Drain the Swamp

The phrase “drain the swamp” can be traced back as far as 1830 but has frequently been used since the 1980s by American politicians [1].

Since the 2016 presidential election the old phrase “drain the swamp” has taken on a whole new meaning and brought to light that perhaps there are two swamps in Washington. As an aside, the phrase in question does not mean a literal swamp, which are actually environmentally valuable ecological wetlands, but refers to the skullduggery that goes on in our nation’s capital.

The two swamps in question are: the White House (WH) centric one and the one most of us are familiar with in reference to the shady dealings among our elected representatives especially when it comes to lobbyists.

The WH centric version of drain the swamp seems to be focused on our Constitution. The WH would have you believe that the rule of law and indeed the Constitution itself are quaint antiquated provisions that need to be drained in order to give a president carte blanch to do what he wants. These go hand in glove with the actions of congress which over the years have abdicated their powers to the president including, but not limited to, the 1973 DOJ provision that a sitting president can’t be indicted [2]. Congress giving more its powers to the executive is often done to expedite certain actions. However, these abdications do not have a time limit and results in the dismemberment of the separation of powers as provided for in the Constitution which, as we have seen, have been exploited and abused by the current administration.

There have been so many egregious acts coming out of the WH but perhaps its disdain for the rule of law has to rank near the top of the list. Simply put, it is the rule of law that is the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants [3]. No one is above the law yet what we have experienced is nothing short of lawlessness; the complete disregard for the institutions and the people in them who keep America safe from recklessness and the corrupt use of power [4].

The WH’s view of drain the swamp means nothing less than the dismantling of the administrative state and the shredding of the basic norms of democratic governance. The following is a short list of actions that demonstrate this dismantling:

  • Blatantly ignoring the Constitutional emoluments clause without consequences by operating a business while in office and profiting from his office.
  • Politicizing the DOJ with a like-minded AG who favors expanding the powers of the executive and sees no problem acting as the president’s attorney.
  • Disregard for US intelligence agencies and their national security reports.
  • Ignoring and thwarting the Constitution’s provisions for congressional oversight.
  • Unrelenting attacks on our free press.
  • The repeal of numerous regulatory protections effecting clean air, clean water, workplace safety, vehicle emissions and food safety [5, 6].
  • The ransacking of many federal agencies like the state department and the EPA.
  • Diminished the role of science in federal policymaking while halting or disrupting research projects nationwide [6].

At the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is another swamp; the U.S. Capitol. This is the one that most comes to mind when talking about draining the swamp from the corrupting influence of some 300 lobbies and, of course, the disastrous effects of the Citizens United [7] Supreme Court decision on our electoral and political system which basically equates free speech with money by allowing unlimited election spending by corporations and labor unions.

No doubt that the issue of lobbies have been a plague on our democracy since its founding. But just to clarify, the right to petition the government is guaranteed by the first amendment of the U.S. Constitution [8] and it is this provision that forms the basis for the establishment of lobbies.

Sadly, lobbies have become a powerful tool in the hands of big business to influence our elected representatives through various corrupt means like campaign contributions and in spite of laws that are supposed to regulate the movement of personnel between roles as legislators and regulators this revolving door continues to rotate [9]. While a 1984 Supreme Court decision said that there is nothing in the right to petition that requires the government to listen to or respond to members of the public [9] many legislators, however, have fallen under the spell of lobbies so far as to include text offered by lobby groups verbatim in their legislation or in agency regulations. This also extends to their easy acceptance of possibly biased data provided by corporations or lobbies [10].

The Week magazine for Feb. 7, 2020 reports for example that “‘sixty health-care companies and trade organizations collectively spent $309 million on federal lobbying in 2019, up 9 percent from the previous year. That includes $120 million from pharmaceuticals trade group, PhRMA, to pay for 450 lobbyists.”

The corrupting influence of lobbies extends also to our regulatory agencies where it is common practice for those agencies to be captured by big business to such an extent that their regulatory role becomes moot much to the detriment to our society and democracy [11].

Last but certainly not least is the scourge of self-regulation as practiced by many of our regulatory agencies. As the saying goes “self-regulation is no regulation at all.”

The tragedy of self-regulation has most notably become apparent with the failure to adequately regulate Boeing resulting in the crash and subsequent loss of life of two of its 737 Max airliners.

Self-regulation, a practice which has been criticized by the GAO since the 1990s, happens when a regulatory agency, the FAA in the Boeing instance, allows the company to do its own safety certification [12].

There are many reasons given for this unforgivable trend: the claim that regulations slow a company’s ability to develop products in order to be competitive, lack of staff and funding on the part of the regulator, the inability of the regulator to keep up with technology and then there is the aforementioned revolving door.

While there is some intersection between the WH centric swamp and what could be referred to as our traditional Washington swamp it is clear that the former is a play to disrupt or destroy our Constitutional form of government; a play straight out of the dictator’s playbook. The latter, however, represents a plague of corruption that has gone on far too long and seems to be getting worse. It is interesting that the US has no problem meddling in the affairs of foreign sovereign nations in order to root out their corruption while the corrupt influence of lobbies, big business and big money willfully continues unabated to pollute our democracy thus endangering the health and safety of all of us.


  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Drain_the_swamp
  2. https://fortune.com/2019/05/30/indict-a-sitting-president-doj-policy/
  3. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/16/opinion/FBI-Trump-russia-investigation.html
  4. https://www.cnn.com/2019/12/28/politics/trump-ukraine-whistleblower-twitter/index.html
  5. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2019/climate/trump-environment-rollbacks.html?mtrref=www.google.com&assetType=REGIWALL&mtrref=undefined&gwh=40403E3E94267AD10700F515A313D964&gwt=pay&assetType=REGIWALL
  6. https://www.nytimes.com/2019/12/28/climate/trump-administration-war-on-science.html
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Citizens_United_v._FEC
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Right_to_petition_in_the_United_States
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Revolving_door_(politics)
  10. https://flbob42.wordpress.com/2010/07/29/our-information-democracy-the-role-and-rule-of-lobbies/
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Regulatory_capture
  12. https://www.npr.org/2019/04/04/709431845/faa-is-not-alone-in-allowing-industry-to-self-regulate

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