The Secretary of State reportedly thinks the President of the United States is a “moron.” And when asked point blank whether that press report is accurate, he did not deny using the word “moron.”
It’s highly unusual — OK, it’s pitiably unprecedented — that America’s top diplomat would think so little of the Commander-in-Chief, but alas, this is what passes for governance in dystopic Trumplandia.
And what a freak show it was yesterday, to see Rex Tillerson behaving like a whipped dog, donning the Trump armband and chanting the mindless mantra (Trump is “doing great things for the United States of America to make America great again”), groveling at the master’s feet.
I doubt anyone was fooled by that subservient spectacle. Tillerson-Trump tensions have been building for months — every time Tillerson tries to take some diplomatic initiative (Qatar, Iran, Russia, Mexico, North Korea), Trump undercuts him — and NBC News, in the report that clearly infuriated Trump, corralled a dozen high-ranking sources to describe Tillerson’s seething disgust at being played for a fool.
He reportedly has threatened to quit, and his administration friends have begged him to stay. Quitting would further damage America’s tattered image abroad. And besides, it would look bad for Trump to lose his Secretary of State in year one of his dysfunctional regime, after having already lost his national security adviser, his press secretary, two communication directors, his chief political strategist, his chief of staff, and his Human Services secretary.
And best of all, we got this gem, which was confirmed by three inside sources: After a tense meeting this summer in a secure room at the Pentagon, “Tillerson stunned a handful of senior administration officials when he called the president a ‘moron’.”
Now that’s what I call speaking truth to power.
We all know what happened yesterday. Trump saw the NBC story, mustered more emotion than he feels for the victims of Puerto Rico and Las Vegas, and demanded that Tillerson speedily summon the press — something Tillerson rarely does — for the purpose of kissing the king’s ring. He dutifully did so: “(Trump) puts Americans and America first. He’s smart … Accountability is one of the bedrock values the president and I share …There has never been a consideration in my mind to leave.”
All of which brought to mind a line from “Advise and Consent,” one of the great political novels, written nearly 60 years ago: “This is a Washington, D.C. kind of lie. It’s when the other person knows you’re lying, and also knows you know he knows.”
But then came the piece de resistance, an exchange with the press corps that was seemingly lifted from a cold opening on “Saturday Night Live.” A reporter asked Tillerson: “Could you address the main headline of the story, that you called the president a moron?”
Tillerson’s reply: “I’m just – I’m not going to deal with petty stuff like that…The places I come from, we don’t deal with that kind of petty nonsense.”
There it was, the Washington non-answer. He basically confirmed that he views Trump as a moron, because he didn’t deny saying it. He should never have met with the press in the first place, because that was a lose-lose proposition. If he’d denied calling Trump a moron, it magnified the story. If he confirmed calling Trump a moron (which he essentially did), it magnified the story.
We can only imagine what the world thinks of all this – a Secretary of State who wants to defuse war tensions with North Korea, and a president who undercuts him by tweeting “Save your energy, Rex”; a Secretary of State who knows his master is a moron, but nevertheless feels compelled to humiliate himself in public at the master’s behest – even after all he has done to shred the State Department in accordance with the master’s wishes.
Why should any foreign nation waste time talking to Tillerson when it’s clear that anything he says can be deep-sixed in a tweet? And how long will Tillerson put up with this humiliation, when it’s self- evident that his concept of serving the national interest collides with the relentless care and feeding of Trump’s image?
And what person of quality would want to take Tillerson’s place? No matter. Trump probably figures he can do that job too, traveling the world with paper towels.