By Noa Dalzell, political columnist
Watching Trump’s cabinet appointments unfold has been like watching a reality television show. Rick Perry, the nominee for Secretary of Energy, once called for the elimination of the very department he will now oversee. Betsy DeVos, the unqualified and unprepared Secretary of Education, is a billionaire campaign donor who will promote the failure of the federal government. Jeff Sessions, a notorious racist, will now serve as our nation’s top lawyer, and Scott Pruitt will head the environmental agency he vehemently opposes.
But arguably, none of these people will have as much power and responsibility as the Secretary of State. Facing record opposition from Democratic Senators, former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson was confirmed by a 56-43 vote on Feb. 1.
Tillerson received his undergraduate civil engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin. After graduation, he joined ExxonMobil as an engineer, where he worked his way up to the top. He became a general manager in 1989 and chief executive officer in 2006, a position he has held for the past 10 years. ExxonMobil is the world’s sixth-largest company by revenue.
Tillerson expressed his opposition to U.S. sanctions on Russia after its annexation of Crimea, citing their ineffectiveness at an Exxon meeting. He also has opposed government regulations, saying “there are a thousand ways you can be told ‘no’ in this country” in a Wall Street Journal interview.
While he now stands as America’s 69th Secretary of State, his work is only beginning. Throughout the next four years, he will undoubtedly struggle with the difficult task of transforming himself from the head of the largest U.S.-based oil and gas company to the nation’s most powerful diplomat. Like many others in Trump’s administration, he is unqualified for the job, having never held a government position.
He lacks critical knowledge that the nation’s top diplomat should have.
Given the world’s ongoing refugee crisis that has dominated politics over the past year—and the crucial role America’s Secretary of State should play in it—it is incomprehensible that he would not have familiarized himself with the details of the vetting program that has been the subject of so much scrutiny over the past year. The fact that he came to the Senate hearing without this knowledge is deeply troubling.
His relationship with Putin is concerning.
In 2013, Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Tillerson with the Order of Friendship, one of the highest honors Russia gives foreign citizens. He negotiated several large deals with Putin as CEO of ExxonMobil. Four years later, in his Senate confirmation hearing, Tillerson refused to call Putin a war criminal despite overwhelming evidence that he is one.
Human Rights Watch, a nongovernmental organization that monitors human rights violations, said that Tillerson’s “reluctance to acknowledge human rights abuses by Russia, Saudi Arabia and the Philippines raises serious questions about whether he can effectively serve as secretary of state.”
He joins a list of Trump nominees that downplay humans’ role in climate change.
During his Senate hearing, he said that much of the literature on climate change is “inconclusive,” despite overwhelming consensus in the scientific community about the critical role of humans. In addition, Tillerson maintained that didn’t see climate change as an “imminent national security threat.”
While he didn’t completely deny climate change as other members of the Trump administration have, Tillerson did say that no climate change legislation should disadvantage U.S. businesses, which likely means he will be a proponent of inaction.
Despite his impressive rising in the ranks of ExxonMobil, Tillerson makes an incredibly poor choice for Secretary of State with his lack of knowledge, relationship with Putin and stance on climate change. Given the high rank and enormous responsibility of his position, Tillerson makes for an especially devastating cabinet pick.
Photo courtesy William Munoz, Creative Commons