Jennifer James / Flickr DE Evolution of the GOP...
Jennifer James / Flickr

Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire, turns his attention to Scott Pruitt, the malignant mass set atop the EPA, and finds nothing surprising to anyone who has looked at the GOP of the past sixty years, and what is politely called ‘conservatism’:

Just in the past few days, he has rolled back mileage standards instituted by the previous administration, a move that is almost certainly going to get him and the EPA sued by the state of California, whose standards were the model for the new federal ones. From The Washington Post:

“This is a politically motivated effort to weaken clean vehicle standards with no documentation, evidence or law to back up that decision,” Mary Nichols, head of the California Air Resources Board, said in a statement. She argued that the move would “demolish” the nation’s shift toward cleaner cars and that “EPA’s action, if implemented, will worsen people’s health with degraded air quality and undermine regulatory certainty for automakers.”

Meanwhile, Pruitt seems to have missed few opportunities to live fat off the largesse of the federal government he purports to distrust. We’ve learned even more about Pruitt’s travel preferences, and then there’s the sweetheart $50-per-night lodgings in D.C. that he got from the wife of a man who lobbies for the energy industries for whom Pruitt has been a career finger-puppet.

The narrative propounded by major media outlets and wise elder pundits, when they take notice of the breathtaking scale of corruption in the executive branch, is to speak of Trump and his den of thieves as an aberration, to scratch their collective heads and wonder at what these interloping miscreants are doing to the law and order, financially prudent GOP of yore.

As Pierce makes plain, this narrative has always been pure fiction, a contrivance to maintain an image of a reputable party and a coherent ideology:

 The primary engine of Pruitt’s entire career—and, believe me, he’s got plans for the future, too—has been contempt: contempt for the government, contempt for the environment, contempt for science, and contempt for any concept of limits on any of the people to whom he has sold his favor.

In this, he is the most powerful example of the fact that what Republicans now deplore as “Trumpism” existed in their party long before the president* came along. There is nothing that Pruitt has done—both in office and out—that would not have been done under any Republican president since Ronald Reagan was inaugurated. (Listening to Hewitt explain how “policy” was driving the resistance to Pruitt’s vandalism was to hear even further evidence of this proposition.) Trumpism is modern conservatism with dementia, but the policies were less than sane all along.

That anyone (especially those on the left and purportedly experienced political observers) claims to be aghast at the normalization of Trump and his menagerie of criminals looting the public treasury, or the lunatic ramblings emitted from the White House on a daily, if not hourly, basis, simply demonstrates that they have been lulled into the opium dream of the normalized GOP, and entranced by word salad pronouncements in defense of ‘principled’, ‘intellectual’, ‘movement’ conservatism.

Lunacy and criminality have been the hallmark of conservatism and the GOP since the days of Joseph McCarthy (whose assistant during his witch trials House UnAmerican Activities hearings was none other than Roy Cohn, later to be consigliere to the Trumps, pere et fils), Barry Goldwater, and of course California Governor Ronald Reagan.

The example of Scott Pruitt only serves to remind us of another public official, under then President Ronald Reagan, who had ridden a wave of post-Vietnam reactionary delusions and white-washed conservative mythology of a ‘traditional Middle America’ that never existed, propped up by a credulous media, all the way to the oval office, by which time he was already displaying signs of dementia, that were ignored (hmm, what current GOP president also fits that description?). The name of that earlier incarnation of corruption and surreal environmental views, the template for Pruitt– James Watt:

James Gaius Watt served as U.S. Secretary of the Interior under President Ronald Reagan from 1981 to 1983. He was probably the most destructive and disruptive of all President Reagan’s controversial cabinet appointments to senior advisory positions. He became the most obvious public leader of anti-environmentalism, and he played an instrumental role in ending the Sagebrush Rebellion, an attempt to preserve natural lands of the West against mining and over-grazing. Watt, and his appointees blocked wilderness designation legislation and slowed the work of federal land management agencies.

He was a life-long political apparatchik; trained as a lawyer at the University of Wyoming, but then entering political life as an aide to Republican senator Milward Simpson of Wyoming. His power-base was developed through the US Chamber of Commerce, where he served as Secretary to the Natural Resources Committee, and the Environmental Pollution Advisory Panel – both dedicated to exploiting, rather than preserving.

In 1969 he became deputy assistant secretary o water and power development at the Department of the Interior, and in 1975 he was appointed vice chairman of the Federal Power Commission.

In 1976, Watt founded the Mountain States Legal Foundation, a law firm-cum-think-tank foundation “dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited and ethical government and economic freedom.”[1] Both Gale Norton and Ann Veneman worked in the MSLF with Watt, and later became associates in the Reagan Administration…

According to the environmental advocacy group Center for Biological Diversity, for over two decades, Watt held the record for protecting the fewest species under the Endangered Species Act in United States history.[1]

Watt distinguished himself within the GOP not only with his craven opportunism, and his efforts to destroy the agency he was appointed to lead from within, actually working to oppose the very purpose it was created for, but also plain criminality:

James Watt, Reagan’s Secretary of the Interior was indicted on 41 felony counts for using connections at the Department of Housing and Urban Development to help his private clients seek federal funds for housing projects in Maryland, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.  Watt conceded that he had received $500,000 from clients who were granted very favorable housing contracts after he had intervened on their behalf.  In testifying before a House committee Watt said: “That’s what they offered and it sounded like a lot of money to me, and we settled on it.” Watt was eventually sentenced to five years in prison** and 500 hours of community service.

What is to be gleaned from all of this?

As Pierce alludes to in his observations about Pruitt, none of what we see with Trump and his cabal is new, or unusual, when it comes to the GOP. It is how they have been throughout our lifetime, despite the claims of those who wax nostalgic for the likes of Eisenhower, Republicans of ‘character’, patriots, who shared ‘core American values’.

It turns out, these principled conservatives, who attempted to operate within the institutional and legal framework of our constitutional democracy, were the aberration, the outliers of the GOP, not its ‘true face’. Just the opposite, they represented the mask of decency, the facade of sincere and rational  motives; they were camouflage for the grotesque visage of the GOP that is now bared for all to see.

The mask is off, the mythology exposed, and the GOP doesn’t even bother with pretending otherwise. Neither does its rank and file.

 

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