Very Different Ideas of Right and Wrong

Regular visitors to this site may have noticed that The Curmudgeon doesn’t much care for Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Tillerson was president and CEO of Exxon Mobil, so The Curmudgeon assumes that he is a seriously capable guy. His beef with Tillerson – or, to be fair, his beef with Tillerson’s appointment as Secretary of State – is that being a seriously capable guy doesn’t necessarily qualify him to be Secretary of State, nor does the deal-making Tillerson has done over the years with sheiks and tycoons and all sorts of leaders in countries with oil. Tillerson got a lot out of those people? Of course he did: he traded his barrels of money for their barrels of oil so naturally, they loved the guy. This country would be well-served with Tillerson in almost any cabinet-level position – any position, that is, except Secretary of State. Diplomacy should be left to the professionals.

Apparently, the soon-to-be former Secretary of State

Tillerson’s not going to last very long as Secretary of State; in fact, as The Curmudgeon posts this on Friday evening to appear in this space on Monday morning, it’s possible Tillerson will be the former Secretary of State by the time you read this. We now know that he doesn’t have a very good relationship with Agent Orange, at one point referring to him “a f—cking moron.” Tillerson shows no interest in being Trump’s pal, which is a problem in Trump World: for a guy who loves to dish it out, Trump has virtually no capacity to take it and is offended that someone he honored with a cabinet appointment doesn’t want to play golf and eat overcooked steak with him.

Tillerson and Trump come from different worlds, and an excellent illustration of this is the following passage from a long and interesting article in the New Yorker:

In February, a few weeks after Tillerson was confirmed by the Senate, he visited the Oval Office to introduce the President to a potential deputy, but Trump had something else on his mind. He began fulminating about federal laws that prohibit American businesses from bribing officials overseas; the businesses, he said, were being unfairly penalized. Tillerson disagreed. When he was an executive with Exxon, he told Trump, he once met with senior officials in Yemen to discuss a deal. At the meeting, Yemen’s oil minister handed him his business card. On the back was written an account number at a Swiss bank. “Five million dollars,” the minister told him.

 “I don’t do that,” Tillerson said. “Exxon doesn’t do that.” If the Yemenis wanted Exxon on the deal, he said, they’d have to play straight. A month later, the Yemenis assented. “Tillerson told Trump that America didn’t need to pay bribes—that we could bring the world up to our own standards,” a source with knowledge of the exchange told me.

That’s a pretty vast cultural gulf to span – and a sad thing to learn about one’s president. Of course, Trump comes from the real estate and property development world, where greasing the palms of building inspectors, making campaign contributions to local elected officials in exchange for zoning variances, bribing overseas officials to support deals, stiffing contractors, and other such dishonest actions are probably less the exception than the rule.

And that’s Trump’s world. That’s why he could stand on a stage in the Great Hall of People in China and tell his audience about the trade imbalance between the U.S. and China that

I don’t blame China. After all, who can blame a country for being able to take advantage of another country for benefit of their citizens? I give China great credit.

Yes, we know, he calls that “winning,” and in so doing betrays his “ends justify the means” ethos that he shows to his fellow Americans and the world virtually every day, but it’s a bitter pill to swallow that this is the sense of right and wrong that the president of the United States brings to his role as leader of the free world.

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