There are a few sureties about personnel decisions in the Trump administration that are basically axiomatic at this point.
- Everyone is basically a cheap grifter and a penny-ante crook (hi Ben Carson! Nice to see you Ryan “Don’t Call It A Jet, Elitists!” Zinke.”)
- The one comforting things about the fact that everyone who works for Trump eventually gets ritually humiliated by a petty bully is that everyone who works for Trump deserves to get ritually humiliated by a petty bully.
- While it’s nice to see people leave, what comes next is always worse.
That brings us to yesterday’s “firing by tweet” of Rex Tillerson, who 15 months ago was one of the most powerful and private men in the world. This was a humiliating end to a man who could pick up the phone and get kings and billionaires on the line, and who could remake the world based on his pipeline politics.
He never really got to do that as Secretary of State, because he worked for a childish idiot equal parts venal and ignorant, but he was able to “accomplish” some things. He completely gutted the State Department, being unable or unwilling to fill key roles, and lost hundreds and hundreds of professionals staffers and area experts. He diminished the role of American diplomacy to, at best, an afterthought.
And sure, part of that was that he worked for a President who didn’t want any independent power bases, and who assumes he could (and should) rule on a whim. Trump was always all-in on “deconstructing the administrative state”, not out of any deep ideology, but out of the overwhelmingly narcissistic idea that he alone can get the job done.
(The brings up another of this blog’s axioms: all of Trump’s personal pathologies line up directly with GOP ideology. He’s the quintessential Republican, even if he doesn’t know it.)
But to blame this all on Trump is to completely miss the point of Tillerson. Rex ran Exxon like a sort of god-king. He wasn’t particularly vain, at least not in the Trumpian sense, but he believed that corporations shouldn’t be shackled by the government. He thought that they could (and should) run their own parallel diplomacy, and was frustrated by being restrained by those pencildicks at Foggy Bottom, who cared about “human rights” or “the national interest.” (see Steve Coll’s Private Empire for more on this.)
In that sense, he accomplished what he wanted. He destroyed the State Department, and left it unable to serve its primary function. And in the few instances where he acted like a reasonable grownup, such as in North Korea, Iran, and lately with Russia, he was undermined because he never really understood how to build a power center, and couldn’t stand up to our wet idiot of a President.
So overall? Worst Secretary of State in my lifetime at least. Kissinger was more venal, of course, and deserves to be remembered as a murderous criminal. Powell was a good man who enabled terrible things. But everything Rex did was bad, and what he didn’t do is catastrophic.
And, of course, what comes next is worse.