Drain the Swamp!

Concept and original model completed over one night (2/26/18). Created for the monthly model challenge for the IPMS (International Plastic Modeler’s Society). I just joined the organization made up of the greatest model makers around the world. I was blown away by the IPMS convention in Columbus a few weeks ago and decided it would be fun and worthwhile to hang around other model makers. Judging from the models on display at IPMS convention in Columbus, most popular categories are planes, ships and cars.

A huge category is military modeling, particularly tanks and army vehicles in small action dioramas. (Modeling book we bought). The one area the IPSM leaves out is model railroading. However, it seems that many members of IPMS are into model railroads. The modern modelers get better and better at building the various kits. This seems to be where the best (most realistic) models are being made today. Modelers get better and better at painting resin figures. And manufactures model kits get better at defining details into their miniature products. The finest modeling today is really in creating military models with painted figures. I just bought the latest book from one of the world’s greatest modelers, Chris Mrosko. The book is titled Building Dioramas (Kalmbach Books, 2014) and its advice and examples are well-worth any serious modelers’ time.

However, as spectacular as the models are, there is Chris’ focus on military action dioramas. He did go to Hollywood where he partnered with one of Hollywood’s greatest special effects film gurus. (This experience might be another book for Chris … and different types of dioramas.) It does seem that there is an “underground” of modelers out there (as there is in all arts), doing things off the beaten path popular modeling subjects and themes of dioramas. As we argue in this work, popular modeling involves standardized kits. All of this ultimately creates a standardized model world. Model railroaders are the receivers of this standardization in modeling products. They get the same looking people. The same buildings. The funny little tavern. The hardware store. Few represent real world architecture today.

The greater artists among model makers tend to take things into their own (modeling) hands. They use parts from kits rather than building entire kits. Mostly, they are scratch-builders of models and scenes. Usually, it seems teenage modelers or young adults. Millennials. A lot of horror and science fiction and space creatures abducting people. The type of dioramas that are staged in real life through photographers like Gregory Crewdson and his staged photos.

These are the type of dioramas we’re interested in. Not based on a military vehicle but some psycho-drama or mood one is attempting to recreate. Certainly, military scenes can possess this psychodrama but not these scenes exclusively. The process of producing, building, creating as opposed to consuming and tearing down. Is this a great invisible “elephant” in the room called politics? The division between producers in life and consumers. A return to the philosophy of Ayn Rand in Atlas Shrugged.

* * *

Off track a little. But it seems a worthwhile detour in our narrative of a diorama scene I just created. The challenge of the IPMS monthly meeting is to create anything in a 4” X 4” square. I was pondering what to do. All my current models were larger than 4” x 4.” I wondered what I could create in this small space. I thought it best to use the vertical symbol of layers under the earth and apply this to a current political phrase that provides an image of Washington DC for many Americans today. Both Republicans and Democrats.

The theme and phrase of the diorama is the Donald Trump words of “Drain the Swamp!” referring to getting the old political establishment out of DC and bringing in a new group. Of course, this is a sign of hope to one political side and the horror of horrors to the other side. The fact that an outsider to politics can attack not a party but the entire federal bureaucracy system.

Despite the assignment of the phrase to Trump, the phrase has a long, multi-political history. Drain the swamp (per Wikipedia) is a phrase which has been used primarily by American politicians.   The phrase alludes to the historical draining of swamps to keep mosquito populations low to combat malaria. It has been used as a metaphor by the following:

Winfield R. Gaylord (1870 – 1943) to describe the socialist desire to “drain” the “capitalist swamp”

Victor L. Berger (1860 – 1929), who in his book Broadsides referred to changing the capitalist system as “drain[ing] the swamp”

Ronald Reagan, who called for “drain[ing] the swamp” of bureaucracy in the federal government in 1983.

Jessica Stern in “Preparing for a War on Terrorism”, where she calls on the U.S. to see failing and failed states as sources and sanctuaries for terrorists and terrorism (the swamp) and to use foreign aid and soft power to combat them (the draining).

Pat Buchanan during his 2000 presidential campaign, when he invoked the saying in opposition to the dominant political parties: “Neither Beltway party is going to drain this swamp: it’s a protected wetland; they breed in it, they spawn in it”.

Nancy Pelosi in 2006 while announcing her 100-Hour Plan in response to more than a decade of Republican rule.

