Samuel Rafael Barber
It's Not a Metaphor (well)
Scott is an avid checkers player. He asks if I'd like to play. He registers my surprise. "I know we've got three hours for this thing, so don't worry, I'll give you plenty of material. Besides, it'll help warm me up. C'mon. Please?" I notice countless aides who flit in and out of the ajar office door on this or that errand, on this or that mission. I notice the refurbished desk, the unusually large security detail, the infamous phone booth: Each has been a recent source of public consternation and congressional scrutiny now that insiders suggest Scott will be the next cabinet member relieved of his post. I prepare my questions. Scott chooses black, then second guesses himself. Scott chooses red, then sighs. "The most difficult decision I've made all day." I laugh. He too laughs, brow furrowed.
Described by Anonymous Aide #1
"Quite frankly, he's a buffoon. A dolt. A fool. A dummy. A dum-dum. An ass. A dumbass. A halfwit. A dimwit. A dunce. A chump. A moron. An imbecile. An ignoramus. A simpleton. A nitwit. A boob. A ditz. A schmuck. A mouth-breather. A pinhead. A chowderhead. A birdbrain. A peabrain. A knuckle-dragger. A numbskull. A jackass. A sap. A loon. A lummox. A doofus. A dipstick. An idiot. A complete and utter nincompoop. Can I call you back after lunch? I'll brainstorm a few more."
The Act of Naming
Born Edward Scott Pruitt, the fourteenth Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency seems to resent his birth name and flinches when it is mentioned. "My parents were good Christian people. They lived by the golden rule. That is, they refused to treat others the way they would want to be treated until they—that is, my parents—had been treated the way they wanted to be treated by others, and by others I mean other people." He motions at an aide, who opens a cupboard, revealing rows and rows of bottled water. "You know, they say that up to half of bottled water is in fact unfiltered tap water. Scientists would have you believe this. But scientists would also have you believe climate change is a settled issue, and we know that this just isn't the case. I've gone on the record before when it comes to this topic and I'll go on the record again on this topic and I'll stay on the record for as long as I need to make the point I need to make, which is that, in the words of one of my colleagues, Kathleen Hartnett White, leader of the White House Council on Environmental Quality, CO2 regulations are 'the killer of coal' which is ironic given that she is so right when she makes clear that 'Carbon dioxide has no adverse impact on the air we breathe at all. It's a harmless trace gas that is actually an essential nutrient for plants.' I almost think you should be interviewing her, darling, when I remember how eloquently she put . . . something about democracy and scientists. . . . Let me see. . . ." After consulting his smartphone, Scott finds the quote in an interview between Hartnett White and Rolling Stone. "Oh yes, here we go! 'We're not a democracy if science dictates what our rules are.' Could not have put it better myself." Scott has a tendency to drift from topic to topic, as if by association. "What were we talking about again?" I point to the cartons of bottled water. "Oh yes, yes. Well, I know what the scientists say about bottled water, and I know what the scientists say about half of all the world's plastic being manufactured over the past thirteen years, but I also know what they say about the number of scientists it takes to screw in a lightbulb. Do you?" He waits for my answer. I shake my head. "It takes all the scientists in the world to screw in a lightbulb and, even then, the dang lightbulb doesn't get screwed in, on account of all the scientists being too busy lying to the public about climate change being settled science to take the time to screw in the dang lightbulb!" I remind him of the original question, remind him he is named Edward. He flinches once again. "My parents were God-fearing people, but they should have been Scott-fearing people too. Naming their son Edward of all names. Naming their own son something like that."
