigations into Trump, his family and his business dealings.

Democratic committee chairs will have the power to call top Trump administration officials to appear at hearings to answer questions about their actions. They also can create special select committees to gather fresh facts on broader issues such as Russian interference in U.S. elections and how climate change policy has shifted since Trump took office.

- House Democrats Vow To ‘Drain The Swamp’ And Bring ‘Accountability’, NPR.org, November 7, 2018.

3. One of Trump’s favorite slogans during the 2016 election was a promise to “drain the swamp” in Washington, D.C. For most people, that sounded like a commitment to clean up the corruption of interest groups who bought access with money. But that actually seemed suspicious coming from the guy who, up until then, was best-known for being the ultimate con man.

Upon entering the White House, Trump proceeded to feed that swamp by both using his office to enrich himself and appointing the most ethically challenged cabinet in this country’s history. So it was easy to simply dismiss the “drain the swamp” rhetoric as yet another lie.

But as Catherine Rampell points out, we missed the boat on what Trump meant when he made that promise. What he was really talking about was that he would drain the swamp of expertise.

At last, the mystery of this apparent broken swamp-drainage promise has been solved. Turn outs what Trump and his cronies meant by “the swamp” wasn’t regulatory parasites or crooked officials, but experts.

When the Forgotten Man expressed rage at “swamp creatures,” he probably wasn’t envisioning civil servants with subject-matter expertise — career diplomats who speak Persian, say, or scientists who evaluate water quality. And yet the Trump administration has celebrated brain drains at the State Department, the Environmental Protection Agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, and other agencies and advisory councils.

What prompted Rampell to reach that conclusion was the decision by the Department of Agriculture to move the Economic Research Service (ERS) and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture from D.C. to Kansas City. Take a look at how Mick Mulvaney, the president’s chief of staff, talked about the fact that two thirds of the employees involved have refused reassignment and will lose their jobs.

- The ‘Swamp’ Trump Is Draining: Expertise, WashingtonMonthly, August 9, 2019.


About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at chinadaily.com.cn. He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at: zhangxin@chinadaily.com.cn, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.

(作者:张欣 编辑:丹妮)


Rubbing elbows? 接触


Soft sell? 软式推销


Over the rainbow 彩虹之上


Pushing buttons 情绪按钮


Swear by? 以某物起誓


Through line? 主线