Thoughts on the Swamp

July 25, 2022 Updated: July 26, 2022


Where’s Cato the Elder when you need him?

Around 150 B.C., the grumpy Roman senator took to ending every speech, no matter what the topic (grain allotments for the plebs, plans for a new aqueduct, whatever) with the injunction “Ceterum autem censeo Carthaginem esse delendam”: “And another thing, I think that Carthage ought to be destroyed.”

That refrain has come down to us as a lapidary, three-word imperative: “Carthago delenda est”: “Carthage must be destroyed.”

Daniel Hannan, the British commentator, euroskeptic, and sometime member of the European Parliament, took a page from Cato’s book and for a time ended all his speeches with the formula “Pactio Olisipiensis censenda est”: “The Lisbon treaty must be put to the vote.”

There’s something to be said for repetition.

In 146 B.C., Rome besieged and then sacked Carthage. According to some accounts, the only thing left standing was a funerary monument.

The European Union is still moldering along, but at least the proximate goal of Hannan’s campaign, Britain’s exit from that soul-sucking leviathan, has been accomplished.

With those victories in mind, I’m thinking of concluding all my speeches with the phrase “Palus delenda est”: “The swamp must be destroyed.”

What’s the swamp?

The word has a long history, aided by the serendipitous contingency that Washington was actually built on a literal swamp.

But the term, like a Chinese virus, underwent a “gain-of-function” makeover in 2015 when Donald Trump first strode onto the center stage of American political life.

“The swamp” is the bureaucratic Washington establishment, the alphabet soup of agencies whose personnel, though unelected and largely unaccountable, run our lives right down to the latest permit, regulation, tax, fee, impost, and woke government requirement or interdiction.

But it’s also something more.

“The swamp” names an attitude, an assumption, about power, about politics, but also about certain basic human realities.

Above all, perhaps, “the swamp” rests and feeds upon the progressive assumption that the mass of citizens is incapable of self-government.

I call that assumption “progressive” because, from the time of Woodrow Wilson on down to the latest Davos mandarin, the neo-feudal bifurcation of humanity into the elect and (ever the majority) subservient has been the guiding, if unspoken, nutrient.

The litany of Trump’s policy achievements is long and distinguished.

It begins with his judicial appointments, some fruits of which we saw last month with the Supreme Court decisions on Roe v. Wade, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Second Amendment, and includes his attention to our southern border, energy, taxes, the Middle East, and a host of other issues.

But more than any particular achievement, Trump was the tocsin that awakened millions of people—those whom Hillary Clinton dismissed as “deplorables”—to the two-tier reality of political life in the United States.

In “Nicomachean Ethics,” Aristotle wrote that “the good life of man” was the “end of the science of politics.”

Trump showed us how fond that idea had become.

In brief, Trump was the agent of a mass consciousness-raising.

It was that spectacle, the prospect of the people suddenly awakened to the reality not only of their bondage, but also to the identity of their putative masters that stood behind the astonishing hatred Trump aroused among the self-appointed elect.

The frenzied machinations of the Jan. 6 committee to destroy anyone and anything touched by the populist spirit Trump aroused show how desperate our rulers and their scribes and Pharisees have become.

They’re terrified lest Trump return to complete the task of (in Steve Bannon’s memorable phrase) “deconstructing the administrative state,” which the former president began in 2016.

Trump might not be the person capable of carrying that standard, but he is, despite all his quirks and crotchets, likely to be the most effective.

The fury unleashed against him will probably never end, although the midterm elections will probably deprive the rancid anti-Trump mafia of much of their armament.

The point is that the genie that Trump released won’t be coaxed back into the bottle.

Expect the anti-Trump furor to continue and grow in volume and vituperativeness.

Expect the population of the Washington gulag to swell with people indicted for “parading” in or around the Capitol.

Expect more dawn raids and unannounced arrests of former Trump associates.

We might even see the Jan. 6 committee making a criminal referral to the “Department of Injustice.”

The silver lining is that the more hysterical that agents of the regime become, the more stalwart will be the response of the newly awakened populace.

A reckoning, that is to say, is coming.

It can’t come too soon.

In the meantime, join me in chanting “Palus delenda est.”

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.

Roger Kimball is the editor and publisher of The New Criterion and publisher of Encounter Books. His most recent book is “The Critical Temper: Interventions from The New Criterion at 40.”