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Facts Are Back! Finding Cause For Hope In Rex Tillerson's Nomination Hearing

Tillerson’s refusal to shoot from the lip is a welcome change from the reckless statements made by the President-elect, writes Susan E. Reed. Pictured: Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson gestures during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Steve Helber/AP)
Tillerson’s refusal to shoot from the lip is a welcome change from the reckless statements made by the President-elect, writes Susan E. Reed. Pictured: Secretary of State-designate Rex Tillerson gestures during testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2017. (Steve Helber/AP)
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COMMENTARY

The gaslighting of the American people may be coming to an end. After weeks of waiting for someone from the proposed Trump administration to demonstrate the willingness to engage in a factual analysis of a subject of critical importance to this nation, Rex Tillerson accepted the responsibility.

The remarkable event occurred Wednesday during the former Exxon Mobil chief’s nomination hearing for secretary of state before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Sen. Marco Rubio was trying to pressure Tillerson to proclaim that Russian President Vladimir Putin was a war criminal. “Those are very, very serious charges to make, and I would like to see more information before drawing that conclusion,” said Tillerson.

Facts! Those things that used to exist before the factitious, post-truth, political era began, seem to be valued by the unflappable 64-year-old who would, if confirmed, be fourth-in-line to the presidency.

Rubio then tried to push him to agree that Putin was responsible for the death of many political dissidents and journalists. “I do not have sufficient information to make that claim,” said Tillerson. “I deal with facts. I look forward to becoming fully informed” before making a decision.

Facts! Those things that used to exist before the factitious, post-truth, political era began, seem to be valued by the unflappable 64-year-old who would, if confirmed, be fourth-in-line to the presidency. Not only does Tillerson prefer to analyze information before going on the offensive against a world leader, but he listened closely and responded judiciously to his questioners, two more qualities that are important for the nation’s top diplomat.

Some may consider Tillerson’s statement a dodge from publicly condemning Putin, whom he knows from previous business visits to Russia and has said he would like to work with on areas of mutual U.S.-Russia interest. Instead, it reflects a sense of strategy and timing. In dealing with unfriendly countries such as Russia and China, Tillerson said he would maintain the status quo until the U.S. is able to develop an approach with incentives and penalties that are in line with America’s values and interests.

Tillerson’s refusal to shoot from the lip is a welcome change from the reckless statements made by the president-elect, that have had people worrying whether Trump is going to get us into a war with impulsive tweets criticizing China or threatening to increase our nuclear weapons.

Having not grown up cossetted by wealth, as Donald Trump did, Tillerson has not had the privilege of failure. Tillerson comes from humble roots. He started working as a janitor for the University of Oklahoma at 14 and became interested in engineering after talking to some students at the school. He earned a degree in engineering from the University of Texas and worked his way from the bottom to the top of the world’s largest oil and gas company.

As the leader of a publicly held corporation, Tillerson had to justify to a board of directors how he spent resources and implemented strategies. He was responsible to all the shareholders who had invested in the company and to the tens of thousands of people who worked there.

As head of the Trump Organization, a privately held conglomerate, the president-elect had far less public scrutiny and accountability. Trump could freely speak his mind and operate as he saw fit, without answering to anyone.

Although wealthy now, Tillerson spends his free time on a ranch raising horses and driving a pickup truck, not riding around in a limousine or relaxing on a driving range.

Having not grown up cossetted by wealth, as Donald Trump did, Tillerson has not had the privilege of failure.

Most importantly, Tillerson has different ideas from Trump. During the hearing Tillerson said he was probably against putting anyone, including Muslims, on a watch list, but needed to study it. He was not against the TPP or NAFTA, although he wanted to make sure they were in America’s interests. He backed initiatives to empower women in the developing world and to root out corruption in Africa.

Instead of fawning over Putin, he said that Russia poses a danger and has not been respecting the interests of the U.S.

A shaft of light has brightened our long dark night since the election. While Tillerson may not be a talkative or flashy secretary of state, he seems like he would provide reliable information and thoughtful guidance to a president who desperately needs it.

Related:

Susan E. Reed Twitter Cognoscenti contributor
Susan E. Reed is a columnist who has won several awards for her international reporting and her book, "The Diversity Index."

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