"Gary" Has Thoughts
"Of all the bodyguards, I understand him best. We have a psychic connection. It's not just cause I too was raised in Oklahoma, and it's not just cause I too was raised on football. Scott's an earnest guy. Real sincere. He wants you to like him, and by you I mean both you, magazine profiler, but also you, American reader of said magazine profile." "Gary" consults his watch. Rubs his nose with a wrist. "It can be hard to tell from the sensationalized fake news everywhere these days, but Scott's a real original. A Miller man. A few months back I was having a tough time. Sadie was out of town on a business trip, and the kids were driving me up the wall. My dad was in the hospital with pneumonia and my neighbor was threatening to cut down all my trees in the dead of night if I didn't start separating my mixed paper from glass and plastic for curbside recycling. Scott puts his arm around me, one day, and asks me to imagine us seated at the fifty-yard line watching our Sooners destroy the Bulldogs at the Rose Bowl two days from then. Then, two days later, I'm driving Scott and his family to the Rose Bowl, suddenly. I'm nervous. My palms are sweating. What does this mean? I ask myself. Could it really be true? I ask myself. I begin to get my hopes up. I escort the family to the fifty. The fifty! Scott's reserved a ticket just for me, it turns out. Even Georgia's comeback couldn't lower my spirits. Even the fact that I had to stand the whole time facing the other fans, for security reasons, couldn't lower my spirits. I was DVR-ing the game at home anyway. Anyway, what a guy. What a man."
Traveling the World
Scott is an unrepentant tourist. "Guatemala, India, Sri Lanka, what have you. You name it, I'm there." Scott has traveled far further and far more frequently than previous Administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency. "In order to know thyself, one must understand other selves. In order to understand one's country, one must understand the countries of others." He gazes aloft as he says this. One hand slides into the pocket of his slacks, the other clasps his left breast. He does not seem to notice these changes, although the faintest trace of a hum escapes his lips. The national anthem. When asked about the recent Washington Post exposé of his travel habits on the taxpayers' dime—including the allegation that longtime friend Richard Smotkin signed a $40,000 a month lobbying contract with the Moroccan government after helping arrange Scott's four day visit last September—Scott begins to cough. Bent over and gesturing for aid, a member of his security detail lifts him into the air and begins performing the Heimlich maneuver. Another member of his security detail throws him a bottle of water, smacking the other member of his security detail in the back of the head. Once the commotion subsides, I ask whether the story is true, whether right after taking office he did, in fact, draw up a list of dozens of countries he hoped to visit and urge aides to help find official reasons for him to travel there. "I'm not much of a reader, but I am an unrepentant traveler. We live in a global world of energy. It is not enough to study domestic trends. I can't say I've read the article in the Post, but can you say you've read Elizabeth Gilbert? Eat, Pray, Love will change your life. Take it from me."
The teachers' strike in Oklahoma is but one instance of massive protest shaking the nation, as similar efforts in West Virginia, Kentucky, and Arizona have been extracting concessions from stunned lawmakers. But what sets these teachers apart is their targeting of Oklahoma's gross production tax on new wells—at 2% the lowest such rate nationwide—as they argue that teacher salaries and school spending could be increased with a negligible increase in this tax rate. Oklahoma ranks 49th in the country in average teacher salary according to the National Education Association. As the output and employment in coal has been dropping since the 1980s, natural gas has picked up the slack in what should be a boom for Oklahoma's heavily gas-dependent economy. Nearly a fourth of all jobs in the state are tied to energy production. Given that the oil and gas industry is Oklahoma Governor Mary Fallin's biggest campaign contributor, and given that North Dakota's teachers and students benefited from the shale boom to the tune of a 26% increase in spending per pupil between 2008 and 2016 when taxes on new wells were set at 11.5%, the tide is turning. Residents are beginning to understand the nature of power, the influence of money in politics. For some time the schools of Oklahoma have been shuttering for three days a week in order to control costs and allow teachers to seek other part-time employment. For some time the teachers of Oklahoma have avoided assigning homework in order to mitigate the loss of books neither they nor their districts can afford to replace. For no longer.
