In a previous post I wrote about the outrage many of us feel over the Trump administration’s draconian decision to tear families apart in his attempt to preserve the myth of racial purity in the United States. As an American it’s been hard to watch this happen.
I love America and I love our history, but learning about American history hasn’t always been easy. I’ve celebrated events like President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation that freed Southern slaves and mourned President Roosevelt’s Executive Order 9066 that interred Japanese Americans during World War II.
I grew up in the 1960s and 1970s in Northern Virginia. It was an odd place as Virginia joined the Confederacy in 1861 but I lived in an area where most of the adults I knew worked for the federal government and were from somewhere else. I mistakenly believed that this insulated me from the sin of racism.
I was aware that Virginia had a long history of racial discrimination but I assumed it happened before I was born. But when I was in high school I learned that racial discrimination happened around me and I didn’t even notice. I saw the 2000 movie Remember the Titans with horror: it described the difficult nature of integrating a high school football team. It’s a true story that happened 20 miles from me when I was in middle school. The movie has a happy ending but there’s no way around the fact that some students like me and teachers like my teachers fought long and hard to keep racism in place. It was reprehensible and showed their cowardice.
Earlier this month I rejoiced to meet my 21 month old great nephew for the first time. As I look to his future I am filled with hope. But I’m also aware that some day he’s going to learn in history class that during his lifetime we were a nation that so vilified (admittedly undocumented) immigrants that tearing children from the arms of their parents was justified. He will learn that many of our leaders weaponized xenophobia for their own political gain and others went along for fear of losing their jobs.
I hope he asks us what we did when we saw these events happen and I hope we have a good answer. I hope we can tell him that we expressed our outrage, that we were willing to lose friendships, influence, and social standing to stand up for those who weren’t able to stand up for themselves. I hope we can tell him that we recognized that our ancestors came to this country for the same reasons and with the same hopes as these immigrants: to work hard, to make a better life for our children, and to find pride in calling us (and them) Americans.
President Trump famously ran on a belief that he would drain the swamp. And while I’ve written that draining swamps is a bad idea, it’s become a popular anthem.
There’s no standard definition of what “draining the swamp” means, I think we can all agree that the administration is going after those they believe aren’t serving us well. They come to Washington under the guise of serving us, but instead enrich themselves at our expense. They serve themselves instead of serving us.
Enter Scott Pruitt. President Trump nominated him to run the Environmental Protection Agency, an agency founded by Republican President Richard Nixon in 1970. He came to Washington with the intent of undoing many of the regulations put in place by President Obama but that’s not what I choose to write about.
Instead, he clearly used his position to enrich himself. The EPA director makes $210,654 per year and there are a few perks. Previous EPA directors have had little or no protection, but Mr. Pruitt demanded a large detail. There’s an excellent article here. It describes how he pulled EPA employees away from their jobs to protect him even though they had no training in this.
But it goes further:
- He attempted to leverage his position to give his wife a Chick Fil A franchise
- He ordered the construction of a soundproof phone booth in his office and charged taxpayers $43,000 for it.
- He insisted on flying first class in clear violation of government policy. He argued that this was done for security reasons and claimed it wasn’t his idea. It appears that some of his seatmates were mean to him.
- While we expect our representatives in Congress to spend time in their districts, members of the executive branch are expected to live here. Instead of finding an apartment in Washington, he paid $50 per night for a room at the home of the wife of an energy lobbyist. By the way, he fell behind on those payments
- Mr. Pruitt’s primary residence is in Oklahoma and everyone understands that he might want to go home from time to time. But instead of paying his own way back he found way to make taxpayers pay for it. He told his aide Kevin Chmielewski to “find me something to do” that would make these trips official business. When Mr. Chmeilewski objected, Mr. Pruitt fired him.
- His travel at taxpayer expense took him to places other than Oklahoma. Last year he traveled to Morocco. The article shows that the trip was set up by a lobbyist for Morocco, and this lobbyist was later offered a job at EPA. He also went to Italy where he spent most of his time as a tourist
Mr. Pruitt, Mr. Trump, and much of the Republican Party argue that he was hounded from his job because he was too good at what he did. He lost his job because he used his position to enrich himself. This is one part of the swamp I don’t mind draining.