[This was true in October. It’s true in November. It will be true in January. It’s gonna stay true.]
Memo to Donald Trump
Date: October 19, 2016
From: A Small American with a Single Vote
Re: The Swamp in Washington
I visited the swamp in Washington today.
It’s not the one you mean, of course.
The swamp I mean is Kenilworth Aquatic Gardens, a remnant of the once-vast wetlands that nourished lives along the Anacostia and Potomac for thousands of years, in what is now the District of Columbia.
It was dredged and filled systematically, land-granted and parceled and sold from the 1600s onward by European settlers, plumbed and highwayed by governments, developed by business-minded individuals like you.
There’s hardly anything left to drain.
Good news for you, Donald! Draining the swamp in Washington should be less work than one of your golf courses!
Thing is — and I know you haven’t gotten the memo about this, Donald, since you’ve been super-busy Making America Great Again — but the general belief that swamps are bad and pestilent hasn’t been a thing for decades. In a lot of places, we’re trying to reverse the damage we’ve done, or even just hold the line. We’re not supposed to be draining swamps now, dude. We’re supposed to replenish them.
In the continental United States alone, by 1991, we’d already destroyed half of the 220 million acres of wetlands that once existed here. All told, there were once 392 million acres of wetland in the now-U.S. when you count Alaska and Hawaii. By the most recent estimates, we’re losing between 60,000 and 80,000 acres of wetlands every year.
I know you’re not talking about this little old swamp in Northeast DC that I’m in right now. No — although I’m sure you could do wonders with it, just like you’ve done in Scotland — I know you have your eye on bigger territory. The swamp you mean is downtown among the monuments and career civil servants and lobbyists and such, down in a lot of fine buildings you can’t get your hands on no matter how you try. This year you’re closer than ever, though, already on Pennsylvania Avenue, already occupying a federal building. Just not the White House. You’re still on the wrong side of that door, and it’s galling you, because how can you ever clean up this swampland, turn it around like a failing corporation, brand it with the signature gold Trump name, and adjust its messaging to Great Again?!
But let me tell you a little bit about how people in Washington treat guys like you with big plans.
It hasn’t happened often enough, but it’s happened enough to be reckoned with: We fuck you up and send you home.
Here in Kenilworth, a Civil War veteran named Walter Shaw came back from the war missing an arm, and longing for water. He purchased a small parcel of mudflat land on the Anacostia River, never dreaming that he and his family would one day stand in the way of progress. All he did was plant 12 swamp lilies with his little girl Helen one day, which eventually became the plant business that was Helen’s ticket out of a bad deal in 1939. For eight years from 1930 onward, she fought a federal river-dredging project that had been creeping upriver since 1912.
When Helen finally won, she transferred her family’s meagre 8 acres to the National Park Service, to be added to Anacostia Park for the enjoyment of the people of Washington, D.C. and the United States of America.
So now, thanks to Helen Fowler, this actual swamp in swampy Washington, D.C. is still alive with aquatic birds, picking their way among the lily pads and surface scum, surviving within spitting distance of Interstate 295, another monument to progress — and to the little guys who fuck it up for the visionary swamp-drainers.
I-295 is an elevated segment of bypass that sorta kinda takes you into the city, via a series of curves and tangles. It’s also one of only two segments that were actually built from a visionary 1954 plan that would have drilled through D.C. with a lot of really great roads for through-traffic.
Back when America Was Still So Great — when Eisenhower was in charge of the swamps — he dreamed of making America’s highways great for the first time, just like the great highways of Nazi Germany. Who better to inspire our vision of America’s greatest public infrastructure project than our enemy, amirite? It worked for Kennedy’s space program, too. Strong men are strong wherever you find them, and a good idea is a good idea. It’s all about your end-game, all about your exit strategy, all about the Deal. With enemies as inspiring as these, who needs friends?
So but, wait: How did we then get this inefficiently curvy highway instead of a straight one, this absolute disgrace, and why is everyone laughing at us, according to you — I mean, I-295 just kind of hangs there, curving and twisting inconveniently around what the locals managed to save in its path.
I-295’s meandering path around this swamp is part of the astonishing legacy of a multi-racial coalition that saved 200,000 units of housing and 100 square miles of parkland in and around the city during the late 60s. Led by a Black Washingtonian named Reginald Booker and aided by a Syrian refugee named Sammie Abbott in 1969, the Emergency Committee on the Transportation Crisis blocked all but two highways proposed by the engineers. One of the two they couldn’t block is this one, the Anacostia Freeway, just a stone’s throw from our last legit swamp.
I know you would have straightened all this out, Donald. You would have made that deal work.
You would have rammed the highway clean through, because business, and America. And because you’re pretty good at ramming things through. And the swamp? You would have drained it. Big league.
Yeah. You’ll probably want to drain this swamp when you get here. After all, it’s sitting on prime real estate in a mostly Black neighborhood in the shadow of a District that’s “so corrupt, you wouldn’t believe,” and here you come with a bright new idea: You’re going to run the country — and this Black neighborhood, and all the Black neighborhoods, and the swamps and the birds and the plants and fish too — just like a business. And you promised us, in the third and last debate with your more experienced opponent (“But it’s bad experience!”) — you promised us that when you run the country the way you’ve run your business, “You’re gonna be so proud.”
“I have a great environmental record,” you said, when you purchased one of Virginia’s best-known wineries at a foreclosure auction for $6.2 million. “I have a record that, in my opinion, everybody would love.”
When I finally left, the morning sun was getting stronger, and a bunch of little kids had just shown up with their teachers. They peered through binoculars at the sky above and the murk below, where old things remain suspended, to be reckoned with; and where new things arise, always mysteriously alive.