The public grounds in Washington D.C. known as the National Mall were built on low, flat land surrounded by two rivers and a creek. During heavy rains, it got swampy. But today, the nation’s capital is considered The Swamp for other reasons known well to Jeffrey Lord, author of “Swamp Wars: Donald Trump and the New American Populism vs. The Old Order.”
Sharyl: You worked in a republican administration?
Jeffrey Lord: Yes. I worked in the Reagan and Bush 41 administrations. And then in the wonderful tradition of the American system, the way it's supposed to work, the Clintons beat George Bush and shortly thereafter, I got a letter, along with my colleagues who were political appointees, that said something like, "Dear Jeff, thank you for your service. Be out by noon, January 20th." And out the door you go.
Sharyl: Did you notice what you saw as a swamp back then?
Lord: Yeah. When I first started, a friend of mine who had been chief of staff to the previous U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania Hugh Scott, who was the Mitch McConnell of his day, he was the Republican leader of the Senate, invited me to the Capitol Hill Club. And I'm young, and this is my first time, and I go over there, and he puts his hand out and says, "Welcome to the center of the known universe." And that is indeed the way a lot of people in Washington view it. It's the center of the universe. They are at its center, and more to the point, they are the masters of that universe. And woe be to anybody who goes against their presumed superior knowledge.
Sharyl: When you talk about the bureaucracy, the people who persist administration to administration, and think they're the center of the universe, in a way, they're kind of right.
Lord: Yeah, sure. Well, I mean that's the thing, and the power, it goes to their head. I mean, I've had great positions in the government, but not for a second, did I think that I was God's gift to the American people. I mean, they elected somebody. His name, in my case, was Ronald Reagan. His name is on the ballot. He served his two terms and he went back to his ranch in California. That is the way this is supposed to work. And I think we ought to have perhaps civil service reforms so that these people don't get that attitude because once you are in these powerful jobs and you think you deserve it, and that you're God's gift to the world, and you have every right to be there. That's where you go off track.
Sharyl: When you advocate for civil service reform, is that sort of like term limits for civil service?
Lord: Yeah. Absolutely. I've come to the conclusion there's no reason to have somebody in a job for 25, 30, 40 years. Serve 10 years and then out. And go into the private sector, but you're not coming back into this bureaucracy again.
Sharyl: What is the main message you hope to leave people with in your book?
Lord: All men and women are created equal, and this business of people in these lofty positions who have, whether it's in government, or the media, or where, who have just utter contempt for the majority of Americans is just not acceptable. So for people out there to be aware of it and fight back.
Sharyl: Devil's advocate. Maybe the swamp is right. Maybe it is good that they are there for consistency and watching out of the long term against people like Donald Trump who they think have really done-
Sharyl: -dangerous things to our country.
Lord: Well, there's nothing wrong with being in opposition to a president. But the notion that they get to stay there forever. The whole premise of the country was that you come in off your farm, you serve, and then you go back to the plow. And that's what we've seem to have lost here, and I think we can get it back. But it is a war, without a doubt.
By the way, “draining the swamp” is a phrase that’s been used for years including by Victor Berger, a founder of the Socialist Party of America in 1901. Berger was the first Socialist to serve in Congress and wrote of the need to “Drain the swamp” meaning, eliminate America’s capitalist system.