FeatureLiberal Democracy in Question

What Does “Draining the Swamp” Really Mean?

Alexandr Dugin, Putin's Brain, Weighs In

More than once President-Elect Donald Trump has promised to “drain the swamp.” Can he rid Washington of corruption? Is he already failing at the task?

What Trump actually means by “draining the swamp” is not that clear, considering how poor he is at defining what he takes to be corruption or “special interests.”

He could simply mean corruption in the narrower sense of lobbyists representing special interests detrimental to the public good.

To that end, political analysts of all ideological stripes are weighing in on Trump’s ability to limit terms for members of Congress, apply lobbying restrictions to Congress, and improve campaign-cash transparency. The analysts’ focus is squarely on lobbying, the composition of Trump’s transition team, and Washington’s institutional mechanisms.

Yet this is not how one of the leading Russian political scientists interprets the prospect of “draining the swamp.” Celebrating Trump’s election, Alexandr Dugin — who has been described as “Putin’s brain” — interprets “draining the swamp of corruption” in an expansive sense that means getting rid of the “globalists,” or the enemy forces supporting cosmopolitan ideas and the struggle for human rights.

Dugin has also been called “the bearded chief ideologue of those in favor of an expansionist Russia — and an advisor to Putin’s United Russia Party.” Back in 2008, he prophetically claimed that “our troops will occupy the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the entire country, and perhaps even Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, which is historically part of Russia, anyway”. He lauds what he calls the “Conservative Revolution” or the effort to “raise us to the level of a new historical, political, civilizational, and national consolidation” in Russia and abroad.

Dugin’s geopolitical outlook espouses Russian imperialism and more generally sees the world as divided into globalists — those who “are in the process of destroying any identity except for that of the individual”  — and their opponents, who uphold cultural identity. The former include liberals who strive for watery, swampy, global alliances, and the latter include neo-Eurasianists like Dugin himself. Neo-Eurasianists strive to establish “harmonious, land-based societies organized around history and tradition.”

This link between globalism and corruption should sound at least faintly familiar. Only several months ago, Trump tweeted “Hillary says things can’t change. I say they have to change. It’s a choice between Americanism and her corrupt globalism.”

In one of his latest public addresses, Dugin insisted that “draining the swamp” is “the most important geopolitical and political concept” after Trump’s win. He explained that for Trump, the “swamp is a globalism, liberalism, the rule of transnational corporations, aggressive foreign policy.” It is “the global network of corruption, liberalism, sectarian ideologies of LGBT, civil society, and human rights.” Dugin subsumes all of these under the umbrella of the global corruption and perversion, or “globalism,” that he opposes, and sees Trump doing the same.

Dugin concluded that “now we, the supporters of Putin and Trump, enemies of the swamp, and [of] Soros, we must act with determination. We have no time at all. Cleansing of swamp networks and structures should be carried out radically and without delay. While Trump is with us.”

Whether Trump’s transition team includes or excludes committed lobbyists such as Mike McKenna or Mike Catanzaro, both of whom have resigned from the transition team, is of little consequence for “Putin’s brain.” For him, all that matters is the agenda of cleansing the United States and other countries, in the broad and brutal sense of cleansing. Even though Dugin hides behind the metaphor of cleansing or clearing out swamps to render the land fertile, the reference to cleansing and clearing cannot avoid the association with ethnic cleansing in English and Russian alike. Draining in English does not carry the same connotations.

This should serve as a disturbing warning about the impetus others see in the prospect of “draining the swamp” that is not limited to Washington’s political institutions. At the very least, Trump’s election gives fuel to those who see themselves as forces opposing globalism to carry out their “swamp draining” agenda wherever they think it is viable, “while Trump is with [them]”, as Dugin puts it. Paul D. Miller’s prediction of Russia’s next moves suggests that Estonia and Latvia are likely candidates in the near future.

In the American context, if Dugin is correct about Trump’s understanding of “draining the swamp”–especially in light of Trump’s expressed desire to protect Americanism against “corrupt globalism,”–dealing with lobbying is not Trump’s target as much as the promotion of a nationalist agenda at the expense of the protection of what some take to be human rights and cosmopolitan ideals in the United States and abroad.

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Lev Marder

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