The Horror of the Swamp

Forget draining the swamp. Forget trying to conquer a city whose entrenchments and fortifications are more abstract than actual, whose spirit is as intemperate as its summertime  temperatures, whose history of war—from within and without—induces images of felled bodies and wounded soldiers, whose heat is unbearable and whose air is unbreathable, whose stench is a mixture of gangrenous flesh, rotten food, torched buildings, and piles of manure. Forget trying to defeat Washington, D.C., when it is easier to break its power by ending its feverish hold on the minds of its weakest victims.

Give members of Congress antimalarial pills.

Grind mountains of pills into powder, so we may disinfect the banks of the Potomac and deodorize the Capitol.

Save the city from descending further into a nightmarish scene of a novelist’s attempt at urban planning. Save the city from a ghost of a writer, not a ghostwriter, whose name is Joseph Conrad.

Save the city, please, because it has Conrad’s sense of madness and corruption: a place of carpetbaggers and spies, of aliases and dubious allies, of the nakedly ambitious and the wickedly avaricious—a necropolis of monuments, engraved with the words of martyrs and enmeshed with the weeds of malice—in the shadow of a modern-day plantation known as “The Company” . . . the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

If the city seems indecent, it is.

If it looks sick, it is.

It has the pallor of a sanitarium, not the prestige of the Senate, where patients paper the walls with the Constitution and fill the cracks with chewing gum and putty; where patients run the asylum by running their mouths; where a judicial nominee is a sexual predator, not because of what he did, but because of his refusal to do as he was told—to render his robe of justice and drown himself in this swamp of a city.

The city forces you to cry out twice, a cry that is no more than a breath: “The horror! The horror!”

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