A Few Thoughts on Rex Tillerson, Trump’s Nominee for Secretary of State

It might seem like a joke, but Donald Trump’s nomination of Rex W. Tillerson as Secretary of State is very much real. After Trump’s election, many Americans consoled themselves by thinking maybe he won’t be so badmaybe he’s been full of hot air the whole time, and won’t actually pursue an agenda that could be detrimental to reasonable American interests.

Yet at this point, it’s difficult to tell the difference between Trump’s actual nominations for high-ranking positions — such as Scott Pruitt running the EPA — and hoaxes such as this one, satirically reporting that El Chapo, the infamous Mexican drug lord, had been picked to run the DEA.

By many accounts, Rex Tillerson is a pretty good guy. He’s down-to-earth, avoids the kind of hoity-toity social scene you might expect from a big-shot oil executive, and has maintained a lifelong involvement in the Boy Scouts of America, serving as president from 2010–2012. He even fought to allow the Boy Scouts to admit gay youths, a battle which was waged only a few short years ago.

ExxonMobil, under his reign, has admitted that climate change is real, and needs to be addressed — no small feat for a corporation specializing in resource extraction. They have even voiced support for a carbon tax, meaning that they would be responsible for paying an extra fee for their CO2 emissions.

Tillerson might not seem like that bad of a pick, but when it comes down to it he has spent his entire career working for ExxonMobil. There’s nothing wrong with that, but being a slightly progressive oil executive hardly qualifies you to be America’s Top Diplomat.

Say what you will about Mitt Romney and David Petraeus, the two front-runners for Secretary of State before Trump settled on Tillerson, but one thing they share is distinguished records of public service. While not wholly unblemished, they have proven that they care about serving the American people. Trump’s nominee might surprise us all, but there is no evidence that he will do so. His entire career has been spent brokering business deals for an oil company.

Since he will be responsible for representing American interests abroad, Tillerson’s close relationship with Vladimir Putin is sure to come under close scrutiny during his confirmation hearings: he will no longer be a business leader, but an advocate for the interests of the American people. These have two very distinct agendas.

Trump seems to favor businessmen who can negotiate, who can get the best deal. In many areas of government, that’s an admirable, even enviable quality. But is that really who we want running the State Department? In the end, diplomacy isn’t about who came out on top: it’s about making sure that America gets along with the rest of the world, with both its allies and its adversaries. We can only hope that a man whose career has focused on the bottom line has the ability to do both.

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