Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned today after reporters found that he’d spent nearly $1 million on private air travel since taking office earlier this year, after weeks of HHS trying to explain each trespass with easily disproven lies.
Price didn’t quite apologize. “I regret that the recent events have have created a distraction from these objectives” was the sentence in his letter that came closest to it (PDF). “The recent events” included spending $18,000 to fly on a private jet to Nashville for 90 minutes of meetings and lunch with his son, and half a million on plane trips around Europe and Africa. “The recent events” involved Price’s staff lying about the purpose of his travel, and then offering to reimburse the federal government the $52,000 or so they specifically spent on “his” seat on trips that would not have occurred had he not been on them. It’s not clear that he even thinks that what he did was wrong in the first place? Why would he? He’s lived out his tenure as a princess would.
Princesses have achieved a durable cultural ubiquity in this country, remarkable for a place that fought a war to escape monarchy. Disney princesses, pop music princesses, beauty contestants. And now, we’ve got four real princesses right in the president’s cabinet, led by our dearly departing Princess Price.
Joining Price in acting like entitled royalty are Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, EPA head Scott Pruitt, and Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, all of whom were dinged for similar transgressions.
Mnuchin, a former Goldman Sachs honcho whose company once tried to foreclose on a 90-year-old woman who made a 27-cent payment error, took a government plane to see the solar eclipse with his awful wife, and refused to commit to flying commercial in an interview with CBS This Morning.
EPA head Scott Pruitt’s self-dealing seems pale in comparison to the audacity of Price. But his travel is raising eyebrows and ethics concern as well. He spent 43 days out of a recent 90-day period traveling to and from Oklahoma, which seems like a lot. (Under most other EPA heads, the excessive expenditure of fossil fuels in the professional course of Protecting the Environment would be ironic, but I suppose that it makes sense that a man who does not believe in global warming would also have no problem leaving a massive carbon footprint.) He’s also racked up $58,000 in bills for private and military travel when commercial alternatives were available, according to The Washington Post. In addition, he’s had a $25,000 soundproof phone booth installed his office that, as HuffPost points out, somehow costs four times as much as similar booths.
Princess Ryan Zinke of The Interior was caught abusing his plane privileges too. He’s taken at least four chartered trips at taxpayer expense. His camp has claimed that commercial flights at those times and to those locations weren’t available, something easily disproved by opening an internet browser and searching for the word “flights.” They claim everything was above board. I’m sure many taxpayers would disagree.
Government officials take liberties with their professional perks all the time. That’s probably why the proletariat seems so much angrier about all this than the average elected official, most of whom probably have some personal/professional fudging going on. Who wouldn’t stop and get lunch with their grown son if they just happened to be in Nashville? Who wouldn’t choose to fly private instead of suffering the indignity of the commercial air travel experience?
It’s not hard to imagine the wrath that would be directed at a female cabinet member who used taxpayer-funded planes to jet between spa appointments. Much has been made of this administration’s Marie Antoinettes. Ivanka Trump’s tone-deaf brand cheerleading in the face of human suffering in which she's complicit; the $3,600 Gucci majorette jacket Kellyanne Conway wore to the inauguration; Melania’s dumb hurricane stilettos; Louise Linton’s Instagram tiff with a mother of three, followed by Louise Linton’s apology in a Washington, D.C. society magazine alongside a photo spread of Louise Linton in an assortment of ball gowns. Linton doesn’t even work for the government, she’s just married to a guy who does.
A poll this week assessing popularity of members of Trump’s cabinet found that Education Secretary Betsy DeVos was the least popular. DeVos looks and speaks in the manner of an evil white lady in a Shondaland show, but at least she’s using her own plane to fly around and attempt to dismantle American public education. Foreclosure king Steve Mnuchin was more popular.
There’s no reason the women of Trumpland should be let off the hook for their role in kelptocracy or corruption, for their distasteful displays. Betsy DeVos is still terrible. But the men of the Trump administration have gotten away with much worse, until now, without comparable public scrutiny. The men in Trump’s orbit should be getting hell about it too. Every member of any administration who is caught ripping taxpayers off, man or woman, should be viewed with the same contempt society reserves for punishing vain and greedy women.
Right and wrong still exists, even in a partisan world. Grifters who look like they could be Donald Trump’s golfing buddies shouldn’t be the only ones who get away with it.