Tomorrow, at around noon, Donald Trump will become the President of the United States.
The bombastic billionaire, whose improbable promotion to power shattered every political norm from fundraising to gaffe-making, will assume the most important political office on earth. While millions of Americans will watch with delight as Mr. Trump swears to protect the U.S. Constitution to the best of his ability (“which is wonderful ability, tremendous ability, truly the best ability”), millions of others will watch in horror.
Perhaps the only theme of his uniquely divisive campaign to have brought these two groups together was his pledge to “drain the swamp.”
From opposite poles and across the political spectrum, the concept of eradicating Washington’s pay-to-play culture drew delight; from Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to Paul Ryan and Jeff Sessions, Mr. Trump’s vow to curb corrosive corporate cronyism and simplify endless government bureaucracy was echoed around the political world.
The message was clear: as the ultimate outsider, Mr. Trump should break the Washington machine — a machine assembled of high-rolling lobbyists, tenured, lifelong Congressmen and unnecessary, un-fireable bureaucrats. For those of us who think this machine needs breaking, even those of us who did not support Mr. Trump, there is some hope that it will happen sooner rather than later.
To effectively strip apart the Washington machine, Mr. Trump has to remove several faulty cogs: downsize and consolidate federal agencies, cut bureaucratic jobs and put an end to endless government growth.
To borrow his words, he has to drain the swamp.
But the mantra, chanted by his frenzied supporters like a blistering battle cry, has become tired.
For one, where do you begin to drain the swamp? Mr. Trump has barred members of his own administration from being able to lobby for five years, but it’s a soft start.
The real problem is that everyone has a different interpretation of what “drain the swamp” really means; what exactly is the Washington machine that he has pledged to break?
Some, located mostly on the right, think that draining the swamp means firing career politicians and permanent bureaucrats. Others, mostly located on the left, think that it’s about ending Wall Street’s influence in Washington and “crony capitalism.”
Even Mr. Trump himself doesn’t seem to know what it means.
At one of his “Thank You Tour” rallies, where he stood before adoring crowds and absorbed all of their thanks, he lamented how “it’s funny how that term caught on. I hated it.” He noted that once people started cheering for it, he “started saying it like [he] meant it.”
That admission, however typically “Trump” in its candor, startled many of those who had seen it as a vital tenet of his campaign.
After all, Mr. Trump’s unique selling point was his capacity to take a sledgehammer to Washington, and the dark Wall Street-to-Washington corridor he so often railed against on the campaign trail.
But then he appointed three Goldman Sachs alumni to his administration, and pandemonium ensued.
As liberals squirm over his Wall Street appointments, conservatives still wait to see if Mr. Trump will at least disassemble the bloated bureaucracy that has broken the federal government.
Many Republican presidential candidates have, at one point or another, suggested shuttering agencies, cutting the number of bureaucratic jobs and curbing the growth of government — and none have succeeded. Even Ronald Reagan, lord and savior to many on the right, failed to reign in the uncontrollable growth of the federal government.
And what if Mr. Trump succeeded? What if he did actually drain the swamp?
The effects would be felt across the nation. Government efficiency would certainly improve; cronyism and the federal bureaucratic nightmare would be over.
But it’s unlikely.
Mr. Trump’s political views are not in any way libertarian-inclined; he’s not trying to make the government smaller. That was never his stated goal.
But that shouldn’t stop those of us who believe that the government needs slimming from holding out hope. Mr. Trump, by simply being Donald Trump and having no inclination toward any way of running a government, might break the Washington machine by accident.
We should all be hoping he does.
REID JACKSON is a College junior from New York, N.Y., and London, U.K., studying political science. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Common Sense” usually appears every other Thursday.
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