President Donald Trump came to power as a wrecking ball. His campaign promise to “drain the swamp” captured the public’s disdain for the status quo in Washington.
His inaugural address continued the theme, putting the establishment on notice that their days of “reap[ing] the rewards of government” were over. “Today,” he said, “we are not merely transferring power from one administration to another, or from one party to another—but we are transferring power from Washington DC, and giving it back to you, the American people.”
While Trump ran an unorthodox campaign, pundits and historians will judge his presidency by all of the usual standards: the performance of the economy, leadership on the world stage, navigation in times of crisis, and success in implementing his policy agenda.
And in each of these four categories, Trump has rung up significant success in his first six months in office. Major economic indicators—from GDP growth to inflation and unemployment rates—have improved. The S&P 500 and Dow have gained roughly 9% since Trump took office, while the Nasdaq is up almost 15%.
Trump’s foreign trips and dealings with world leaders have been widely lauded as successful, especially his recent address in Poland. He met his first real crisis—the mass shooting of members of congress and staff on in June—with poise and sober leadership. And he has achieved several policy successes, too, from repealing 14 of President Obama’s signature regulations to winning Senate confirmation of Neil Gorsuch as Supreme Court justice.
But what if we were to judge Trump’s presidency thus far not by traditional metrics, but on his own terms—specifically by his success in upsetting the status quo. In Trump’s own words from his inaugural address, “What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people.”
Right out of the gate, Trump enacted policy reversals in key policy areas. His immigration executive orders—particularly those concerning the enforcement of immigration laws and the temporary travel ban—markedly upset the status quo. Another tectonic shift took place when he pulled out of the Paris climate agreement, reclaiming a little piece of American sovereignty in the process.
One of establishment Washington’s main functions is regulation. The federal bureaucracy has increasingly insinuated itself into the day-to-day lives of Americans for years. Perhaps Trump’s most overlooked achievement is the progress made toward dismantling the administrative state. According to the American Action Fund, his actions have reduced regulatory costs imposed on Americans by $70 billion. Going forward, he has promised to eliminate two regulations for every new one enacted.
Of course, Trump’s Twitter feed upsets official Washington’s apple cart almost every single day, even when no policy issue is involved. The president’s tweets give us a window into his thinking, cutting right to the point and, often, attacking his detractors. His lack of decorum on Twitter can be painful to watch at times, but it offers the American people a totally unprecedented level of transparency about their elected leader. And that’s as anti-establishment as it gets.
Clearly, Washington is a far different place today than it was six months ago. The economy is stronger. The regulatory state is shrinking, not growing. Our international relationships are taking a decidedly different shape. The federal judiciary is taking on a more conservative cast, and our laws are being enforced at the borders.
On top of that, Trump has made some significant progress toward the signature goal that set for himself. Through executive orders and with bold legislative proposals such as his “skinny budget,” Trump is slogging his way through the status quo, working to drain the swamp.
Thomas Binion is the Heritage Foundation’s director of congressional and executive branch relations.