I want to expand on a recent post by Rob Schofield. Schofield writes about the lamentable tenure of former DEQ Secretary Donald van der Vaart. He covers why van der Vaart was such a destructive force in North Carolina policy. But the former secretary’s story has implications beyond the glass-walled building on Jones Street.
In the words of Jason Zengerle, North Carolina is the place where “all the passions and pathologies of American politics writ large are played out writ small, and with even greater intensity.” Van der Vaart’s career exemplified this. On a policy level he enacted in the state—and advocated expansion to the federal level—a huge assault on environmental protection. This was precisely what a militantly anti-environment party wanted. And his rise epitomizes the moral collapse of the GOP.
Van der Vaart is a vindictive, cynical hatchet man who abuses his technical credentials to push an extreme agenda. His respect for science begins and ends at its ideological utility. He has manipulate government process in unprecedented ways. In a normal political movement, there would be no place for such an unethical man. But the NCGOP elevated him to a central role. And the Trump administration even considered promoting him further to being the nation’s top environmental cop.
Van der Vaart found an opening because the GOP no longer vets for decency. The party reacted to the Bush administration by excluding ethics from their criteria for advancement. Van der Vaart is an environmental scoundrel. So he’s just another kind of questionable figure pouring into the GOP.
Sadly, because of this downward cycle, van der Vaart’s career is almost certainly not over. His last press release struck a savvy faux-victimized tone, and it will make him more of a right-wing darling. Like Donald Trump, he knows what Republicans want. It’s ugly.