Another week, another set of scandals for embattled EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt.
This time, it’s the sudden resignation of two of his most controversial aides: security head Pasquale Perrotta and Albert Kelly. Perrotta was allegedly responsible for Pruitt’s $43,000 telephone booth and unprecedented eight-man security detail. Kelly was a banker, barred from the finance industry for life due to an illegal loan agreement, who in 2003 helped Pruitt secure a mortgage on a home valued at nearly $500,000, despite the fact that Pruitt was at the time a state senator making a $38,400 salary. Kelly was put in charge of the Superfund program, despite having no experience in the field.
At the same time, The Washington Post revealed that Pruitt’s $100,000 taxpayer-funded trip to Morocco was arranged by a lobbyist who subsequently won a huge lobbying contract for the Moroccan government. That’s almost certain to run afoul of government ethics rules, and if an investigation is launched, it will be the 12th of Pruitt to be ongoing.
By now, it’s generally agreed that Pruitt still has his job because he is “too crooked to fail.” He is the crucial pipeline (no pun intended) between the fossil fuel industry and the Trump administration and is a deregulatory hero. So despite having vastly exceeded the ethical lapses for which other Trump officials have been fired, Pruitt has so far endured.
But at the center of Pruitt is a paradox: It seems as though there are three Scott Pruitts, who coexist in the same body but contradict one another at every turn.
The first Pruitt is an oil industry pawn, hell-bent on making it easier to burn oil, pollute the air, and evade government sanction. This is the Scott Pruitt who cut and paste industry talking points into his own statements when he was attorney general of Oklahoma.
But that Pruitt has been undermined by the second Scott Pruitt, an amateur grifter who can’t keep his nose clean. If Pruitt were smart, he’d be like Mick Mulvaney, the head of the Consumer Finance Protection Bureau, who has quietly destroyed the agency he is running. Mulvaney has been effective because his name isn’t in the papers. Why has Pruitt been so dumb as to save a few bucks on rent by getting a below-market sweetheart deal from a lobbyist? It seems like a mystery.
And then there’s the third Pruitt, the pious Christian, the deacon of his Baptist church in Oklahoma, the trustee of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. How does a man so dedicated to conservative Christianity have 11 investigations into his unethical behavior?
Well, stay with me here, because I think it all fits together if you understand his theology. I am going to share with you the Grand Unified Theory of Scott Pruitt.
“The biblical world view with respect to these [environmental’ issues is that we have a responsibility to manage and cultivate, harvest the natural resources that we’ve been blessed with to truly bless our fellow mankind.” That’s Scott Pruitt three months ago, in an interview with the Christian Broadcasting Network’s David Brody.
In contrast, Pruitt continued, “the ‘environmental Left’ tells us that, though we have natural resources like natural gas and oil and coal, and though we can feed the world, we should keep those things in the ground, put up fences and be about prohibition.”
“That’s wrongheaded,” he concluded, “and I think it’s counter to what we should be about.”
This contrast, between Christian “harvesting” of natural resources and Environmentalist “prohibition,” is a longstanding belief among conservative Christians, including Southern Baptists, evangelicals, and conservative Catholics. The predominant belief—though of course there are many diverse points of view—is that nature is here to serve humankind.
“Fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over… every living thing that moves upon the earth,” says Genesis 1:28.
To be sure, Christian environmentalists point out that good “dominion” entails care, stewardship, and ensuring that the earth remains for the next generation—not exploiting natural resources to the point that they are depleted and the skies and waters are fouled.
But for at least half a century, since the birth of the modern environmental movement, the dominant view among Christian conservatives is that man is special and that the earth’s resources are here for us to use, now, for the benefit of people. To “keep those things in the ground”—because burning them disrupts the climate, or causes water pollution, or destroys natural ecosystems—is to disobey God’s command.
Worse than that: Environmentalism is paganism, placing human beings on equal footing with the rest of the natural world, rather than above it.
That’s how the third, Christian Pruitt coexists with the first, oil-soaked Pruitt. In his worldview, God wants you to use as many natural resources as you can. God wants you to pollute.
But what about that second Pruitt, the self-enriching grifter? Actually, he’s part of the very same worldview.
From the outside, the alliance of Christian conservatives and Republican plutocrats may seem like a marriage of convenience. But on the inside, it’s much more than that: Free-market ideals have permeated conservative Christian culture; notwithstanding everything Jesus says like “blessed are the poor” and “it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” In postwar America, God wants you to be rich.
This theology ranges from the “Prosperity Gospel,” which holds that the more you believe in God, the wealthier you will be, to beliefs that free enterprise capitalism is the only Christian economic system, and that America has drifted away from its Christian roots (in terms of moral values and economic ones) and into illegitimacy.
Pruitt (like George W. Bush) believes he has been divinely ordained to restore God’s moral-political order to America. “I spent a couple years just earnestly praying, asking the question that I don’t think we ask enough, God what do you want to do with me?'” Pruitt told Brody. “It was actually Isaiah chapter one that I was reading through at that time… where God says to Israel, ‘I will restore your leaders as in the days of old, your judges as at the beginning.’ And there was just a desire that welled up in me to say, ‘I want to be like those leaders that we had at our founding, at the inception of our country.’”
What are some minor legalities like lying to Congress about using a private email server for public business, or giving two favorite aides a raise over the White House’s objection (and then lying about that too)? Pruitt is on a mission from God to make America great again.
All of the threads hang together. The grifter Pruitt is the Christian Pruitt is the anti-environmentalist Pruitt, chosen by God to restore His plan of laissez-faire capitalism and the unfettered exploitation of natural resources. No wonder he responded with such petulance when a Fox News interviewer pressed him on his misdeeds. How can any of that nonsense compare with a divine mandate to restore Divine priorities to our government?
Scott Pruitt is a man on a divine mission. He deserves that fancy house he shouldn’t be able to afford, that eight-person security detail, those petty favors from lobbyists. After all, the lobbyists are also all fulfilling God’s plan, and the rules Pruitt’s broken are part of a fallen state.
But beware of Proverbs 16:18, Administrator Pruitt: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”