One of the most common metaphors one hears in the news today is the idea of draining the swamp. During the presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged that, if he were elected, he would drain the swamp, meaning that he would fire all of the politicians in Washington D.C. who were negative influences on the government. No one was exactly sure what he meant, but many us assumed that he was referring to career politicians, lobbyists, and those too closely connected to Wall Street and large corporations.
This phrase is not new in politics. Originally it was derived from the physical draining of the water in a swamp where mosquitos were breeding and causing malaria or other diseases. In 1983, Ronald Reagan called for draining the swamp of bureaucrats in Washington D.C. while in 2006, Nancy Pelosi wanted to drain the swamp of Republican politicians in the U.S. government. Many other colorful examples can be found in a wonderful summary here.
Despite Donald Trump’s promise to rid the government of career politicians and lobbyists, he has so far named five millionaires and billionaires to his cabinet, including Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs executive as Secretary of the Treasury, billionaire businessman Wilbur Ross as Secretary of Commerce, billionaire Republican supporter Betsy DeVos as Secretary of Education, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife Elaine Chao as Secretary of Transportation.
While many Republicans are applauding these recent choices due to their business experience, other conservatives are not so supportive. In a recent interview, conservative radio host Mark Levin complained, “This is not Trump draining the swamp. This is the swamp draining Trump.”
Democratic Senator from Massachusetts Elizabeth Warren was even more blunt in an address two weeks ago. “Trump is not draining the swamp, nope. He’s inviting the biggest, ugliest swamp monsters in the front door, and he’s turning them loose on our government and our economy.”
Many of the cabinet choices require Senate confirmation so these candidates are not officially hired quite yet. In the meantime, we will see if President-elect Trump continues to appoint Washington and Wall Street insiders to this cabinet.
We have several other metaphors based on swamps, marshes and bogs. Here are a few examples for your reading pleasure.
Many areas of the earth are covered in a mixture of water and soil in areas known as swamps, bogs, marshes or wetlands. Some of these terms are used metaphorically to indicate the difficulty in getting out of complicated situations. In one case, we say we are swamped with work if we cannot keep up with all the tasks that we are required to do at a certain time.
Example: In July 2011, President Obama asked Americans to call their members of Congress if they wanted to make a suggestion on how to reduce the national deficit. As a result, the phones of many Senators and Congresspersons were swamped with calls for several days.
A bog is a type of marsh, a large area covered in water that is difficult to cross. In a similar sense, a person who cannot make good progress in a situation may be described as being bogged down.
Example: Much to the dismay of American voters, progress in Congress is often bogged down by disagreements between Democrats and Republicans.
A mire is another word for bog or swamp. Metaphorically, a person who is mired in something cannot make progress in a certain situation.
Example: American politics is commonly mired in ideological differences between liberals and conservatives.
A quagmire is another old world meaning a bog or marsh. In common terms, a quagmire is any difficult situation that is almost impossible to get out of.
Example: After the difficulties during the War in Vietnam, many Americans felt in 2003 that the War in Iraq would be another quagmire that would cost millions of dollars and many lives.
Quicksand is an especially dangerous mixture of water and sand that traps a person. The more one moves to get out, the more trapped one becomes. People die every year from being trapped in quicksand. Metaphorically, quicksand refers to any situation that looks safe but is actually a trap or a dangerous situation that one cannot escape from easily.
Example: During the revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa that sprang up in 2011, most Americans were against any military involvement in those areas claiming it would be quicksand for our troops.
To me it seems pretty sad that our government is described both as a swamp of evil creatures and as a place where we cannot easily escape with our lives. One can only hope that the new Trump administration somehow makes improvements in the effectiveness of our government working for the American people.