Donald Trump to describe his plan to fix problems in the federal government.[1][9] Subsequent protests against the role of Goldman Sachs alumni in his administration also used the metaphor.[

Traditional Unionist Voice on the front cover of their manifesto for the 2017 Northern Ireland Assembly election

Henry Bolton, the leader of UKIP when referring to the NEC on 22 January 2018.

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I have been thinking of a large diorama based around a vast swamp. (There is an old photo from around 1850 that in fact shows Washington as a swamp). But decided to put it all onto the little 4” x 4” space for March’s modeling meeting. Mixed scale. N scale figures in the model. A buried, rusting out car in the swamp being drained. A dead figure lying face down in the swamp. One figure waving his arms for help. The head of some great swamp monster stares at us as we move closer to look at him. In the background, a piece of the FBI Building in DC and a wide sidewalk leading from it to the swamp on the diorama. The swamp is in four layers of different colors. Various Rustoleum textured spray paints used. The FBI Building is much smaller than it really would be relative to the N scale figures and the car in the diorama. In scale, the section in our diorama should be 10” (160’). But it is only two inches high. Next to it, flies an American flag on a clothing pin. Modeled on a piece of Woodland Scenics grass mat. I felt that modeling the scenery to a realistic extent would serve to distract from the overall message of the diorama. The face of the FBI Building, the drain, the walkway and the flag were created in Mac’s Page and can be viewed under Drain the Swamp Printing.

At the bottom of the diorama is the greenish murkiness and a drain. Some chalk paint on paper from Hobby Lobby. I could have attempted to create resin type water for the swamp. But in 4″ x 4″ I thought that things were left to basic stuff and the viewer only needed a little suggestion if he/she bought into the idea and comment of the diorama. The fact we can see the drain informs us we are at the bottom of the swamp. But is this a fair image? Has the swamp been drained sufficiently? Or, is there much more draining to do? The large The Swamp diorama still looms as a project and this is a question that laps over into it. But this little model says a lot about what I’m interested in. Hopefully, it uses its small 4-by-4-inch space to tell a powerful story. In a humorous way. But also making a statement. Here, linking FBI with swamp. Yet, perhaps in the large-scale diorama there is not one institution in DC but many.

* * *

I’m proud of the tiny interpretation of the popular phrase “Drain the Swamp.” But the image plays on symbolism to a grander scale than anyone has given it credit for so far. The word “drain” is an important word that suggests finding hidden things in the underworld can be. The word “drain” is interesting. As a verb, it causes the water or other liquid in (something) to run out, leaving it empty, dry, or drier. For example, “we drained the swimming pool.” And synonyms of: empty (out), void, clear (out), evacuate, unload. For example, “a valve for draining the tank.” The word has another meaning though. It means to deprive of strength or vitality. For example, “his limbs were drained of all energy.” As a noun, the word means a channel or pipe carrying off surplus liquid, especially rainwater or liquid waste.

Synonyms: sewer, channel, conduit, ditch, culvert, duct, pipe, gutter, trough. More, a thing that uses up a particular resource. For example, “nuclear power is a serious drain on the public purse.” Synonyms: strain, pressure, burden, load, tax, demand. As an example, “a drain on the battery.” Origin: Old English drēahnian, drēhnian ‘strain (liquid),’ of Germanic origin; related to dry.

The other word in this intensely visual metaphor is the word “swamp.” As a noun, it has a meaning as an area of low-lying, uncultivated ground where water collects; a bog or marsh. Synonyms: marsh, bog, muskeg, quagmire, mire, morass, fen. As a verb, swamp; 3rd person present: swamps; past tense: swamped; past participle: swamped; gerund or present participle: swamping. To overwhelm or flood with water. For example, “a huge wave swamped the canoes.” Synonyms: flood, inundate, deluge, immerse.

* * *

Yet, none of the above captures the nature of a swamp. Far from being dead, it is full of life. It is not the moving waters (going somewhere) of rivers and waterways. It is not the wind rippled surface of waves on top of a lake. Rather it is a back area where water has found a place of rest far from the rivers that makes it move along so quickly. The swamp area is still and it has been like this for many years. Old alligators have lived in the swamp all their lives. They rule the swamp in the same way a lion rules the jungle. Saying drain the DC swamp is also saying “lets get rid of these alligators that inhabit the swamp.” They are not a group to go quietly into the good night. As the current revival of the old “drain the swamp” phrase (and symbolism) in the Trump Administration. In effect, it offers perhaps the best overall metaphor for the actions of the Trump administratrion. But – as we’ve shown above – the phrase has a long, historical joint ownership.

