Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Wednesday appeared to offer an implicit rebuke of his old boss, as he warned of a "growing crisis in ethics and integrity" during a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute.
“As I reflect upon the state of our American democracy, I observe a growing crisis in ethics and integrity,” Tillerson told the graduates. “If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both public and private sector — and regrettably, at times, even the non-profit sector — then American democracy, as we know it, is entering its twilight years.”
The ex-diplomat — who did not mention President Donald Trump by name — also delivered a pointed commentary on the importance of truth in political discourse, and insisted that “a common set of facts” was essential to maintaining a free society.
In January 2017, counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway memorably defended former White House press secretary Sean Spicer’s misrepresentation of the crowd size at the president's inauguration, saying Spicer “gave alternative facts.” Trump himself has been the target of numerous fact checks, with the Washington Post reporting on May 1 that the president had made 3,001 false or misleading claims since taking office.
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” Tillerson said. “A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not, and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness, and demand our pursuit of America's future be fact-based.”
Tillerson was unceremoniously booted from the president’s cabinet in March after Trump announced his firing on Twitter. The two businessmen reportedly lacked chemistry, and their relationship hit a new low after Tillerson allegedly referred to the president as a "moron" during a meeting at the Pentagon — a claim the former Exxon Mobil CEO never directly refuted,
Former CIA director Mike Pompeo has since been confirmed to lead the State Department.
In his farewell remarks to the civil servants at Foggy Bottom, Tillerson declined to thank the president or name Trump, and said the nation’s capital could be “a very mean-spirited town.”