Gauche and greedy and dirty to the core, Scott Pruitt had no business being in what we still euphemistically call public service, and he was an embarrassment even in the context of the Trump administration, which is saying something. Still, his resignation stunned me.
Why quit when you’ve already endured all the mortification that he has? Why not crawl, in your reduced and pitiable form, to the finish line and at least get points for devotion?
It’s not as if Pruitt is saving himself from exposure as a fun-size Trump-in-training motivated solely by his own glorification and pampering. At this point, his true colors are vivid and indelible, and came out somewhere on the timeline between the construction of a $43,000 soundproof booth for his most important calls and his insistence that his security detail drive him from Ritz-Carlton to Ritz-Carlton on the hunt for his favorite lotion. He wasn’t an admirable administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, but he was a moist one. Was that not lubrication enough for the long haul?
Yes, I know, he wasn’t really the one who decided that the jig was up, and when we’re told that President Donald Trump “accepted the resignation,” it’s laughable code for his telling Pruitt not to let the phone booth’s door hit him on the way out.
But why should the president care anymore? Correction: Why should the president pretend to care? He’s no longer eligible for points for rooting out administration avarice, righting ethical wrongs or restoring integrity to the ranks of his Cabinet. That yacht sailed long ago. I spotted Steven Mnuchin and Louise Linton in its stateroom, sharing a bottle of Cristal with Javanka.
Pruitt served an important function in this White House. I do hope that we gave him proper credit for that. It fell to him to embody the entire Trump ethos – grab what you can, exploit your insider status, lift nepotism to an art form and never fly coach – in one high-ranking official.
And he took this on with an unblushing readiness that, viewed from a certain angle, was impressive in the extreme. A lesser grifter wouldn’t have floated the idea of a $100,000-a-month charter aircraft membership so that he could use private jets for government business. Pruitt did.
A lesser grifter wouldn’t have spent $1,560 of the taxpayers’ money on a dozen pens from a fancy Washington jewelry store. Pruitt did. It was as if he was on a mission. Obviously, he couldn’t be the first member of the Trump Cabinet to behave like a petty and petulant monarch. Nor could he be the only one. But he could stud his regal ambitions and festoon his kingly narrative with wholly original details.
The mattress, for example. Let’s not forget, as he rides into the sunset, that he rests (or would like to) on a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel in Washington. That may sound humble and thrifty, except for this pesky part: He asked an aide to find that bedding, just as he used his staff members to scope out real estate and to pick up dry cleaning. And to look into what it would take to procure a Chick-fil-A franchise for his wife.
That’s a restaurant that doesn’t usually pop up in political scandals, and that’s what I mean about Pruitt’s inventiveness, his daring and his scope.
His naughtiness spanned several countries and continents. It was global. There was the lavish trip to Morocco, a country with dubious relevance to the EPA, that a lobbyist helped arrange. There was travel to Italy at a cost of at least $120,000. It’s not clear how much work he got done, but his tours of the Vatican were multiple and splendid.
Scott Pruitt’s agenda of self-aggrandizement was so ambitious that I really did wonder if he was inoculated from punishment, just as he was immune from shame. I was wrong. It turns out that while the Trump administration has interred many cherished principles and traditions that we thought were keepers, karma isn’t among them. Perhaps someday soon it will come for the president as well.
Frank Bruni is a columnist for The New York Times. Reach him c/o The New York Times, Editorial Department, 620 8th Ave., New York, NY 10018. © 2018 NYT News Service