What Trump actually means by “draining the swamp” of corruption is not that clear. What he considers signs of corruption or “special interests” is poorly defined.
He could simply mean ending corruption in the narrow sense, reducing the special interest lobbying that harms the public good.
But a leading Russian political scientist interprets the prospect of “draining the swamp” as meaning something quite different. Alexander Dugin celebrates Trump’s election — because he interprets “draining the swamp” as meaning getting rid of a group he calls “globalists” and their globalist networks. Let me explain.
‘Putin’s brain’ despises the liberal, cosmopolitan worldview
In Foreign Affairs, Anton Barbashin and Hannah Thoburn called Dugin “Putin’s brain” — the foremost articulator of thought that explains Russia’s actions. Der Spiegel described him as “the bearded chief ideologue of those in favor of an expansionist Russia — and an adviser to Putin’s United Russia Party.”
Back in 2008, Dugin prophesied that “our troops will occupy the Georgian capital Tbilisi, the entire country, and perhaps even Ukraine and the Crimean Peninsula, which is historically part of Russia, anyway.” He lauds what he calls the Russian “Conservative Revolution” or the effort toward “a new historical, political, civilizational and national consolidation” in Russia and abroad. Dugin advocates for Russian nationalism, imperialism and conservatism.
More generally, Dugin sees the world as divided into two groups: globalists who “are in the process of destroying any identity except for that of the individual,” on the one hand, and on the other, the righteous champions of traditional and cultural identity. The former include liberals — like President Obama or German Chancellor Angela Merkel — who strive for watery, swampy, global alliances. The latter include neo-Eurasianists like Dugin himself. Neo-Eurasianists promote “harmonious, land-based societies organized around history and tradition.” That stands up to the globalists.
He thinks Donald Trump does, too
This link between globalism and corruption should at least faintly sound familiar. Only a few months ago Trump tweeted:
Hillary says things can't change. I say they have to change. It's a choice between Americanism and her corrupt globalism. #Imwithyou
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 22, 2016
In one of his latest public addresses, Dugin insisted that “draining the swamp” is “the most important geopolitical and political concept” after Trump’s win. He believes that for Trump, the “swamp is a globalism, liberalism, the rule of transnational corporations, aggressive foreign policy … the global network of corruption, liberalism, sectarian ideologies of LGBT, civil society and human rights.”
Dugin sees all this as global corruption and perversion, as the globalism that he opposes. He believes that Trump does as well.
Dugin’s analysis ended by emphasizing that “now we, the supporters of Putin and Trump, enemies of the Swamp, and Soros, we must act with determination. We have no time at all. Cleansing of swamp networks and structures should be carried out radically and without delay. While Trump is with us.”
Will Trump “cleanse” the U.S.?
Dugin does not care whether Trump’s Cabinet or transition team includes committed lobbyists such as Mike McKenna or Mike Catanzaro, each of whom has resigned from the transition team. For him, Trump’s election means an opportunity to move forward with cleansing the United States and other countries of globalists and globalist networks, in the broad and brutal sense of “cleansing.”
Even though Dugin hides behind the metaphor of cleansing or clearing out swamp networks to render the land fertile, in English and Russian alike, the reference to cleansing and clearing is distinctly associated with violent ethnic cleansing aimed at groups of people. Draining does not carry the same violent connotations.
The voice that may have Putin’s ear concludes that “Trump is our chance and we will curse ourselves if we do not quickly use it.” It is a chance to destabilize globalist networks and get rid of all those Dugin identifies as “destroyers of cultures, traditions and identities” in every country. He confidently expects that Trump will condone such efforts and hopes that the president-elect of the United States will carry out the project in the U.S.
Lev Marder is a special graduate faculty member at Wilfrid Laurier University who specializes in political theory and international relations.