Recently I was asked to donate money to the senatorial campaign of a young Republican who had served honorably as a military officer in Iraq. The ad said that I should vote for him because John Bolton had endorsed his candidacy. Indeed Bolton is certain that this man, if elected, will advocate for his foreign policy in the Senate and is therefore passionately on his side. Brian Kilmeade, the co-host of Fox and Friends, also wants me to vote for said candidate for the same reason. And lest I forget, the ad was sent by a website that claims to be “draining the swamp.” Bolton is not considered part of that swamp; in fact, we can apparently drain that pestiferous pond if only we give him free rein as Trump’s national security advisor.
I’d be exaggerating if I said this information further increased my loathing for Conservative Inc. But it did lead me to do something I had not once done: ask that my name be removed from the list of recipients who belong to the Fox News family of suckers. The ad also got me thinking about the reasons for Bolton’s popularity. Despite his present alliance with Trump, the loudest support for unleashing Bolton on the globe has predictably come from Never Trumpers. After all, it’s the neocons who, like Bolton, are still vigorously defending our war of choice in Iraq and who want to be more confrontational in dealing with the Russian government.
But that complicating fact may no longer matter since Bolton now enjoys the enthusiastic backing of President Trump. And so those who voted for Trump and those who until five minutes ago were denouncing him as a loose cannon can at least agree that Trump is a fine fellow for appointing Bolton and also for giving us Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Even Trump hater Rich Lowry gushed with praise over Trump’s wisdom in appointing Bolton. In a National Review editorial, Lowry bestowed on the new national security advisor the endorsement of his Never Trump publication, explaining: “All his critics call him a neocon but he’s a hard-headed realist.”
Moreover, the elevation of Bolton, who we are assured will get tough on Putin and other presumed enemies of democracy, will supposedly assist Trump in keeping his campaign promise to drain the swamp. Republican websites have made this news go viral; one of them, Buzz Buzz, explains how Trump is transforming Washington by appointing Bolton:
One former White House official is quoted as saying: “Everyone who was there during Obama years should start packing their shit.” Another official is quoted as saying, “Bolton can and will clean house.” And one other official said: “He is going to remove almost all the political [appointees] McMaster brought in.” According to the report by Foreign Policy, Trump and Bolton have discussed staffing changes since at least last July, when Bolton was offered the job as McMaster’s deputy, which Bolton declined. And now that he is the new National Security Advisor and there is speculation that he will be replacing positions, analysts wonder if there is already a list of who is doomed to lose their jobs.
Okay, let me see if I get it. Bolton will be draining the swamp by kicking out of their posts as quickly as he can holdovers from McMaster’s tenure and from even before. And who, we might ask, will be taking the places of those who will be urged to “pack their shit”? Let’s speculate. The word we’re looking for has “neo” as its first two syllable and ends with “conservative.” Since Bolton has always been thick with the neocons and since he pushed their policies as interim UN ambassador in the George W. administration, why should we believe he’s changed pals during the last week or so? Could it be that Trump, who as presidential candidate promised to abandon the foreign policy of the last Republican administration, is taking us back to the salad days of the Bush II presidency?
If that is the case, let’s not be surprised. Neocon would-be advisors infest the D.C. swamp, and the conservative movement and national press are awash in neocon opinion-makers. Like Emma Ashford writing in the National Interest, I don’t have to believe that Bolton is 100 percent a neocon to know that he hangs out with them. One can recognize this affinity even while making certain academic distinctions, e.g., that Bolton does not embrace the mission of imposing American-style democracy on the entire planet and that he’s more of an unvarnished warmonger than a neoconservative ideologue. Yet even if those distinctions are true, it’s obvious which political faction he’s identified with through most of his career.
One also has to wonder about the gullibility of the average, self-identified conservative who happily accepts that the president is fumigating Washington by embracing Bolton. Is this how these militants understood the phrase “draining the swamp” when they went out to campaign for Trump? That’s certainly not how I read him (to whatever extent I could unravel his syntax), but then I don’t depend on conservative movement media to tell me what a term means at a given moment. That’s why I was disturbed when I was told to send donations to a candidate who is a devotee of John Bolton and who promises to help him drain the swamp. I believed perhaps naively that the two activities are incompatible.
Paul Gottfried is Raffensperger Professor of Humanities Emeritus at Elizabethtown College, where he taught for 25 years. He is a Guggenheim recipient and a Yale PhD. He writes for many websites and scholarly journals and is the author of 13 books, most recently Fascism: Career of a Concept and Revisions and Dissents. His books have been translated into multiple languages and seem to enjoy special success in Eastern Europe.