It wasn't quite "build the wall" or "lock her up," but "drain the swamp" was a signature Donald Trump slogan.
It evoked visions of pinstripe-suit-wearing influence peddlers getting pulled from their Georgetown cocktail parties en masse and tossed into the Potomac River, as Washington returned to the once-sleepy burg it was 100 years ago, a humbled and more righteous town.
This was always a fantasy. The oldest story in Washington is a new president elected on a pledge to clean up Washington, who then turns to practiced Washington hands and well-connected financiers to help shepherd his administration. It was true of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and now will be true of the even more populist and anti-Washington Donald Trump.
The swamp will endure; it always does. This doesn't mean that a Trump administration can't make the swamp a little less important.
The meaning of "drain the swamp" is pleasingly inexact (Ronald Reagan used the phrase, and so has Nancy Pelosi). The left has, absurdly, chosen to read Trump's use of the slogan as an implicit pledge not to hire anyone who is wealthy. So the nominations of Steven Mnuchin as treasury secretary, Wilbur Ross as commerce secretary and Betsy DeVos as education secretary are criticized as proof Trump never meant it.
But Trump obviously didn't intend to impose a wealth test on his administration, or he would have failed it himself. He is proof that a fortune isn't necessarily an obstacle to being a champion of an agenda of populist reform.
(Although the charge against Mnuchin, who worked for Goldman Sachs for 17 years, has more force. The job of treasury secretary almost seems to be the endowed Goldman Sachs chair of the U.S. government. And you could be forgiven for thinking candidate Trump had a dim view of anyone associated with Goldman, given how he excoriated Ted Cruz -- "puppet!" -- for his connections to the institution.)
Trump's formal anti-swamp platform consists of a few more strictures on lobbyists. These proposed rules may be salutary, but they are typical of restrictions periodically imposed in Washington and that lobbyists are expert at getting around and surviving. (What are lobbyists for, if not finding loopholes?)
The fact is that in a country with an enormous federal government and a First Amendment that guarantees the right to petition the government, the swamp is always going to be extensive and miasmic. As long as there is so much power and money in D.C., the lobbyists, the consultants, the associations, the media pooh-bahs, the contractors and the courtiers will gather and jockey for influence here. There is no neutron bomb that can be set off to vaporize them.
A proper anti-swamp agenda should consist of two things. First, and most fundamentally, it should seek to reduce the size of the federal government, and cut regulations and make them as simple as possible. The more government does, the more incentive every special interest has to hire swamp creatures, for both protection and advantage. And the more complex government is, the more opportunity those creatures have to thrive in niches unknown or poorly understood by everyone except insiders.
Second, and more specifically, the federal government should be wrenched out of its cozy relationship with large, established businesses and institutions in areas ranging from health care to finance to education.
This agenda would have the advantage of uniting the conservatives (whose animating passion is reducing the size of government) and the populists (whose animating passion is combating a "rigged" system). A number of Trump's Cabinet picks point in this direction. But it's not clear where Trump will ultimately go. If he replaces Obama's liberal industrial policy focused on green energy with his own populist industrial policy focused on traditional manufacturing, as suggested by the Carrier deal, he will just spend and subsidize in different ways.
In other words, he won't truly drain the swamp, but simply feed different alligators.
President-elect Donald Trump is reportedly considering seriously at least two men for the critical position of secretary of state. One, former presidential candidate Mitt Romney, has divided the Trump team between those who think it is a good idea and those who think Romney's severe criticism of Trump during the campaign disqualifies him.
The other is retired general and former CIA Director David Petraeus. A major problem for Petraeus is his mishandling of classified documents, which he reportedly leaked to his biographer-mistress, Paula Broadwell. After Trump hammered Hillary Clinton for her "extremely careless" handling of classified material when she was secretary of state, it would be hypocritical of Trump to name Petraeus.
Though also in the running, former New York mayor, Rudy Giuliani is thought to be running a distant third, if the number of visits in and out of Trump Tower are any indication.
So, of the top two contenders, who? How about someone with experience as a diplomat, including within the State Department and as a former U.N. ambassador?
John Bolton, now a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute and a regular commentator on cable news, does not engage in wishful thinking, or project American morals on those who don't share them in the vain hope they might be contagious. Here is Bolton on the threat of radical Islamic terrorism: "When you have a regime that would be happier in the afterlife than in this life, this is not a regime that is subject to classic theories of deterrence."