The Best Around (and No One Will Ever Get Him Down)
Now that a top official in charge of security and a top official in charge of toxic-waste cleanups have abruptly resigned from the EPA in the days after Scott testified before Congress that subordinates were responsible for the ethical problems which have imperiled his political future and prompted dozens of federal investigations, observers are beginning to wonder if Scott is long for his station. They wonder if he will soon join other cabinet members in losing his job once the liabilities of these controversies outweigh the distraction they provide from the President's own scandals. "I know that the President has said that we employ only the best people. And I know that I number among them. That is, I know that when the President assured the American people that he would employ only the best people while making America great again, I know that he was referring to me. I humbly accept this praise, I really do. But even the very best people—a category of people to which I very much belong, irrespective, even, of the President's assessment of my character and skillset were you to call him up and ask him yourself—must employ further people still. And as much as we might hope that the very best people are only employing the very best of the remaining people, there are only so many best people to go around. The previous administration has left us in quite a bind, both in terms of the overwhelming number of biased career civil servants, and the overwhelming scale of burdensome environmental regulations which serve no purpose other than to cripple innovation and stymie the private sector from ushering in a new era of prosperity for this country and its brave leaders." He stands up. Walks to the window overlooking downtown. Shifts his weight back and forth, teetering from side to side like a pilgrim at the wailing wall. "Even the very best people can only do so much. Even the very best people—people such as myself—are only individual people capable of only one job at a time. Have I trusted my own people too much? Certainly. Will I continue to trust my own people too much? No way, Jose." Albert Kelly, until recently the supervisor of the EPA's Superfund program, was a former Oklahoman banker hired by Scott after federal banking regulators banned Kelly for life from working in the industry. These same regulators have never revealed what specific actions led to the banking ban several years ago.
In addition to the claims of living large off the public dime in his travel accommodations, recent leaks point to a sweet $50 per night condo deal Scott received from an energy industry lobbyist, a $10,200 a year leased bulletproof SUV, the $3 million he has spent on security detail in the first 10 months on the job for a team of at least 18 agents, the salary bumps of $56,765 and $28,130, respectively, for two officials using an obscure authority under the Safe Drinking Water Act when these pay increases were refused by the President's office, and the $43,000 required to install a soundproof phone booth involving a drop ceiling, removing closed-circuit television equipment, and pouring concrete all around the booth. He is the first EPA administrator to have round-the-clock security. Despite the EPA's claims of an unprecedented number of threats made against Scott's life, court records submitted in support of their assertion fail to demonstrate even a single threat. When pressed by Fox News's Ed Henry on the justification for the salary increases, Scott denied knowledge of the approval. When pressed by Congress on April 26th, he responded thusly: "I want to correct that and ensure that it does not happen again. Ultimately, the responsibility for identifying and making changes necessary rests with me and no one else. With that being said, facts are facts and fiction is fiction, and a lie doesn't become truth just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper. Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team has been half-truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted they did not resemble reality and I'm here and I welcome the chance to be here to set the record straight in these areas. But let's have no illusions about what is really going on here. Those who attack the EPA are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president's agenda and undermine this administration's priorities. I'm simply not going to let that happen." When pressed by me near the end of our match of checkers, Scott pauses. Retrieves a note from a pocket and reads: "I want to correct that and ensure that it does not happen again. Ultimately, the responsibility for identifying and making changes necessary rests with me and no one else. With that being said, facts are facts and fiction is fiction, and a lie doesn't become truth just because it appears on the front page of the newspaper. Much of what has been targeted towards me and my team has been half-truths or, at best, stories that have been so twisted they did not resemble reality and I'm here and I welcome the chance to be here to set the record straight in these areas. But let's have no illusions about what is really going on here. Those who attack the EPA are doing so because they want to attack and derail the president's agenda and undermine this administration's priorities. I'm simply not going to let that happen." He smiles as he puts the statement back in his pocket. "I'm going to win this game of checkers with these compelling moves of mine just like I won that congressional hearing with this compelling statement."
