Discerning intent from action: Scott Pruitt and the Republican vision of America’s future

Scott Pruitt seems to be a trial run of whether or not the GOP can get away with the kind of corrupt behavior that is now standard operating procedure in the Russian oligarchy. Since he got into office, his actions have confirmed his intentions- Pruitt is there to turn the EPA into a cash and favors spigot for the wealthy, using taxpayer resources to undo environmental protections, do favors, and enrich himself. My only regret, from this video, is that Pruitt and his dining partner were apparently left to finish their meal in peace after this excessively polite interruption (EDIT: my bad for not looking deeper – he left of his own accord as she returned to her seat.):

We deserve to have somebody at the EPA who actually does protect our environment. Someone who believes in climate change and takes it seriously for the benefit of all of us, including our children. So, I would urge you to resign before your scandals push you out.

Good for her! Seriously – these people are taking actions that will kill billions if they are not stopped. They deserve no peace. Unfortunately, disrupting their ability to enjoy public spaces is not going to be enough.

There’s a human reflex to assume that if everybody understood why we dislike someone, they would dislike them too. That last sentence – “So, I would urge you to resign before your scandals push you out” – shows an assumption that people who are guilty of that level of corruption will be inevitably removed from office. This is an understanding of the situation that seems to be rooted in America’s traditions of pretending things are better than they really are, and pretending that most bad things happen because not enough people knew about them, or because the Great And Wonderful Free Market works in mysterious ways.

I’m guilty of the same thing, and I do actually believe that it’s true more often than not, provided “know about” is replaced with “understand”. That’s probably why I still think this blog is worth writing. The problem is that for people whose goal is total authoritarian rule, they’re not exactly honest about what they understand, and what they actually want. If you haven’t yet, take a moment to watch or read The Death of a Euphemism from Innuendo Studios (transcript here).

This applies to Pruitt and the environment as well. The Republican line, at least for most of the last few decades, has been that of course we should protect the environment, they just have differences of opinion about how far that goes. I mean – you wouldn’t put a man out of work just to save a single owl, would you?

For those who have been following politics and the history of environmentalism, or who lived through the Reagan presidency, that last line should have some familiarity. When the EPA was formed and when environmental protections were passed, the damage had become so clear to everybody that resisting the will of the people would almost certainly have been political suicide. Instead, the folks who ran the opposition to clean air and water switched to a long game.

According to the Sam Vimes Boots Theory of Economic Injustice:

A really good pair of leather boots, the sort that would last years and years, cost fifty dollars. This was beyond his pocket and the most he could hope for was an affordable pair of boots costing ten dollars, which might with luck last a year or so before he would need to resort to makeshift cardboard insoles so as to prolong the moment of shelling out another ten dollars.

Therefore over a period of ten years, he might have paid out a hundred dollars on boots, twice as much as the man who could afford fifty dollars up front ten years before. And he would still have wet feet.

Without any special rancour, Vimes stretched this theory to explain why Sybil Ramkin lived twice as comfortably as he did by spending about half as much every month.

The same is true for long-term strategies that allow for short-term and mid-term losses. Rich people have the luxury to play the long game because while they are “losing”, they still have the best in food, housing, healthcare, and security. Charles and David Koch inherited that long game along with their fortunes.

So did Trump.

After the New Deal, the robber barons/oligarchs who “lost” put rather a lot of time and money into gradually dismantling the laws that kept them from despoiling the country. Environmentalism was folded into that long game when it came along, as were civil rights. Those losses were not really setbacks because they didn’t actually touch the truly rich, who have been using their money to accumulate influence, particularly in the Republican Party, to the point where whatever it once was, the GOP has moved from their propaganda tool to their enforcement tool.

And so we return to the death of a euphemism, and to Scott Pruitt. His appointment was the culmination of escalating attacks on the EPA that quickly made abolishment of that agency into a Republican Primary litmus test. His only record, relative to the environment, was supporting those who were destroying it for personal gain, and those are the skills and views for which he was appointed.

Since he got into office, Pruitt has been the source of an oil slick of corruption that spreads across the entire planet. What’s interesting is that he hasn’t managed much in the way of regulation rollbacks because just as the Presidency isn’t a dictatorship (yet), EPA administrator doesn’t get unfettered authority. If it were otherwise, there’s a good chance that Bush Jr. would have done far more damage than he already did (let’s not forget that he’s the reason it’s legal for coal companies to dismantle mountains and poison water in West Virginia).

The primary reason Pruitt worries me is that his corruption is the most blatant in the Trump administration, yet that polite interruption may be the worst thing that has happened to him as a result. Small wonder he looked smug and unimpressed when she suggested his scandals would force him out.

I don’t know if the GOP ever actually wanted to abolish the EPA. Looking back, the answer is probably no. All the agencies they have been attacking for so long are now tools for their primary project – giving the rich and powerful more money and power. DeVoss isn’t taking the education dept. apart, she’s refitting it to funnel even more money into the pockets of education profiteers. Pruitt has gone from the EPA’s most rabid enemy to its administrator, and he’s been living the Asshole’s Fantasy of being an oligarch with a private army and global influence ever since.

And again, he hasn’t been hiding it, or even really denying it. The fact that he is still in office at this point is a pretty clear indicator that he’s doing the job he was hired to do. It’s possible the investigations into his conduct will “force him out”, but what difference will that make? At worst, he’ll be replaced with someone who is less ostentatious, but even more aggressive about funneling taxpayer wealth to the Feudal Lords who are currently trying to increase and secure their power.

Pruitt can chuckle at that woman because he is using his position to benefit himself, and those benefits will almost certainly outlast his time at the EPA. In the meantime, his goal is literally to poison the water coming out of that woman’s tap, because that’s what it comes down to. Creating huge problems for the people isn’t a problem for the rulers, if the rulers get to sell solutions to those problems. To answer Dr. Horrible, you will not disrupt the status quo if you throw poison in the water main. What you’ll do is ruffle a few feathers, get a few whistleblowers in trouble, and further cement corporate control. Your water has lead in it? That sucks, dude, but fortunately Nestle has 15 brands of bottled water for sale, all pumped for pennies from a clean water source near you!

Scott Pruitt is the goal, and whether or not they planned for it, climate change is likely to be the lash used to drive the people to work harder and harder for the right to pay their tormenters to let them stay alive.

Coming back to economics from fiction, there have been a number of references to Zorg’s “destruction creates life” theory as the GOP outlook, and for a lot of Free-Market Fundies, that may well be the theory, but it leaves out two crucial problems. First, the goal is not just money and power, it’s money and power relative to everybody else. They don’t care if the world is covered in shit, as long as they’re the rulers of Shit Mountain. Second, it’s not ambitious enough. At some point, they realized that the Immortan Joe model suits them a bit better, but I think even control of water and financing of health care isn’t enough.

The current GOP has moved beyond all that, and if they can figure out how to get there, their new role model is Rotti Largo.

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