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Thu Oct 27, 2016, 02:17 PM


The (not so) secret socialist history of Trump’s new favorite slogan


Donald Trump has a new favorite saying to describe the way he wants to bring change to Washington: “#DrainTheSwamp.” He’s been tweeting it a whole bunch this last week.

After Trump made the slogan “America First”—a phrase used by a handful of proto-fascists who opposed war with Germany in the 1930s and ’40s—a centerpiece of his campaign, he eventually said he didn’t care about the historical roots of the term. “Drain the swamp,” too, is loaded down with the weight of its history: What Trump probably doesn’t realize is that the phrase “drain the swamp” actually has a long history in socialist organizing. That’s right, pinkos.

As etymologist Barry Popik noted on his blog in 2010, some of the earliest uses and potential coinages of the phrase “drain the swamp” come from anti-capitalist organizers around the turn of the century who were describing their plans to drive capitalists out of Washington, D.C.

Back then swamp draining was a well-known method for reducing the mosquito population to combat outbreaks of malaria. On the heels of the nation’s first major financial crises, the Panic of 1907, socialist organizers began to think of the proponents of financial capitalism as disease-ridden mosquitos, and the nation’s marshy capital on the Potomac River as a swamp.

In 1912 Victor Berger, a founding member of both the Social Democratic Party of America and the Socialist Party of America, wrote the following about capitalism and speculation: “So [speculation] is another evil that is inherent in this system. It cannot be avoided any more than malaria in a swampy country. And the speculators are the mosquitos. We should have to drain the swamp—change the capitalist system—if we want to get rid of those mosquitos.”


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