"Tim" Has Thoughts
He tries to get the attention of our waitress, but she escapes to the kitchen. "They're pants and polos we wear while doing tactical things. Tactical pants, tactical polos. It's right there in the name, so I'm not sure why everyone's causing such a fuss." He taps his cigarette in the ashtray. Once. Twice. Thrice. "God, I love this place. A libertarian's dream. Just look at the menu. The choices. The choices!" He's excitable. He's earnest enough to believe. "Look, I know $2,749.62 sounds like a lot. $2,749.62 can buy you a hell of a lot of pancakes at a place like this, and a whole lot of sausage, and an unbelievable amount of toast. But purchasing power at an IHOP isn't the be-all and end-all indicator. We're the richest country in the world. In the history of the world. I don't see the problem, here. If we can't spend three grand on tactical pants, what can we spend three grand on?" He tries to get the attention of our waitress as she takes the order of a nearby table, and once again fails to do so. "And, personally, the thing with the lotion is overblown too. Sure, Scott moisturizes more than most men his age. But shouldn't we all take a lesson from him? Shouldn't we all take a proactive approach to protecting our looks before they're savaged by time?"
Described by Anonymous Aide #2
"I like his style. He does whatever he wants and says whatever he wants. He has no mercy and takes no prisoners. Father asked him if he'd hire me, and he accepted. Just like that. Pruitt and Father had never met before. One minute they were playing poker at a gala hosted by Turning Point USA and the next, they were the exact same people doing the exact same things except I was set to make bank as an aide. Not immediately, you understand. But this gig will lead to a more prestigious gig which will lead to an even more prestigious gig. Before you know it, before you can even bat an eye, I'll be a senior adviser to someone of significance. All because Father told him I liked baseball, and Scott told Father that he loved baseball. Father told him I like to say whatever I want to say and do whatever I want to do. That I never close my eyes when Mother's saying grace. Never ask for permission to stay out late with friends. Never clean up my room. Scott told Father that he never lists all of his assets in financial disclosure forms. Never follows regulatory guidelines or laws established by prior administrations. Never cleans up his room. I really admire Pruitt. He's sort of a role model for me. And this is a pretty sweet first job, all things considered. It's all downhill from here, for someone like me."
I talk to one of the organizers of the teacher strike, Jess, whose last name I agree to withhold considering the content of her comments. She tells me she's been getting death threats in the lead-up to today's demonstration. "The weird thing is I thought I recognized the voice, but I couldn't be absolutely sure." She retrieves a pack of gum from her purse. Asks if I'd like a piece. I decline and immediately regret it. Immediately worry I've misdiagnosed a hint for basic politeness. Eyes maintaining contact, my palm suggests the smothering of a sneeze as I simulate a yawn. My whiffs are inconclusive. "I'm a native Sooner. I've been teaching in public schools here for my whole career, some twenty-three years now, and I've been monitoring Pruitt's trajectory ever since he became a state senator from Tulsa. I'm from Tulsa too, you see. He dated a friend of mine, for a time. She was a pretty bad friend, even then, now that I think about it. Now, I thought the voice was familiar, but I couldn't place it. It was only when he testified before Congress last week that I made the connection. It was Pruitt all right. I kept hearing the clicking of buttons before and after everything he said, as if he was trying to use a voice modulator but it was malfunctioning or he didn't know how it worked. In any case, I have some friends in D.C. and they pulled some Freedom of Information Act requests, and, lo and behold, there's no record of Pruitt making any such calls. And yet I was sure it was him! Absolutely sure." She retrieves a newspaper clipping from her purse. "The next morning while I eat my Cheerios, I read this insanity about a cone of silence. Some untraceable soundproofed phone booth he's gotten installed in his office, an untraceable line. Then, I understood what had happened. I understood what I was dealing with . . . what I am dealing with . . . what we are all dealing with."
