Scott Pruitt's exit probably was necessary

"Thank goodness he's gone."

"Shame.  He should have stayed."

I have a devil and angel on my shoulders arguing over, of all people and things in our sinful world, President Trump's former head of the Environmental Protection Agency, Edward Scott Pruitt.  The federal custodian of our Providence-provided landscape resigned the day after the 4th of July amid a flurry of minor scandals.

Word is that the president demanded his resignation through White House chief of staff John Kelly.  Pruitt obliged, sending a badly punctuated letter to Trump, expressing gratitude for having served him and wishing him "Godspeed" on the furtherance of his cause.

Out of every original member of President Trump's Cabinet, Pruitt proved the most problematic.  The former Oklahoma attorney general came to the agency with a target on his back: he'd already sued the EPA numerous times, losing each successive suit, but bolstered his reputation as an adversary of runaway government.  Once in power, he dramatically curtailed the agency's power, rolling back numerous regulations, delaying bans on certain chemicals, proposing a curb on gas mileage standards, and circumventing a prohibition on pesticides.

By taking such an adversarial approach to the directives of the federal agency he was put in charge of, Pruitt opened himself up to media scrutiny.  The near obsessive attention he drew to his professional behavior was as predictable as a smog-free sunrise.  In short, the permanent Washington class wanted his head.  And Trump handed it to them on a spike, all because of Pruitt's personal penchant for grift.

The incidents were almost too numerous to recount: Pruitt lived in a lobbyist-owned condo with absurdly low rent, overstaying his welcome to the point where the landlords changed the locks; he tried to use his position and influence to seek out a high-paying position with Chick-fil-A for his wife; his frequent private and first-class air travel; his request for his motorcade to use flashing lights and sirens to free up Beltway traffic.

Then there were the more bizarre, almost creepy, requests: using personal staff to hunt down a used Trump hotel mattress; ordering his security detail to shop for a special Ritz-Carlton moisturizer; spending over $1,200 of taxpayer dollars on a dozen luxury pens.

Pruitt's exploits made him out to be a small-time kleptocrat, the id of governmental venality, incapable of suppressing his need to swipe anything not bolted down.  It was no surprise, then, that some news outlets, including The Washington Post, seemed to have opened their own beat on Pruitt's rarefied spending habits.

The coverage was all too much for our media-savvy president, who, as scandals piled up and stretched the credulity of fair-minded observers, began to suspect that the problem lay more with Pruitt than with a vindictive press.

I'm of two minds on the subject, or, better put, two consciences.  My desire for good governance celebrates that Pruitt was unceremoniously relieved of duty.  My contrarian sense informs the opposite: Pruitt should have been allowed to stay for the sake of proving how inept government can be.  His penny-ante graft presented a golden opportunity to highlight how abuse-prone powerful government officials can be.  Just as George Bernard Shaw asserted that all the best drama was didactic, Pruitt's tenure as EPA chief was a tragicomedy containing dozens of teachable moments.

Think a minor-league government official dropping $43,000 on a secure phone booth is absurd?  Congratulations, you might be a conservative.

Pruitt's sadistic treatment of his own staff was also a joy to read about.  Not only did he send them on vain personal errands, but he also had them front money for official business without a guarantee of being paid back.  And if they raised a stink over it, chances were they'd be let go.

There's a rough justice to giving bureaucrats, especially those of the Millennial generation, a taste of how the world works – without compassion or apology.  Pruitt made Anna Wintour look like St. Benedict.  His overbearing and capricious style was its own form of payback for employees of an agency notorious for wantonly ruining the lives and fortunes of acreage-owning Americans.

That aside, conservatives still may be feeling sore over Pruitt's downfall.  Surely, journalists could have found similar dirt on figures within a Democrat administration.  It's unfair that Pruitt was picked on.

All true.  Do the media have a liberal double standard?  Would journalists refuse to devote so much time, effort, and resources to a Democrat Cabinet head?  Would the press corps cover up an Obama administration official drowning puppies in the Potomac River?

Yes, yes, and more yes.  But the media's bias doesn't let Republicans off the hook for ineptitude or, worse, corruption.  Republican officials should know the score: the press isn't their friend.  They should act accordingly.

With Pruitt gone, the Trump administration loses another character high on promise but low on integrity.  The left collects another scalp.  But there's a catch, another fun twist to the story: Andrew Wheeler, a former coal-industry lobbyist, has stepped in in Pruitt's stead.  "Scott Pruitt's Replacement Is Even Worse," the Huffington Post declared.

That leftists thought the outcome would be at all different shows how patently shortsighted they really are.

Good luck in your new position, Mr. Wheeler.  Please treat the environment well, and keep your travel costs to a minimum.  And buy your own mattresses.

Image Credit: Gage Skidmore via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0.

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