What Happened to Draining the Swamp?
“I want the entire corrupt Washington establishment to hear and to heed the words I am about to say,” Trump declared at a campaign rally on October 29, 2016. “When we win on November 8th, we are going to Washington, D.C., and we are going to drain the swamp!”
As the end of his first term approaches and voters are tasked with judging if Trump has delivered on his campaign promises, none feels more distant than his promise to end corruption in Washington. Trump’s administration has proven time and again they have no interest in ending corruption. Rather, the White House is run by a mobster who values money and loyalty above all else. The swamp is having a hay day.
Trump himself even admitted that “Drain the Swamp” was just a catchy slogan he didn’t really mean. “Then I started saying it like I meant it, right? And then I started loving it. Drain the swamp – it’s true!” As his cabinet nominations rolled in, it became increasingly clear that it was not, in fact, true.
The Revolving Cabinet Door
Mick Mulvaney, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget and current White House Chief of Staff has been explicit about the role lobbying plays in his position. “If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money,” he told a room of banking executives, “I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you.” Mulvaney made the statement while he was serving as Acting Director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Andrew Wheeler, the Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, is a former coal lobbyist and climate denier. While in office, he rolled back regulations on the coal industry—the very people whose payroll he was on from 2009 to 2017. Nationally, this rollback will result in the estimated deaths of 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030. This is according to Wheeler’s EPA, itself, and is based on air pollution data.
Steven Mnuchin, the United States Secretary of the Treasury, worked at Goldman Sachs for 17 years. He left the company with $46 million of company stock. After working for various hedge funds, he used his position to support tax cuts for the rich, after promising he wouldn’t.
The United States Secretary of Health and Human Services, Alex Azar, was the previously president of a pharmaceutical drug company where he made millions. He later served on the board of a pharmaceutical lobbying group.
The Trump family themselves have even continued to profit from Trump’s tenure. His business has engaged in transactions with foreign governments, including China—the largest economic threat facing the US. While working as a White House advisor, Ivanka Trump maintains a stake in the Trump hotel business and receives income from it. This is just the tip of the iceberg. The Atlantic reports 16 instances of financial corruption inside the Trump administration within its first year.
Fighting “Corruption” in Ukraine
Under the guise of fighting corruption in Ukraine, Trump undertook one of his most corrupt actions yet—withholding military aid from our ally for his own political gain. Trump and his supporters claimed that while he was Vice President, Joe Biden engaged in corruption.
Although there is no actual evidence of any wrong-doing on Biden’s part. Trump, meanwhile, has supported those with corrupt ties to Ukraine, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort. Manafort was sentenced to seven and a half years in prison in 2019 for illegally lobbying in Ukraine, hiding the proceeds, evading taxes, and encouraging witnesses to lie for him. According to the Washington Post, Manafort “was paid $50 million over more than a decade by a Russian-backed politician and party in Ukraine, and by Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch close to President Vladimir Putin.”
In response, Trump stated, “I think the whole Manafort trial is very sad, when you look at what’s going on there. I think it’s a very sad day for our country.”
Meanwhile, during his own impeachment hearing for abuse of power, Trump made the case that “We have to check corruption.” He continued to claim he had done nothing wrong by asking a foreign power to interfere in our elections.
This is not the first time Trump has welcomed foreign interference in an election. Although the Mueller Report did not find that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russians to interfere in the 2016 election, it did find that the campaign welcomed the Russians’ actions perceiving that it would benefit them (it did, “in sweeping and systematic fashion”). The report then outlined eleven instances in which Trump may have obstructed justice. The instances including firing James Comey and attempting to fire Robert Mueller himself.
These episodes of corruption faded out of the public zeitgeist as quickly as they had arisen. But Trump’s interference into the Justice Department’s investigations in 2017 was only just beginning. Three years later, now cleared of all charges and facing zero accountability, he has turned the Department of Justice into his personal weapon. The swamp thickens.
Trump’s DOJ Becomes a Political Weapon
Now, after impeachment acquittal has emboldened Trump, he has engaged in a whirlwind tour of revenge on his perceived enemies. On Friday, February 7th, Trump fired two Whitehouse employees, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and US Ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland. The two men had testified under subpoena to the House Intelligence Committee during the impeachment inquiry last November. Trump also fired Vindman’s twin brother, Yevgeny Vindman, who did not testify during impeachment.
The Daily Beast aptly summarized why Trump fired two men who merely testified under oath, “In an administration founded on lies, telling the truth is the ultimate crime.”
Trump, for his part, seems to recognize that he is on a path of tyranny. On February 15th, he awkwardly quoted a New York Times article in which Trump is compared to a “king”.
The article explains that Democrats failed to hold Trump accountable for his actions while deploying their biggest weapon against him—impeachment. Now, Trump (reasonably) sees himself as all-powerful. No abuse of power is too far now that Senate Republicans have (for the most part) demonstrated shockingly little desire to reign in the executive overreach. For a President who once campaigned on ending corruption in Washington, this is a major pivot.
With a blank check laid out before him, Trump has turned his sights once again to the Department of Justice. As his cronies have their day in court, Trump appears to be pulling strings right out in the open.
Most recently, Trump interfered in the sentencing of Roger Stone, his long-time political advisor. According to Vox, “Stone was convicted of one count of obstructing an official proceeding, five counts of making false statements to Congress, and one count of witness tampering.”
Stone is now the sixth former Trump advisor to be convicted of charges related to the Mueller Investigation.
When prosecutors recommended seven to nine years prison for his crimes, Attorney General William Barr overturned their decision after Trump tweeted his disapproval. The action led to all four prosecutors resigning from the case, and one from the department entirely.
Barr denied he faced pressure to adjust the sentencing and denounced Trump’s tweets in an interview with ABC. Still, many are left questioning the sincerity of the claim which comes amid calls for Barr’s resignation from over 1,100 former DOJ staffers.
An open letter by the former DOJ employees makes clear the threat that faces the United States in light of the ongoing, and heightening, corruption in the Trump administration.
“A person should not be given special treatment in a criminal prosecution because they are a close political ally of the President,” they write. “Governments that use the enormous power of law enforcement to punish their enemies and reward their allies are not constitutional republics; they are autocracies.”
A Metaphor that Lost its Way
The phrase “Drain the swamp” dates back to 1903, when socialist Winfield R. Gaylord used it to refer to getting money out of politics. “Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capittalist [sic] swamp,” he wrote, “they want to drain the swamp.”
“Drain the swamp” means changing the system entirely to root out corruption. Those who coined the phrase recognize that the system, as it is, will always breed more mosquitos.
Trump’s 2016 supporters may have truly wanted to end corruption in Washington—it is certainly a worthy goal. Both parties have historically taken part in the lobbying, revolving door, and career politicking that benefits them financially.
But Trump has not drained the swamp, not by a long shot. If we are to generously extend the metaphor, Trump has rather engaged in a war against bats—the natural predator of mosquitos. By firing (or attempting to fire) Comey, Mueller, Vindman, Sondland, or anyone who tells the truth about Trump’s corrupt administration, Trump has made the swamp worse than ever, throwing off the natural balance that at least kept the mosquito population at bay.
If Trump’s supporters really care about draining the swamp and fighting corruption in Washington, it’s time to look at the full picture.