Who Forgets and Who Remembers
Scott's expenditures in office have been a source of contention within the administration, sources say. P.T. Barnum has said there's no such thing as bad publicity, and yet Scott seems intent on proving the showman wrong. Following his reassigning of several EPA officials upset with the planned $100,000 a month charter aircraft membership and the proposal to spend nearly $70,000 in replacing his personal desk and the desk at the security station outside his office with bulletproof models, Scott has begun to privately scapegoat former aide to the president Rob Porter. Porter, fired after patterns of domestic violence known to the administration for months before they were revealed to the public, is alleged to be a source for leaks about Scott's expenditures ever since Porter's romantic relationship with former EPA official Samantha Dravis came to an end. "The man is a leech, a poison, a whirling dervish of destruction. The man is nothing but a jilted lover feeding fake news to the mainstream media in the desperate hope that his own sins will be forgotten. But they won't be forgotten, will they? Elephants and I have a lot in common. Elephants participate in funerals for their dead, and so do I. I go to funerals all the time. Elephants can paint with their trunks, and so can I, albeit with my fingers and hands. My teacher says I'm improving at an unprecedented rate, that I'll master three point perspective in no time. An elephant never forgets, and neither do I. Do you, Miss? Do you ever forget?"
History Repeats Itself, History Repeats Itself
Jess is not alone in having followed Scott's rise. Another teacher—let's call her Margaret—points to his 2003 purchase of a house using a shell corporation at a discount of about a hundred thousand dollars from its previous value, a sum paid by the seller's employer, SBC Oklahoma. None of these details were mentioned in financial disclosure filings, in violation of state ethics rules. "Now known as AT&T, the company had been lobbying for the state congress deregulation bill allowing it to raise rates at the same time as it sought to stymie efforts to reopen records regarding a potential bribery case from years before. Pruitt voted with AT&T on both counts, of course. A certain Albert Kelly issued the mortgage on the aforementioned home, as well as the mortgage on a lakefront property in a gated community, and a stake in a minor league baseball team, the Oklahoma City RedHawks. Oh, and that AT&T investigation? In 2011, as Attorney General, his office warned that any future reopening of the case would justify prosecution for misuse of public funds." She asks if we can pause. She applies another coat of sunscreen. "My skin just can't handle the sun. I burn so quickly. Faster, even, than a mockingbird on a crippled June bug!" She offers me the sunscreen. I consider telling her that Banana Boat is facing a class action lawsuit following tests showing the brand, among others, fails to meet SPF claims by a rather startling disparity. She shrugs. "Anyway, I'm so glad the Times compiled all this material for the public. It's convenient to locate his past misdeeds all in one place, and even I had forgotten the bit with the baseball team." She gestures towards the screen of her phone. "Thanks for letting me get all that on the record, just then." I shrug. "So, you're not one of those reporters who lionizes the famous, having been co-opted by the glitzy lifestyle you access through your subjects, are you? Not one of those only here to write about the novelty of an honest to goodness labor uprising in the year 2018 while refusing to examine the nuances of the battle and the stakes for political participation in this oligarchy we call by another name?" My frown seems to convince. "So, you know about the earthquakes then, right?"
Described by Aide #3
"What can I possibly say that hasn't already been said? He's unexceptional. He's an unexceptional man who stumbled into a moment in which grifting was all but legal, a moment in which it's easier to get ahead by mollifying the powerful than contributing to the well-being of society at large. Blame Citizens United if you want. Blame Congress for confirming Thomas to the bench even after his repeated sexual harassment of Anita Hill at the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, of all places. Sexual harassment which escalated to the point that Thomas left a pubic hair on a Coke can on Hill's desk. Take it from me, a human woman, that this is truly the sexiest means of seducing our gender." The words come in an avalanche. I record them only with the help of transcription, getting it all down only after rewinding the tape over and over again that night at my motel room's desk. "Blame reality television or the Kardashians or rap music. I don't care, not really. I have crippling student loan debt and automation is coming for all of our jobs and day in and day out, I am working to destroy the only planet the human species has ever known. Blame me if you must. I stumbled into this moment not unlike how Scott stumbled into it. We're just stumbling through life, Scott and I. Scott stumbling upward, I stumbling downward. This is what Arendt was trying to get at in Eichmann in Jerusalem, I think. This is what Herzog gets at in all of his documentaries, I know. We are so accustomed to viewing ourselves as the individual subjects in this biopic of humanity, never remembering that this planet preceded us for billions of years and will outlast us by billions more. But life doesn't follow Freytag's Pyramid, not really. There will be no resolution. Only bribery, conspiracy, destruction, and extinction."
