When campaigning for office in 2016, President Donald Trump leveraged the phrase “drain the swamp” extensively. It became a rallying cry for those supporting Trump’s D.C.-outsider brand of politics, and it flourished in the first few years of his presidency as he continued campaign rally events. Yet, as news leaked about the Trump organization’s occupation of the White House, political observers increasingly realized that Trump was decidedly not draining the metaphorical swamp of American politics. Or, if he was, he was filling it back up with those most eager to kiss the Trump ring.
But what exactly is “the swamp?” And what do the American people expect when politicians claim to want to drain it?
Those are exactly the questions that co-directors Daniel DiMauro and Morgan Pehme (Get Me Roger Stone) ask in their newest documentary The Swamp, premiering August 4 on HBO. The film explores the concept of “the swamp” though the eyes of three Republican congresspersons – Rep. Matt Gaetz (FL), Rep. Ken Buck (CO), and Rep. Thomas Massie (KY) – who each hold their own unique views on how to define D.C.’s swamp and how to actually drain it. Despite sitting on opposite ends of the political spectrum, DiMauro and Pehme found common ground on their views of congressional corruption.
“It mostly stemmed from the hold that the special interests and the lobbyists have over the policy making and that it’s not working in the interest of the American people but, of course, only to the interests of this very small coterie of very small interests of corporations and big donors,” DiMauro explained. “Of course, we are liberal filmmakers, but we thought it would be incredible to make a film that showed some promise of what’s possible.”
Most fascinatingly, as The Swamp unfolds, we quickly realize that DiMauro and Pehme were privy to a nearly front-row seat to the political circus that became the 2019 and early 2020 impeachment hearings of President Donald Trump. Gaetz, in particular, becomes something of a compelling focus in the documentary as he claims to be a swamp drainer but, in reality, spends most of his time defending the president at all costs.
Even if politics is of passing interest, The Swamp is an extremely compelling and fascinating piece of documentary filmmaking. It shows how little actual bipartisanship exists in D.C. even as critically important as it is to the future of our nation. It offers up Congress’s obsession with fundraising as a real barrier to actual policy making beneficial to the American people. It posits that, if partisan legislative actions continue to flourish in the D.C. swamp, then America’s future pays the price.
So, what do DiMauro and Pehme hope viewers take away from The Swamp?
“I am hopeful that, when people see behind closed doors in Congress, and Republicans, Democrats and Independents alike will watch this movie and be like, ‘This is messed up! We need to do something about this!’ ” Pehme shared.
Here on the latest Water Cooler Podcast, DiMaura and Pehme dive into their must-see documentary, The Swamp. They talk about working with Representative Matt Gaetz and why the media-friendly Gaetz was so willing to lay it all out on camera. They talk about the difficulties in being liberal filmmakers who get to witness bipartisan activity die in the face of the partisan political circus of the impeachment hearings. Finally, they reveal what surprised them the most as the documented what they and most Americans feel is an exceedingly broken congressional system.
HBO’s The Swamp premieres Tuesday, August 4, at 9pm ET on HBO.