Scott Pruitt has been cruelly misunderstood. Now that he has quit as administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, it’s time to set the record straight. You see, he wasn’t just protecting the environment. He was protecting our president’s soul.
“My desire in service to you has always been to bless you as you make important decisions for the American people,” Pruitt wrote to Trump as he shuffled off this mortal coil of government. “I believe you are serving as President today because of God’s providence. I believe that same providence brought me into your service.”
You can believe in the science of climate change if you like. Scott Pruitt believes he is a saint, which you can clearly see from his many martyrdoms.
For starters, he wasn’t asking his security detail to drive around looking for Ritz-Carlton moisturizing lotion for the sake of his complexion. People outside the EPA have no idea just how much rising temperatures can dry out a cabinet official’s skin. Think of it more like a federal exploration of how climate change affects the epidermis of the executive branch.
Speaking of hotels, what kind of malice does it take to suggest that his desperate need for a used mattress from a Trump hotel was some kind of prima donna exercise in sucking up to his boss? You don’t need to have a Harvard medical degree to know that a good night’s sleep might be all that separates us from a newly negotiated Paris climate deal.
Yes, of course people have gossiped endlessly about our tireless protector of the environment seeking out a meeting with the CEO of Chick-fil-A to scope out a job for his wife. But honestly, their chicken is rather delicious, even if their politics are not. Besides, how are you going to sell environmental protection to Trump Country without a huge supply of fried food?
But in a cabinet stacked full of super-wealthy Mnuchins and Cohns and Rosses – never mind the less-wealthy Trumps – Pruitt was just a poor boy making good. All those camels couldn’t pass through the eye of a needle like a man who spends lobbyist and staffer money.
Saint Scott is an epochal figure, it’s true.
The founding myth of Trumpland is a tale about the superpowers of the Grand Wizard who survived the black magic of the FBI, the plague of fake news, the video horrors of Billy Bush, and of course the email sorceress known as Hillary. On his way to draining the swamp, our very stable genius wizard has slayed a few dragons called Comey and Truth, but also waved his wand over ugly frogs called Vladimir and Kim.
For many moons, our wizard warded off evil by keeping Saint Scott inside the bubble of his benevolent spells. Just last month, he used his protective cloak to single Scott out for special treatment. “EPA is doing really, really well,” he said. “Somebody has to say that about you a little bit. You know that, Scott.”
The wizard’s minions told us how he was protecting not just Scott’s front, but also his rear. “We’ve got your back,” was the message, curiously told to the evil media who delighted so much in punishing the protector of the environment. “Keep your head up,” the wizard said.
So what does it say about the wizard’s strength now that Saint Scott is gone? If Trump magic can’t protect someone saving our president’s soul through the power of providence, then who is safe in Trumpland?
It’s almost like there’s some invisible hand steering this bizarre sequence of hirings and firings, but we can’t figure out what the hand is trying to do. Or if it’s a left or right hand. Or if either hand knows they are connected through the same torso.
It is somewhat easier to discern a pattern in Trump’s attitude towards the planet. The real scandal of the Pruitt era was not the personal corruption – not the millions spent on personal security or the thousands spent on a soundproof phone booth. No, the enduring scar left by Scott Pruitt is the political dismantling of the EPA itself.
In year one, he rolled back regulations protecting clean water. He scrubbed away references to climate change and stopped collecting data on methane emissions. He blocked regulations designed to cut emissions from cars and power plants.
And don’t expect the scar to disappear any time soon. EPA administrators come and go, but Trump cares for the environment the way a logger cares for the rainforest. Pruitt’s deputy is Andrew Wheeler, a former coal lobbyist who used to be chief of staff to James Inhofe, the Republican senator for Oklahoma, perhaps the loudest and dumbest climate denier on Capitol Hill.
Wheeler will now serve as the acting administrator, and likely successor to Saint Scott, in much the same way as a fox looks after a henhouse. As if by magic, the fossil fuel industry has taken over the agency that was supposed to protect our environment from the worst effects of that industry. But their new man is enough of a Washington insider to avoid the personal scandals that brought down his old boss.
So farewell, Saint Scott. You were the Worst. EPA administrator. Ever.
May you feast on Chick-fil-A in what’s left of the pastures that lobbyists have handed you. And may providence protect whatever survives your EPA.
- Richard Wolffe is a Guardian US columnist
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