As President Donald Trump’s second year draws to a close, his project of “draining the swamp” faces an uncertain future.
Thus far, Trump has made significant progress toward reforming Washington. Through the Congressional Review Act, the Trump administration rolled back excessive regulations. And by appointing constitutional conservatives to the bench, Trump has reinforced constraints on activist judges and big government in general.
Trump has also rid federal agencies of pernicious forms of institutional corruption — such as the abuse of third-party settlements at the Department of Justice, which were used to fund left-wing activist groups.
Moreover, when the administration has faced ethical questions — at least those that are not frivolous or politically motivated — it has dismissed the officials involved.
But Trump has only partially succeeded in cleaning up Washington.
Democrats, poised to take over the House of Representatives, are promising to bring back “earmarks,” otherwise known as “pork” — a practice Trump mistakenly embraced in the hope of encouraging bipartisanship.
And Trump’s border wall — the key to restoring the rule of law in our immigration system — has yet to be funded or built.
In many ways, Trump is reminiscent of the biblical King Jehu, an outsider who was anointed to rule Israel and rid it of corruption.
At the time, ancient Israel had been divided into two kingdoms: Israel, to the north, and Judah, to the south. Judah, which included the holy city of Jerusalem, benefited from the leadership of several wise and righteous kings, even if it also suffered episodic misrule by bad kings in between.
But Israel had become thoroughly rotten.
2 Kings 9 tells the story of how Elisha the prophet called one of his disciples to anoint Jehu, then a military officer, as king to replace King Jehoram, the son of the infamous King Ahab, who had made idolatrous worship the law of the land.
Jehu first assassinated Jehoram — and, with him, his ally and relative, King Ahaziah of Judah. Jehu also dispatched Ahab’s widow, the wicked Queen Jezebel, who had urged her late husband to persecute the prophets.
Jehu continued his aggressive campaign to rid the kingdom of corruption. He ordered the execution of seventy of Ahab’s sons, and used an ingenious ruse to slaughter all the remaining supporters of Baal, luring them to a temple by promising that he would also worship the idol and then ordering his guards to kill them. Though his methods were unconventional, Jehu earned the support of Jehonadab the son of Rechab, widely respected for his morals.
But Jehu never completed his mission. The Bible relates that while Jehu “Jehu abolished the [idol] Baal from Israel,” he “did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat that he caused Israel to sin; the golden calves that were in Bethel and that were in Dan.” (2 Kings 10: 28-29) The golden calves had been placed there by Israel’s first secessionist king to distract religious pilgrims from migrating to Jerusalem, in the rival kingdom.
As a result, the Kingdom of Israel was never completely reformed, and was doomed to exile by the Assyrians. The ten “lost tribes” of the north disappeared from the Bible and from Jewish history, never to return but in the feverish imaginations of explorers who imagined the native populations of the New World might be the missing Israelites.
Judah persisted until it, too, suffered exile — but that kingdom retained its moral core, enabling its survival and, later, its return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
Like King Jehu, Trump’s reforms have only been partially successful thus far.
If Democrats are able to disrupt the project he has begun — and if Republicans only support his efforts halfheartedly — he may fail, with dire consequences. America needs boundaries — both physical borders, and ethical borders.
The border wall fight is about more than concrete and steel: it is about fulfilling America’s potential to reform itself, given the chance Trump’s election provided.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.