Treating people shabbily is a hallmark of Donald Trump, as ubiquitous to his brand as the “Trump” name he emblazons in gold on the buildings he builds or licenses. Even worse is his lack of loyalty to those who work for him and serve at his “royal” pleasure, to be tossed aside when they no longer serve his purpose. He seems to take special pleasure in reminding those around him of that, even as he throws those he’s finished with over the side with a frequency not seen since his reality TV show Celebrity Apprentice days.
That so many Americans seem, on balance, to be okay with this says more about us, however, than about him. We already know what Trump is about. He has made that clear time and again on the campaign stump, in public settings, in his tweets. We know who and what he is and yet we continue to endure it and some of us, alas, seem to actually revel in it, a kind of vicarious thrill achieved, perhaps, watching this man lord it over and, in many cases, destroy others around him.
Rex Tillerson seems to be an honorable man who strove to fulfill the role handed him by Trump when he tapped him to be the country’s chief diplomatic officer. Many of Tillerson’s detractors obsessed over his lack of prior government service or diplomatic credentials and complained loudly and in leaks to the press that he was trying to streamline the State Department at the expense of career diplomats for whom he showed insufficient deference. He certainly did work to shake things up in the name of the president who had appointed him, a crime which, alone, seemed a powerful argument to Trump opponents that he was up to no good, out of his depth or both.
But Tillerson also stood up to his boss when that was needed. He was one of this president’s cabinet officials who was apparently prepared to speak forthrightly about America’s challenges and bring an independent voice into his king’s private chambers. That didn’t endear him to the monarchical president who had placed him in his job. Donald Trump doesn’t like being second guessed or challenged by those he admits into his inner circle, seeking and lapping up flattery instead. That made Rex Tillerson odd man out even if he was one of the small number of mature heavy hitters inside the Trump administration prepared to provide an increasingly necessary counterbalance to a willful and erratic boss who once said that he didn’t need advisers because, you know “I’ve got a very good brain.”
The now-defrocked Secretary of State was someone Americans could look to if and when the ship of state needed steadying.
Now, with a tweet, the man is gone. How demeaning. How disrespectful and especially so to a man of Tillerson’s standing, getting the Trump treatment, famously heavy-handed and (no other word adequately characterizes it) cruel. To be thrown overboard in a tweeted moment like so much human debris.
Donald Trump publicly thanks and praises the man he has just knee-capped (as he usually does after a bloodletting), sending the message that, if you keep your mouth shut, I won’t hurt you.
The unspoken part, of course, is that, if he doesn’t, Trump, has the wherewithal to do him in. It’s more godfather than king with Trump and always has been.
Trump’s done it so many times in the past with those who have spoken out about him or sought to, that it seems like it’s second nature to him, using the implicit power of his wealth (and now of the presidency) to silence those who will not go quietly. Buy them off or sue them into silence or just hold out the carrot of a future gig with Trump and his billions as he has done so many times before (see the episode with Janney, Montgomery, Scott financial analyst Marvin Roffman* or the recent events concerning porn star “Stormy Daniels” who has accused Trump of marital infidelity with her).
But Rex Tillerson is famously known as a boy scout, in both the literal and figurative sense, having spent his life working hard, sticking with a simple code of honor of telling the truth when it matters. Hopefully this man, so recently reviled by the left for being a Trump stooge (and as someone way out of his depth) will not fade quietly away like so many others. Hopefully, as a former Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson will find his voice, where so many have failed to, and speak out honestly and publicly.
Hopefully the Trump omerta strategy, turned against those he has trod over, won’t work this time and this now former Trump appointee will speak as forthrightly out of the office he briefly held as he did when he held it. Americans need to hear the truth from someone who’s been there.