At a distance, Rex Tillerson did not appear to enjoy his 13-month tenure as Donald Trump’s secretary of state. Not to put too fine a point on this, but the nation’s former chief diplomat found himself marginalized and ignored by a president he considered to be a “f***ing moron.”
Two months after his departure from Trump’s cabinet, there’s reason to believe Tillerson harbors some ill will toward his former boss.
Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson took an apparent jab at President Donald Trump Wednesday during a commencement speech to graduates at the Virginia Military Institute, in which he deplored the nation’s “growing crisis in ethics and integrity” and leaders who “conceal the truth.”
Tillerson, who was fired by a Trump tweet as the country’s top diplomat in March and replaced with then-CIA Director Mike Pompeo, called on the graduates to maintain a “fierce defense of the truth.”
“As I reflect upon the state of our American democracy, I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity,” he said at the VMI commencement ceremony. “If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”
Tillerson went on to say, “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth, even on what may seem the most trivial of matters, we go wobbly on America.”
Now, it’s certainly possible that this is just a remarkable coincidence. Maybe Tillerson is concerned about our “growing crisis in ethics and integrity,” leaders who “conceal the truth,” and people who “become accepting of alternative realities,” and none of this had anything to do with Donald Trump and his team.
But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that the former secretary of state was thinking of someone very specific when he made these comments, and he chose his words carefully so that we’d appreciate his meaning.
As bad as Tillerson was at his job – he needlessly hollowed out his own cabinet agency in ways that did real, avoidable harm – it’s easy to understand why he may look back at his tenure with regret. Two years ago, he was the successful CEO of one of the planet’s most profitable companies. He took a chance, partnering with a confused amateur president, and the gamble didn’t work out.
As the New York Times recently put it, “A ride on President Trump’s bullet train can be thrilling, but it is often a brutal journey that leaves some bloodied by the side of the tracks…. Proximity to Mr. Trump has been a crushing experience for many who arrived with stellar careers and independent reputations yet ended up losing so much.”