The Trump administration has definitely not drained the swamp

For many Americans, the past several weeks have served as an intensive seminar in the generation of acute anxiety and animosity. Over these few short weeks, we've witnessed the gruesome collision between the promises of candidacy and the requirements for effective governing.

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One of President Trump's claims to electoral fame, was his ability to capitalize on rampant public disdain for anything "establishment". While on the campaign trail, Trump lambasted his opponents, both Republican and Democrat, as part of the inefficient machine that had long occupied Washington. 

 

He assumed the mantle of the "people's champion", the veritable avenger for Americans consistently abused by the political and social elites. His solemn pledge to remedy this egregious problem was to "drain the swamp".

In late-December, prior to Trump being sworn-in as president, staunch ally Newt Gingrich stated in an interview that he believed Trump had effectively lost interest in draining the Washington swamp. Almost immediately, Trump publicly retorted via Twitter that "Someone incorrectly stated that the phrase "DRAIN THE SWAMP" was no longer being used by me. Actually, we will always be trying to DTS". 

Yet, with each confirmation proceeding, the public, either to their delight or dismay, gets a clear view into the realities of the "drain the swamp" initiative.

Less than a month into its tenure, the Trump administration has not only failed to drain the swamp, but has largely avoided attempting such a maneuver. Conversely, it has made swamp-dwelling a matter of course for a presidency in its infancy.

The reality is that despite his repeated assurances to the electorate that he'd separate the reins of government from the hands of the nation's established power brokers, Trump dutifully proceeded to nominate a collection of individuals that promised to form the wealthiest Cabinet in American history.

Trump had emphatically sold his supporters on the need to overthrow the tenured elites, yet the upper-echelon of his administration is loaded with individuals long plugged into the Washington political and economic machine.  

In terms of the political establishment, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, is the former CEO of ExxonMobil, a firm commonly maligned as the corporate embodiment of establishment foreign policy.  

The Transportation Secretary, Elaine Chao, formerly served as President George W. Bush's Secretary of Labor, and is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellCompromise is the key to moving forward after Trump's first 100 days Juan Williams: Trump's 100 days wound GOP Judd Gregg: Trump gets his sea legs MORE's wife.

Attorney General, Jeff SessionsJeff SessionsTrump faults DNC in Russian email hacks Sessions: Dems will pass anything ‘as long as it doesn’t work’ This week: Congress returns to government shutdown fight MORE, was a 20-year veteran of the United States Senate. Reince Priebus, the White House Chief of Staff, served as the Chairman of the Republican National Committee for six years, and is exceptionally close to the young face of the political establishment, Speaker Paul RyanPaul RyanTrump: GOP health plan will bring 'real healthcare' and 'tumbling' premiums Congress, the time is now for tax reform to get our economy moving Pelosi: 'Of course' Dems can be against abortion MORE.

White House Press Secretary, Sean Spicer, worked for Republican members of Congress since the early 1990s, before ultimately serving as the RNC's communications director under Priebus.  Even Secretary of Health and Human Services, Tom Price, is a 12-year veteran of the House of Representatives.

Trump also routinely assured his supporters that if elected, he would stand-up to Wall Street, the monolithic financial arm of the establishment that pilfered the American economy less than a decade ago, in a way that his rivals would not.

Yet, on Monday, Steven Mnuchin, a Goldman Sachs alumnus, was confirmed as the Secretary of the Treasury. Mnuchin joins a plethora of Goldman Sachs alumni that have moved into the White House, a roster that includes chief policy advisors Gary Cohn and Steve Bannon. Not limiting Wall Street inclusion to those formerly employed by Goldman Sachs, billionaire corporate raider Carl Icahn has been appointed as Special Advisor on Regulatory Reform, while billionaire investor Wilbur Ross has been nominated to serve as the Secretary of Commerce.

One of the more unsettling consequences that results from perpetuating the "drain the swamp" myth, is its ready translation into spurious lines of attack against political opponents that only exacerbate potentially calamitous societal division. Just over a week ago, the president tweeted "It is a disgrace that my full Cabinet is still not in place, the longest such delay in the history of our country. Obstruction by Democrats!"  

Aside from relaying a historical falsehood, the president's words constitute an overt attempt to gaslight the public, unwarrantedly directing their frustrations with a broken system toward the White House's adversaries. The reality is that Trump nominated a collection of individuals, many of them establishment, to posts they're entirely ill-suited to occupy. As such, it's not party-based obstruction, it's due diligence.

To round-out his administration's leadership, the president nominated Scott Pruitt, a man who has sued the Environmental Protection Agency 14 times, to serve as Administrator of the EPA. He nominated Betsy DeVos, whose main claim to notoriety — other than her status as a prominent Republican donor, has been the championing of Michigan's subpar charter school system, to lead the Department of Education.

He nominated Rick Perry to lead the Department of Energy, a man who a mere half-decade ago announced his desire to abolish it. He nominated Ben Carson, a neurosurgeon with no relevant professional experience, to serve as the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development. He nominated Andrew Puzder, a man who has advocated for the replacement of American laborers by machines and admitted to having employed an illegal immigrant, to serve as the Secretary of Labor.

To date, President Trump's only meaningful swamp-draining action has been the issuance of executive directives that restrict the post-service lobbying activities of Trump administration officials. However, even those restrictions are rather toothless.

Putting aside the president's failure to fully separate himself from his own business interests, he didn't even attempt to reduce the influence of the villainously-depicted establishment during what should have been opening stage of the "drain the swamp" strategy, the formulation of his own administration. The ugly truth of the "drain the swamp" promise, is that it was nothing more than a hollow sales pitch.

Jesse Heitz is a long time contributor of The Hill. He obtained his BA in History from the University of St. Thomas and his MA in War in the Modern World from King’s College London. He is also the author of, “Fire Resistance in American Heavy Timber Construction: History and Preservation.”


The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.