Scott Pruitt Wasn’t Corrupt Enough for Trumpistan

If you’re going to act like a local warlord, you’ve got to go big. Petty corruption is harder to excuse than bold piratical plundering.


Jim Watson/Getty

The Scott Pruitt fiasco could only have ended one way: not with a bang but a simper, a wet fart of a resignation that exposed three Big Lies of the Trump world.

First, the image of Trump and his squad as hard-bargaining, brutal street fighters who never give in and always punch back twice as hard sure didn’t hold up. Pruitt isn’t even under FBI investigation, which is more than many of President Trump’s compatriots can say.

Second, it exposed the lie that Republicans in Congress are anything more than Trump’s enablers. The vast majority of Republicans in Washington know this administration is lavishly corrupt. They’re not stupid; it’s driven home every time they walk through the doors of Trump’s hotel or watch Jared Kushner trawling foreign satraps for cash like some 4 a.m. lot lizard at a truck stop.

Pruitt represented a perfect opportunity for these Vichy Republicans to buy some daylight from both the grand and petite corruptions of the Trump administration that fill D.C. to the scuppers. In a sinking ship of state awash with “Yeah, but…” rationalizations, excuses, and muttered denials, Pruitt’s lavish, third world kleptocratic behavior gave them every chance to do the right thing, so of course, by and large, they didn’t, couldn’t, or wouldn’t.

As with all things Trump, there’s always an excuse, no matter how thin. In conversations with elected officials and activists in the past few weeks, there was a gushing approval for what Pruitt was doing on the policy front, and feigned ignorance of everything else. That Pruitt was a man of such petty, grubby behaviors wasn’t a deep, dark secret. Many Republicans now have egg on their faces for sitting quietly and waiting for Trump to do the right thing.

Finally, as if America needed reminding, Trump’s promises to hire the best people to drain the swamp and Make America Great Again are all not only false but ludicrously so.

Like Trump, the Doctor Evil of presidents, finally found his EPA chief’s behavior had reached a point of rapidly diminishing returns. Lights and sirens? Ritz-Carlton hand lotion? Custom pens? Running government staffers as if they were the servant of some particularly self-indulgent generalissimo? Chick-fil-A franchises?

What, precisely, did you expect? Donald Trump is unequivocal proof that As hire Bs and Bs hire Cs, and Trump hires people without the judgment, qualifications, ethical foundations, and moral stature to run an underground bum-fighting operation. Scott Pruitt’s obvious money problems should have screamed out in any background check, to say nothing of a Senate confirmation hearing.

Pruitt is a man, like so many of Trump’s claque of low-rent hoodlums, bus-station conmen, edge-case dead-enders, and caged-immigrant child porn aficionados, utterly unsuited to a role of public trust and responsibility.

Pruitt wasn’t even that good at being corrupt. If you’re going to act like a local warlord extorting a little extra poppy from the local tribesmen, you’ve got to go big; petty corruption is harder to excuse than bold, piratical plundering of the public exchequer. At least Donald, Jared, and the Trump Boys aren’t hiding the fact they want to cash out with a dollar figure where the preface on the -illions is a b-, not an m-.

Ah, but what of the glorious work Pruitt was doing when he wasn’t traveling with a security entourage sufficient to overthrow a medium-size government or browbeating people to hire his wife? Aren’t we about to lose all the wonderful fruits of his policy efforts?

Many of the regulatory rollbacks during Pruitt’s tenure were described in fulsome praise by Republicans and conservatives, but even those deserve a second look. His work for the coal industry wasn’t just about reversing Obama-era regulations but about paying back specific Trump campaign and inauguration donors. Just as surely as President Obama sought to pick green-energy winners and losers, Pruitt deployed regulatory trickery to give selected friends of Trump’s regime a free ride, not a free market.

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Pruitt was a handmaiden of state and crony capitalism, which actual conservatives—we’re still here—revile. It wasn’t just rolling back Obama-era regulations; it was doing so to help specific companies profit and prosper. He was a man who conflated lobbyist wish lists with getting government’s heavy hand out of broad market sectors, particularly coal.

Like much of Trump’s energy policy, their fetishization of coal seems to contain a weird, Rule 34-ish desire to see hearty men headed down-pit with pickaxes and wearing helmets with sputtering carbide lamps. It’s not happening. It’s never happening. It’s a dead industry—dirty, inefficient, and outdated. Obama didn’t kill coal; natural gas and solar killed coal, and nothing Pruitt could do is going to bring it back.

Pruitt didn’t get fired because he was an utterly corrupt grifter. Pruitt got fired because he was clumsy enough to give away the game and embarrass a different utterly corrupt grifter. To the detriment of the country, Pruitt is just one of Trump’s many minions who model their low behavior, raving contempt for the law, and disregard for even the sparest ethical standards and shamelessly follow the lead of the Grifter in Chief.