In his book "Surrendering is Not an Option: Defending America at the United Nations," Bolton is unrelenting in his criticism of the toothless UN and of many U.S. policies that have not produced results in America's best interests -- precisely the attitude of President-elect Trump, who wants to look out for America and its interests first. In this pursuit he is not unlike one of his predecessors, Ambassador Jeane Kirkpatrick, who said, "What takes place in the Security Council more closely resembles a mugging than either a political debate or an effort at problem-solving." It is a mugging, and too often it is the United States and Israel who get mugged.
Here's another Bolton quote: "Negotiation is not a policy. It's a technique. It's something you use when it's to your advantage, and something that you don't use when it's not to your advantage." That is the opposite of wishful thinking.
In a July 2015 column for the Dallas Morning News, Bolton wrote that it is a fiction to believe Iran won't violate terms of the nuclear weapons deal it made with the Obama administration. He argues that "snapback" sanctions won't work because sanctions failed before. He thinks the only option for keeping nuclear weapons out of the hands of the ayatollahs is Israel.
"However, Iran may well retaliate," Bolton acknowledges. "At that point, Washington must be ready to immediately resupply Israel for losses incurred by its armed forces in the initial attack, so that Israel will still be able to effectively counter Tehran's proxies, Hamas and Hezbollah, which will be its vehicles for retaliation. The United States must also provide muscular political support, explaining that Israel legitimately exercised its inherent right of self-defense. Whatever Obama's view, public and congressional support for Israel will be overwhelming."
Who is to blame for this situation? Bolton writes: "American weakness has brought us to this difficult moment. While we obsessed about its economic discomfort, Iran wore its duress with pride. It was never an even match. We now have to rely on a tiny ally to do the job for us. But unless we are ready to accept a nuclear Iran (and, in relatively short order, several other nuclear Middle Eastern states), get ready. The easy ways out disappeared long ago."
This is sober reality and precisely the worldview that is needed at the Department of State.
Cal Thomas is the host of “After Hours with Cal Thomas” on the FOX News Channel. Readers may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
JACKSON (AP) — Mississippi lawmakers could be gearing up for the most productive portion of their current term. And, for better or worse, they're already discussing parts of an ambitious agenda for 2017.
The three-month legislative session begins Jan. 3, and it will be the second year of a four-year term.
The first year is a time of adjustment. Freshmen are learning how bills are filed, debated in committees and considered by the full House or Senate. Veteran lawmakers are getting to know their new colleagues. Some newly promoted committee chairmen are becoming familiar with their new roles.
In the second and third years, legislators are accustomed to their jobs but are still somewhat insulated from the pressure of seeking re-election. These are generally the most productive years of a term.
The fourth year is shaped by elections. A few legislators will opt to retire, some will seek higher office and most generally run for four more years in the House and Senate. Candidates' qualifying deadline is March 1, which is two-thirds of the way into the legislative session. Some lawmakers will keep a low profile in hopes of not attracting an opponent, while others will go out of their way to seek attention. It's an atmosphere that's often not conducive to getting things done.
So, in a four-year term, count on two productive years — including the one coming up.
Education funding is already front and center of prep work for 2017. Republican leaders of the House and Senate hired a consulting firm to recommend changes to the Mississippi Adequate Education Program, which is designed to give schools enough money to meet midlevel academic standards. The formula was put into law by a Democratic-controlled Legislature in 1997 but has been fully funded only two years, regardless of which party has been in control.
Short funding has been a constant source of political friction, and there's no guarantee that writing a new formula will satisfy critics who say Mississippi invests too little money in its public schools.
The New Jersey-based consulting firm, EdBuild, is supposed to submit a proposal before the session begins. Debate will begin early in the legislative session because Jan. 31 is the deadline for committees to consider the first round of bills that would make general changes to state law.
Transportation will be another big issue for 2017, though there has been less attention so far on what proposals could be considered.
Anyone who has driven the bumpy, pothole-infested section of U.S. 49 through Rankin County knows that some Mississippi's highways are in dire need of work. Bridges are also in bad shape: "What Lies Beneath," a six-minute video produced by the MDOT, shows rotted timber, rusted metal and other structural problems. The video is posted to the website of Mississippi Economic Council, the state Chamber of Commerce.
The MEC plan called "Excelerate" shows that nearly 37,800 miles of state highways and local roads and more than 3,900 state and local bridges were in need of repair as of June 2016. The estimated cost: $6.6 billion.
During the 2016 session, MEC advocated spending $375 million a year, for 10 years, on state and local roads and bridges to improve safety and create jobs. But legislative leaders balked at increasing the gasoline tax, and the funding issue remains unresolved.
"There is a direct return on investment," the Excelerate report says. "For an investment of about 37 cents a day, Mississippians over time, as the program is completed, will receive a return of about $1.45 a day in reduced driving costs."
Emily Wagster Pettus has covered Mississippi government and politics since 1994.