The powerful symbol words “drain” and “swamp” create an immediate image as well as philosophy of life. They are behind one of the key metaphors for action the current administration is taking. While most associate it with the current admininistration, it’s been a common metaphor in a wide variety of political situations (as shown above). The words “drain” and “swamp” provide powerful images that have long and deep historical associations. Jung would have a filed day with these two word (symbols). More later on these symbols and the large swamp diorama. But for now, I’m happy with this little guy. Only four inches wide and two inches tall. Still, the legendary seventh floor of the FBI Building is not suggested in our diorama. The seventh floor is where top management is located. Those most likely to be labeled by certain groups as the “deep state” and members of that image of the “swamp.”

Interestingly, both “swamp” and “deep state” are words of vertical depth rather than horizontal expansion. Vertical is always part of the feminine archtype (while horizontal part of the masculine archetype).

The answer is to be found by going down into our foundation. All that is underneath our life today. The swamp.

It surrounds politics today. This swamp. It is not affiliated with any particular party. But rather with all that feel that their vision of the world has depth to it. The swamp and the deep state take an acknowledgement of the power of verticality rather than horizontality.The swamp and deep state have been in culture and society since the beginning. It has been known under different names (and aliases) under different times. Yet, it was always about a perspective focused on the vertical symbolism of the world, as opposed to the horizontal symblolism. So much symbolism to explore in the phrase. Our new “Drain the Swamp” diorama catches these major ideas. The size of the project forced us to toss out the unimportant, non-essential to the overall project.

The box and the Nubwo bluetooth speaker (note the Made in China on the box and the diorama)

The model was created from a box that some Chinese Bluetooth speakers came in. They are actually quite good and I plan on using each of them to represent either KRE or KBLX radio in Berkeley, California. I begin thinking of a model project and tossing around the little 4″ by 4″ box the Chinese Bluetooth speakers came in. On one side of it, the words “Made in China” in yellow letters against a black background. It is funny that these words were left on the box I cut up after the speakers from China arrived in them. I’ve added “Drain the Swamp!” in yellow letters on the other of the two walls of the model base. I wanted to write the phrase “Drain the swamp!” in my own hand but the yellow Sharp marker would not show up on the black chalk of the diorama sides.

See “Drain the Swamp!” in an upcoming edition of the IPMS Journal (International Plastic Modelers Society).


Drain the Swamp!

Complete List of Materials



Swamp Layers

Rustoleum Stone Texture

Testors Create FX Dirt 79600

Krylon Almond Satin

Rustoleum Satin Hunt Club Green

Car and Pipe Rust

Woodland Scenics Track Painter Pen – Rusty Rail

Roof & Sides of FBI Building

Flat black acrylic from Craftsmart

Swamp Water

Deco Art Forrest Green

Deco Art Light Avocado


Grass – Spring grass mat from Woodland Scenics

Vegetation – Woodland Scenics Lichen Light Green & WWS Scenics (UK) Dead 6mm Grass Tufts (Wargames & Model Railroads)

Figures – Monster – Safari Ltd. Dinos – Good Luck Minis. People N scale figures from Dcolor. Car – N scale figure from Sodial (sawed in half at an angle)

Sewerage From Pipe – Red Heart Scrubby Yarn (Lime green spray painted flat dark green)

Diorama Base – Box that Nubwo wireless bluetooth speakers (from China) came in (2 sides cut from it)

Swamp Layers Material – 3/16 “ White Elmer’s FoamBoard

Clear Plastic Piece Over Water – From K&S Engineering

Printed (On Epson XP 440 Color Printer / Created in Page software on Mac from images downloaded from Google. FBI Building. FBI Sign. FBI Walkway. Swamp drain. American flag.

Flagpole – Straight Pin

Pipe – 3/16” black rubber pipe (purchased at the IPMS Blizzcon Convention Feb. 2018 – Columbus, OH … no label on bag)


Shot in HDR (High Dynamic Range) with Leica V-Lux 3 against stormy sky wallpaper projected onto 32” HP Omen screen.

(Note: the “Made in China” from original box was left on base as I felt this was a suggestive statement for things going on in the diorama scene)









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