The “swamp” has many strata.
The D.C. of old was jammed with bright, young, idealistic kids who worked for not much money but worked together, having fun, expanding their horizons. Hope lived in prospects for the future and for advancement. People believed they might make a difference some day to the wealth, power, strength and sensibility of our nation.
These kids grew into their thirties, undeterred by the occasional setback. There was the world to control, conquer, civilize and improve. Peace was to be kept at nearly any cost. Health was to be fostered, and antibodies, vaccinations, food and water were to be the international coin. Brain power and wisdom began to be accumulated. Achievements began to seem to be possible.
In their forties and early fifties, this happy band –now accompanied by reasonable and far-reaching results both domestically and internationally – settled into roles for which they would be remembered and revered. True enough, they were not (most of them) making enormous money, but the satisfaction was great, the sense of having had hands in progress and improvement – in guiding the world to a better place – grew.
We know, because we started there.
There was not a time when the ground under our feet seemed unstable. We could rise level by level to a middle-class wage and sets of privileges. The idealism with which we began was not quite buried beneath rounded shoulders and expanded guts. Scratch one about-to-be retired government employee and one could still find fire and enthusiasm and determination and goals.
We don’t want to declaim that those feelings, aims, drives are no more.
But the very air these hopeful, dependable – and, we admit, sometimes frustrated – hard-working and constant men and women became polluted. The ground upon which they ran daily on the Mall softened. Slogging became the daily program. Levels of dissatisfaction became anger. Still, our friends and colleagues could recover after Watergate, for example, and bound back with renewed purposefulness.
The nation grew rich. And selfish. Many thought, at the conclusion of the Viet Nam War, that never again would the United States be able to go to war united. It was not drugs and rock and roll that bubbled beneath the streets. It was a sense of entitlement, of “specialness” so often bestowed for no honest reason. We reached a point in our daily lives where parents still gave birthday parties but now every child was given presents. Every entrant into athletics received a prize for “participation.” Credit cards bestowed upon the many unready and tutored the appearance of success. We looked inwards to be sure, but we were also every minute aware of what others had and how they got it. And then, ultimately, where was “ours”?
We now know where it was.
It would be easy and to a degree accurate to announce that men like Donald Trump and his cohorts of like-minded family and friends poisoned our air, our water, our morals. But in fact the Donald is simply the most visible symbol of ambition gone awry. The president’s entire life is a symphony of make-believe. And in this age when everything is for sale, Trump managed to persuade far too many people that his way of doing things could and should be theirs.
For years he and his inner circle have been standing ankle-deep in financial and moral quicksand. That sand is now sucking at his knees. Being not entirely stupid, the president is reaching out in all directions for arms and shoulders and belts around waists to help pull him out of the swamp he promised, fool-hardily, to dry and drain. Nearly every body with which he comes into contact gloms on to his. He is hanging on so fiercely to anyone within ten feet that those people, too, find their shoes and pant legs filling with detritus and scandal. It’s a wonder the Pope seems somehow still venerable.
The tragedy of all this is that an entire nation is sinking with him. The uncertainty of Donald Trump’s life is more weight upon the sand, and there seems no rescue in sight. Both houses of Congress are paralyzed by visions of wealth and stature. They too have become acolytes of The Art of the Deal.
Well, there aren’t any more deals to be made. Voters old and young, citizens to whom Donald Trump swore progress and safety, are rapidly being discarded, thrown into the same sucking swamp he himself finds so (a) dangerous and (2) comforting. They are ignored, their very real problems made light of and in effect also invisible.
It is true that what Mr. Trump is doing to us all is what he promised he would do to us all.
Before the quicksand reaches the waist of the United States, Trump has to be rescued in spite of himself, pulled out screaming and tweeting and insulting not only his fellow countrymen but a goodly portion of the rest of the world.
We put him at the edge of the swamp. He chose to walk in. Now we have to yank him out.
Not for his sake.