Will Trump walk the talk on his vow to drain the swamp?

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - COMMENT -

On the cam­paign trail Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump swore that he would drain the swamp in Wash­ing­ton if elected. Re­flect­ing the Amer­i­can pub­lic’s great dis­taste for Wash­ing­ton, his words were hailed by fer­vently cheer­ing crowds.

In Jan­uary, Ras­mussen Re­ports, which spe­cial­izes in the col­lec­tion, pub­li­ca­tion and dis­tri­bu­tion of pub­lic opin­ion in­for­ma­tion, showed that 81 per­cent of Amer­i­cans be­lieve Wash­ing­ton is cor­rupt. A Gallup poll in Septem­ber 2015 found that 75 per­cent of Amer­i­cans saw wide­spread cor­rup­tion in the coun­try’s govern­ment, a jump from the 66 per­cent in 2009.

On Nov 16, Trump an­nounced his anti-cor­rup­tion cam­paign by set­ting out tough re­stric­tions on lob­by­ing by in­com­ing of­fi­cials. The rules re­quire in­com­ing of­fi­cials to ter­mi­nate their lob­by­ing regis­tra­tion and pledge not to lobby again un­til five years after they leave the ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Al­though no one seems sure how the rules will be en­forced, it is a move in the right di­rec­tion.

The horde of pas­sen­gers get­ting off at Far­ragut North sta­tion on the Red Line of the city’s metro rapid tran­sit sys­tem ev­ery morn­ing is quite a scene on my way to work. Out­side the stop is the no­to­ri­ous K Street, the nick­name for the lob­by­ing in­dus­try where ma­jor lob­by­ing com­pa­nies as­sem­ble.

Hav­ing cov­ered Wash­ing­ton for years, the question I of­ten ask is why the thriv­ing lob­by­ing in­dus­try in Wash­ing­ton is even le­gal in a coun­try that claims to be the world’s “great­est democ­racy”.

In Wash­ing­ton, count­less for­mer govern­ment of­fi­cials and ex-Con­gress­men en­gage them­selves in the lob­by­ing in­dus­try, us­ing their con­nec­tions and in­flu­ence to push special in­ter­est agen­das and en­rich them­selves. With the on­go­ing US govern­ment tran­si­tion, many who are leav­ing the Barack Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion will be sought after by ma­jor lob­by­ing firms or may be plan­ning to start their own lob­by­ing com­pa­nies.

If peo­ple be­lieve that guanxi (con­nec­tions) is uniquely Chi­nese, it is be­cause they have not lived in Wash­ing­ton, where some 11,000 lob­by­ists, ac­cord­ing to the Center for Re­spon­sive Pol­i­tics, are try­ing to use ex­actly that with the US Congress and fed­eral govern­ment de­part­ments.

Chi­nese jour­nal­ists cov­er­ing Wash­ing­ton are of­ten sur­prised to find a State Depart­ment of­fi­cial who briefed them about the US govern­ment’s Asia and China pol­icy just weeks ago sud­denly ap­pear­ing as the head of a con­sult­ing com­pany, and his busi­ness hav­ing ques­tion­able links with his pre­vi­ous of­fi­cial du­ties.

Such re­volv­ing door cases are in­deed a nor­mal phe­nom­e­non in Wash­ing­ton.

For years, the top in­dus­tries that have spent the most on lob­by­ing in­clude phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals, in­sur­ance, busi­ness as­so­ci­a­tions, oil and gas, ed­u­ca­tion, tele­com ser­vices and de­fense aerospace.

The Wall Street Jour­nal re­ported on Sun­day that cor­po­ra­tions are scram­bling to re­tool their lob­by­ing ef­forts as Repub­li­cans, prepar­ing for con­trol of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives, Se­nate and White House in Jan­uary, hope to break the par­ti­san log­jam that has blocked the pas­sage of leg­is­la­tion for six years. Key is­sues for their hired guns will be im­mi­gra­tion, health­care, tax, in­fra­struc­ture and Wall Street reg­u­la­tions.

Andrew Bace­vich, a his­to­rian at Bos­ton Univer­sity, wrote on Tues­day that if Trump was se­ri­ous about over­turn­ing the Wash­ing­ton es­tab­lish­ment, he’d start by end­ing the con­stant wars. In Bace­vich’s view, wars cre­ated the swamp in the first place. Wars em­power Wash­ing­ton. They cen­tral­ize, pro­vid­ing a rea­son for fed­eral author­i­ties to ac­cu­mu­late and ex­er­cise new pow­ers.

What he failed to elab­o­rate is that a huge lob­by­ing in­dus­try, es­pe­cially rep­re­sent­ing the gi­ant mil­i­tary in­dus­trial com­plex, is keep­ing those wars go­ing.

With so much talk about many of Trump’s nom­i­na­tions for the Cabi­net be­long­ing to the swamp, it will be in­ter­est­ing to see if Trump will walk the talk on his “drain the swamp” pledge.

The au­thor is deputy edi­tor of China Daily USA. chen­wei­hua@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

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