Donald Trump and the Big Swamp Monster

5 Oct 2017


The 2016 US Presidential Election campaign may seem like ancient history, but this time last year it was still in full swing. For Donald J. Trump and his faithful band, the campaign was a simpler time. Away from the threats of North Korean missiles and investigations into Russian collusion, Trump filled his campaign with soundbites, attacks on the media and chanting crowds. From "lock her up" to the call and response about who was going to pay for that wall, there was one chant which resonated around the American media like no other - and encapsulated the reason that so many voted for the Republican on polling day.


"Drain the Swamp."


Was this some sort of grand infrastructure plan to attempt to rejuvenate the backwater South? Better, or so Trump claimed, it was a promise to change the way American politics functioned, right from its steaming, crocodile-infested core: Washington, D.C.


However, nine months into his presidency, his White House has been shaken by the resignation of Secretary Tom Price on the grounds of his use of private jets - the same kind of activity that Trump always claimed to be against. Does this resignation represent a reaffirmation of Trump's commitment to the warpath with the Washington establishment? Or are Price's planes just the tip of the swamp-berg in what is essentially a business-as-usual administration, no different to Trump's predecessors?


Price, who until Friday was Donald Trump's Secretary of Health and Human Services, had been wrestling with the meaty task of healthcare reform, something that has already proven a headache for the fledgling administration. However, between submitting to Congress various bills designed to disassemble the Affordable Care Act ('Obamacare'), Price had come under serious fire for his carefree spending of taxpayer money.


US news organisation Politico calculated that Price had managed to rack up over $400,000 worth of travel on White House sanctioned planes across America and abroad.



Why does this matter, and more specifically, why does it matter to The Donald, a man famed for his extravagance (I'm sure none of us can forget that photo of him and former UKIP leader Nigel Farage in front of a gold-plated lift)?


While the US doesn't have the same manifesto structure as the UK during its elections, US presidential candidates still make campaign pledges as they travel across the fifty states making stump speeches to stadiums full of sign-waving, flag-toting, name-chanting supporters. Trump's key pledges were not exactly complex: they were essentially the maxims that his supporters chanted at his rallies.


For many Americans, part of the backlash against Clinton was that she was seen as the "Washington establishment." To get an idea of what this means here in the UK, replace the word “Washington” with “Westminster.” Do you get the picture? While we immediately think of Eton, bow ties and caviar dinners, American minds jump to career politicians, distant bureaucrats and family dynasties.


For many working-class Americans, particularly in the "rust belt" states, Clinton's candidacy was a bridge too far. They felt that decades of GOP and Democrat presidencies had forgotten their communities, pandering instead to Wall Street and big business. On top of this was an image of politicians like Clinton (who had been First Lady, a senator and Secretary of State by the time she was campaigning for the presidency) were seen as being far too willing to spend public money. The charge of listening to lobbyists and foreign interests before the working American was one publicly pinned to politicians like Clinton, something that Trump used to his advantage.


His "outsider" status was something he willingly capitalised upon to reach the White House. He used this angle to criticise bureaucratic overspend by the federal government - a charge now being levelled at Secretary Price.


In his four-page resignation letter to the President, Price shares many pleasantries about service and duty, remarking that "Success on [Obamacare repeal] is more important than any one person." Price's words speak of a man trying to divert attention from his overspend (of which he has committed to returning to the taxpayer significantly less than he used), but he is not the only member of the administration being put under the magnifying glass for his laissez-faire attitude to the public purse.



Donald Trump himself has received a lot of criticism for his travel expenditure, specifically relating to the amount of time he spends away from the White House at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida (the so-called "winter White House") and his New Jersey golf course. The originally named estimates that he has cost the taxpayer in excess of $70 million due to the security and transport costs of his visits to play the sport.


So has Trump failed his campaign pledge? Well given the elusive nature of what Trump meant by "the swamp" it is hard to tell if he has even begun to "drain" it. However, many Americans do feel there is hypocrisy in the 45th president's activity given that he so regularly tweeted his complaints about Barack Obama's appetite for golf. Additionally the team around him is hardly far from the kind of politics that he criticised in Clinton - full of former politicians, careerists and Washington insiders. This is coupled with his failings surrounding the wall, his lack of progress on Obamacare repeal and because of the embarrassment caused to him by Secretary Price. It is hard to see how this won't hurt him come his re-election campaign. He may struggle to continue to paint himself as an outsider, the man in the white hat – especially if the Democrats play their cards right.


However, there are still three years to go until the campaign returns, so it could very well be that Americans could yet see Trump defeating so-called corruption in DC. However, given his record so far, it may well be that Trump is just another swamp monster after all.

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