"Billy" Has Thoughts
"Yeah, I helped him purchase a used mattress from the Trump International Hotel. He was searching for an apartment and needed a mattress. Hupp and I reached out and haggled over the price. We ended up carrying it to his new place, a week or so later. . . . Just the two of us. . . ." He points to the elevator. "Can I go now? There's nothing else to say. It is what it is."
Acts of God, Acts of Man
Nearly half a billion gallons of industrial wastewater mixed with storm water surged from but one Baytown chemical plant in the days following Hurricane Harvey's pummeling of the Houston area. The carcinogens benzene, vinyl chloride, and butadiene were among dozens of toxins released into the groundwater of surrounding neighborhoods amidst Harvey's torrential rain. Reporters have catalogued over one hundred Harvey-related toxic releases stemming from the storm, and yet only a handful of the industrial spills have been investigated by federal regulators. While Texas regulators have claimed to have investigated eighty-nine incidents, they have yet to announce any responses or enforcement actions. Indeed, Bryan Shaw, chairman of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, refused to answer lawmakers this past January in identifying specifically which locations suffered the worst impact as well as the extent of this impact, citing that investigations were ongoing. Testing of soil and water was limited to Superfund toxic waste sites and did not extend to air pollution, and the EPA has recently clarified that these general assessments did not necessarily reflect local "hotspots" posing the greatest potential risk to people, animals, and the environment. In a water quality report obtained through an open records request, ExxonMobil, responsible for the spilling of some 457 million gallons of untreated wastewater during these days of flooding, stated "available information does not indicate any potential danger to human health or safety or the environment." In the days before Harvey, Texas Governor Greg Abbott declared that storm-related pollution would be forgiven as "acts of God." In the days after Harvey, his office suspended numerous environmental regulations. I preface my question with all this context, but Scott takes his response in another direction. He begins to reminisce, begins to remember his childhood best friend, a boy named Harvey. "He was an excellent baseball player, but he had a bit of a lisp. He was bullied for it. I would have stood up for him, but I was a bit short, and was bullied for that as well. After a certain amount of exposure to bullying, the bullied learn to not intervene when not being directly bullied themselves. There are abundant opportunities for bullies to justify further bullying, and we, the bullied, can never afford to risk increasing the frequency with which we are bullied." He takes a sip of bottled water. "The bullying reminds me of what you folks do to me on a daily basis, in fact. You sit in your ivory towers writing ivory words on your ivory laptops, bullying me six ways to Sunday. Well, I've been bullied before and I'll be bullied again. But you better not be bullying me right now, darling, with those words you're typing at this very minute. Yes, I mean those words you're typing just now, while I continue speaking this sentence I am speaking right this very second, these words falling out my mouth like I used to fall down the gymnasium stairs with the help of my bully. You really better not be bullying me, sweetie. The first lady, what with her cyberbullying initiative, would be appalled."
The Enemy of Your Enemy Is Your What, Exactly?
Scott was an unconventional choice to lead the EPA. At the time of his nomination and confirmation he was, in fact, suing the agency he was designated to lead. Many observers suspected his appointment was designed to destroy the agency from within. These observers are demanding credit now that it has been announced that the National Center for Environmental Research, responsible for providing millions of dollars in grants each year for the purpose of studying the effects of chemicals on the health of children, will be dissolved in the coming months, its science staff reassigned elsewhere within the EPA. "No comment." Moments pass. "King me." I king him. "Our press release said everything that needed to be said. A consolidation is all, a needed overhaul of yet another wasteful big government program." Moments pass. He kings me. Moments pass. The game comes to an end. He begins to breathe heavily. He begins to hyperventilate. A member of his security detail hands him a paper bag and a bottled water. "Beginner's luck. . . . Beginner's luck is all. . . ."
