After promising his constituents the moon in every conceivable conservative arena from lower taxes to less immigration to governmental reform, Donald Trump is now in the stage of his executive negotiation with his 56 million voters where they have signed their contracts and provided their service. The president-elect knows it as the point where he becomes “dissatisfied with our service” and refuses to hold up his end of the bargain—con artists know it as “the Blow-Off.”
One of the easier promises to watch Trump break in real time was his decree that the “swamp” of Washington would be drained. “Out of the Swamp” was a favorite saying of Joseph Goebbels, too, strangely or not. The difference is that while Goebbels was talking about a Weimar Republic he ultimately succeeded in destroying, Trump is talking about a swamp of lobbyists he ultimately intends to employ.
After catching righteous flack from his loyalists for hiring a seemingly endless line of lobbyists and millionaires to do his “swamp draining,” Trump attempted to save face by requiring any member of his staff who was still officially registered as a lobbyist to resign their position—not their position within the administration’s transition team, but their position as a lobbyist. This entails formally withdrawing their status as a federal lobbyist. It does not entail, for example, potential Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s hundreds of millions of shares of ExxonMobil stock to be sold. This is not draining the swamp. This is putting a buoy in the swamp water and labeling it “Trump Designer Sparking Mineral Hydration Aid.”
Draining the swamp does not mean continuing the endless parade of Goldman Sachs to and from Capitol Hill. It does not mean replacing a Koch Industries lobbyist with a former Koch Industries lobbyist or a junk food lobbyist with a former junk food lobbyist to be in charge of school lunch. The very nature of lobbying is that it’s a tit-for-tat, you-scratch-my-back kind of business. That’s why it won’t be surprising when Tillerson’s decisions regarding oil-rich countries benefit ExxonMobil’s way of looking at things; and we shouldn’t be surprised when school lunch is a choice between McNuggets or a Double Cheeseburger.
Banning lobbyists but only requiring them to hand in their papers is no different from any purely ceremonial action: Because it has no real consequence to speak of, it may as well never have happened. It’s a tree falling in the forest with no one around to hear it, and if we’re not careful the trunk will hammer us into the ground on its way down.