Photo: Rex Tillerson and wife, Renda St Clair

NEWS & VIEWS

Rex Tillerson, Secretary of State, only took the job because his wife told him to

There’s something dually comforting and terrifying about this  

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By Caroline O'Donoghue on

Having a “favourite” member of the Trump administration, I realise, is like having a “favourite” strand of the herpes virus, but even so. Rex Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil oil executive-cum-US Secretary of Sate, is my favourite member of the Trump administration. 

Yes, Rex Tillerson is a Texan oil baron who once said “my philosophy is to make money”, presumably while rubbing his hand together and cackling. Yes, Rex Tillerson is called “Rex Tillerson”, which is about as subtle as The Muppets naming their villain “Dominic Badguy”. 

But overall (and by “overall”, I mean, “in the context of Donald Trump”) Tillerson is at least, a grown-up – he believes in climate change, he didn’t donate to the Trump campaign and he’s an actual engineer, as opposed to a random rich person – and most political commentators believe that he will be a moderate voice within a hysterical and reactionary White House. He is also smart enough to know that he should not be within a hair’s distance of The White House. 

“I didn’t want this job. I didn’t seek this job,” Tillerson told the Independent Journal Review (IJR) yesterday. “My wife told me I’m supposed to do this.”

“When he asked me at the end of that conversation to be secretary of state, I was stunned,” said the 65-year-old, who had been planning to retire. “I was going to go to the ranch to be with my grandkids.” Tillerson, who was seriously considering retirement, was pulled back into the game by his wife, Renda St Clair. “I told you God’s not through with you,” she said.

It’s soothing, somehow, to remember that some people just want to be on the ranch with their grandkids. That some people are only here because their wives thought it was a good idea. That there is not always a pre-meditated, grand, evil plan behind everything: that Rex Tillerson is standing there, going “Whuh?” about the funny turn his life has taken. 

"God’s not through with you!” is the kind of blind, loving statement that leaves us with people like Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, a post even HE admits he has no business fulfilling

And while I have limited sympathy for a billionaire oil baron blindly holding one of the most important offices in the world – again, I said Rex Tillerson was my favourite member of the Trump cabinet, not my favourite person ever –  I do have sympathy for anyone who has wrongly taken career advice from a loved one. It reminds me, a little, of my colleague Lynn Enright’s column on “mum praise”: i.e., the praise rewarded to you by people who are unqualified to give it, heaping validation on you even though you don’t deserve it at all. “You can do anything you set your mind to!”/“God’s not through with you!” is the kind of blind, loving statement that leaves us with people like Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, a post even HE admits he has no business fulfilling. 

Yes, Rex, maybe God is truly not through with you. Maybe you CAN do anything you set your mind to. But… but maybe you shouldn’t? Maybe you should tell Renda that while you appreciate the compliment, that maybe Secretary of State isn't an appropriate role for a person who has never served in political office before? 

Just a thought. 

@Czaroline

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Photo: Rex Tillerson and wife, Renda St Clair
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