A Man, a Phone Booth, and a Voice Modulator
Weeks pass. I conduct research. I conduct phone interviews with peripheral figures. Weeks pass. I pick up the phone. I hear clicking. "Yes, uh, I'd be careful who you talk to, lady. There are a lot of disreputable folks in Oklahoma, darling, and we wouldn't want you to be misled now would we? We wouldn't want someone to harm one of the hairs on your pretty little head, or—worse still—we wouldn't want someone to harm the person attached to those hairs growing on the pretty little head—the pretty little scalp—now would we? No, I think it's a safe assumption to assume that neither of us would like the hairs or the head to which the hairs are attached or the person on which the head rests to come to any harm. What I'm trying to say is be careful, is all." More clicking. "There are people out there who won't hesitate to smack you six ways to Sunday if the opportunity arises. Careful, honey. Careful." I begin to respond but the clicking is replaced by the beeping of that most repeatable dial tone.
Described by the President
The President does not return my first call. Or my second. Or my third.
Described by His Financial Advisor
"It can be difficult to distinguish between being laughed with and being laughed at. You've had your fun. You've laughed and laughed. You've missed the whole point. Marilyn might not have gotten her Chic-Fil-A franchise, but then again, she never finished the application. Had she wanted it, it would be hers. Scott snaps and Marilyn has a Chic-Fil-A franchise. He snaps again, and a KFC franchise. Snaps three and four net a Tommy's Express Car Wash and a Planet Fitness. We keep the score, and December 22, 2017, is flashing on the jumbotron in neon lights. I'm retiring after all this. I'm retiring long and hard. Scott can do the same if he chooses. If not, he'll be taken care of. The energy industry owes him a lot."
The Happiest Place on Earth™
Weeks pass. In anticipation of the publication of my story, Scott invites me along to his latest trip to Disneyland. Criticized on all sides, the President's Twitter account is the last line of defense, the only support he has found within or outside of the administration. Clearly, Scott is desperate. Clearly, Scott is hoping to butter me up, hoping my coverage will mitigate the fury and prolong his tenure leading the EPA. I accept the invitation. In a twist of fate, he will resign only days later.
Scott Pruitt Screams on Splash Mountain
Flanked on all sides by his eight bodyguards, we move wherever we please, cutting to the front of the line whenever we please. The ride operators shrug. Two or three recognize Scott and smile, wave. "They like me here, they really do. I like to come here to chill. To relax. Disneyland reminds me of my childhood." Lost in thought, he knocks a toddler over, not seeming to notice. "My parents never took me, of course, but Disneyland reminds me of my greatest hopes as a child, when I'd lie in bed late at night unable to sleep, unable to envision living through the week, let alone living through my adolescence. It was a dark time." Scott looks away. Asks one of the bodyguards for a Go-GURT. I study the faces of the children we're displacing. Wonder where they're from. Where they're going. What's in the water they drink, what's in the painted toys they play with as they lie in bed late at night, unable to sleep. We ride ride after ride. It's getting late, and I mention my tiredness. "Just one more, we haven't even visited Splash Mountain! Splash Mountain's my favorite." We make our way to Scott's favorite ride, cut to the front of the line. "Thanks for coming, by the way, darling. I'm feeling like we're finally getting to understand each other. I'm feeling really good about this profile of yours." He chuckles. Rubs the cushioned bar restraint digging into our thighs. "I need this, I really do." It's unclear if he's referring to Splash Mountain's five story drop, or my profile. In any case, we all scream on Splash Mountain. Scott screams loudest of all.