In conversation with a young person recently, I mentioned that Washington, DC, had a lot of corruption when I lived there, e.g. if you couldn't get a building permit on the up and up, you could get one anyway through unethical practices. He remarked, "That's just the kind of problem Trump promised to solve during his campaign."

But I suspect corruption at the local level wasn't what Trump was bothered by.

And that left me with the question: What type of corruption did Trump focus on in his campaign?

  • 13
    Corruption by Democrats and poor people.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 25, 2018 at 14:31

3 Answers 3


Trump primarily appealed to his audience by stating what it wanted to hear. He said he'd 'drain the swamp' of all the lobbyists who had hurt the country’s working class. To the best of my knowledge, he didn't get much more specific than that except:

He also said he would impose a lifetime ban on top executive administration staff from lobbying ‘on behalf of foreign governments.’

Furthermore, Trump also wanted to stop foreign lobbyists from engaging in fundraising for American elections.

  • 13
    Actually, according to one source, he said "drain the swamp" because someone told him it would stick. The reliability of the source is questionable, though, as their statements have been proven false before. The source is Donald Trump; independent.co.uk/news/people/…
    – Peter
    Apr 20, 2018 at 12:55
  • @Peter - What is meant by "stick" here? Apr 20, 2018 at 15:29
  • 6
    @aparente001: In this context, 'stick' means that it would catch on as a common phrase. In other words, it's something simple that people could remember and support.
    – Giter
    Apr 20, 2018 at 15:37
  • 1
    Trump took the phrase "Drain the swamp" from Reagan.
    – Dunk
    Apr 24, 2018 at 17:50
  • 1
    How ironic is that little specific detail.
    – ohwilleke
    Apr 25, 2018 at 14:32

Every cycle conservatives campaign on a platform of smaller government, turning more control back over to individual states, reduced taxes/bureaucracy, etc.

And every cycle without fail government gets larger, taxes creep upwards or cut without commensurate cuts in spending by taking on public debt, power becomes more centralized, and bureaucracy expands to meet the needs of the expanding bureaucracy.

This presents a problem for the conservative half of the electorate.

What it looks like is that they elect these guys, send them to Washington, and they talk tall while screwing around and not actually accomplishing anything. Washington is a "swamp" of people who've been corrupted by the system. These Washington types, apathetic or outright hostile to middle American interests depending on party, are the "corrupt" that Donald Trump wants to de-swampify. But realistically this is unlikely: every single conservative elected to the federal government, every single one, is either a turncoat or massively incompetent? Every single liberal/leftist, all of them, are coastal classist elitists?

It turns out that both Sanders and Trump were wrong: it isn't just bad people, governing is actually difficult. There are hard problems that don't have easy solutions. Which puts people that ran on simple solutions in quite a pickle. It's not like they can go back to their constituents and be all like "oops guess we can't really cut the funding to this thing without creating more problems than we solve. My bad."

So yeah. In the absence of the truth, various explanations about the "corrupting influence of Washington" make the rounds. Actual instances of corruption are exposed, sans context, and the salacious scandals reinforce the image with no mention of how endemic the problem really is or isn't.


Trump repeatedly referred to Hillary Clinton as corrupt. He called her crooked Hillary, called the Clinton Foundation the most corrupt enterprise in political history, and said the FBI investigation of her emails was rigged.

Whether or not this was correct is beyond the scope of this answer. But it is undeniable that Trump campaigned that way.

  • I think this answer could be improved by adding what type of corruption Trump was specifically refering to in the case of Clinton and the FBI. (I'm not sure if he ever made this explicit; I think Trump mostly meant "Something I don't like" when he said "corrupt" - the same way he uses "fake", etc; but if he did make it explicit, including that would definitely improve this answer; it would especially be interesting if the type of corruption Trump accused Clinton of is a different sort of corruption that the rampant corruption in the Trump business, campaign and administration)
    – tim
    Dec 24, 2018 at 22:04
  • 1
    I don't think merits are relevant to this question. Another answer went into rather too much detail; I'm trying to avoid that, too. Dec 25, 2018 at 2:33
  • This is helpful. I still don't know what Trump meant with the word "corrupt," though.... Dec 27, 2018 at 23:45

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