Here's what Trump means when he says 'drain the swamp' - even though it's not an accurate metaphor


drain the swamp lock her up donal trump rally

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

A man holds up a "Drain the Swamp in Washington DC" sign at a then- Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump rally in Kinston, North Carolina on October 26 2016.

Build that wall. Lock her up. Rigged.

At the bombastic and entertaining rallies now President-elect Donald Trump hosted throughout his campaign, the candidate yelled these refrains, and the crowd chanted them back.

In October, a new chant joined the canon: "Drain the swamp."

Trump announced his plans for sweeping ethics reform that day, pledging to "make our government honest once again."

Yet Trump is reportedly stacking his White House transition team with Washington lobbyists and GOP veterans, prompting some to question whether he really will "drain the swamp," and cleanse Washington of political insiders who are out of touch with ordinary Americans.


Where does the term come from?

Back when malaria was a problem in the US and Europe, draining swamps was an effective way to kill the mosquitoes that bred there and spread the disease.

The first person to apply the term to politics was a Democrat. "Socialists are not satisfied with killing a few of the mosquitoes which come from the capitalist swamp," Winfield E. Gaylord wrote in 1903. "They want to drain the swamp."

Trump likely drew his inspiration for the phrase from President Ronald Reagan. In 1980, Reagan called to "drain the swamp" of bureaucracy in Washington, and created the Grace Commission, which identified $424 billion of wasteful government spending that could be cut.

The commission's report overestimated potential savings and categorized necessary spending as "wasteful," so Congress didn't act on its recommendations.


An inaccurate depiction

The kicker is that Washington wasn't even built on a swamp. That's a common misconception, since the city's in a low-lying area between the Anacostia and Potomoc rivers, as urban historian Don Hawkins explained in The Washington Post.

Furthermore, draining a swamp is the worst thing you can do to it, environmentally speaking. It's even against the law in some municipalities of the US.

Draining an actual swamp can take necessary water from the environment that plants, animals, and other creatures need to survive.

It sure is catchy, though.