In veiled shot at Trump, Tillerson warns US democracy at risk

Rex Tillerson

Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, and President Donald Trump.

Tillerson did not explicitly mention Trump by name during his address Wednesday but warned against accepting "alternative realities" unhinged from the truth - a possible allusion to the "alternative facts" the White House proposed after Trump lied about crowd sizes at his inauguration.

While warning the graduates about an integrity crisis threatening the country, he said that when citizens go wobbly on truth in the most trivial matters, they go wobbly on America. If not addressed, "American democracy, as we know it, is entering its twilight years", he said.

Trump later explained that he didn't see eye to eye with Tillerson, the former ExxonMobil CEO, and had more in common with Central Intelligence Agency chief Mike Pompeo, who took over as secretary of state. The two had apparently fought on many matters, including whether undertaking negotiations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un were worth it, with the president posting that Mr Tillerson was "wasting his time".

He did not mention Trump by name during the speech that warned about the dangers to USA democracy over the lack of truthfulness.

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After Tillerson's speech, some journalists took to Twitter the former secretary of state a hypocrite, accusing him of purposefully obscuring the truth while working for Trump.

But he was also criticized for mismanaging the State Department, instituting a hiring freeze that was seen as destructive and unnecessary, leaving top positions vacant or filled by officials in acting roles, and concentrating power within a small inner circle that alienated many employees.

"This is the life of non-Democratic societies, comprised of people who are not free to seek the truth", Tillerson said. Trump pulled out of the deal last week, with support from his new secretary of state, Mike Pompeo.

Former State Department special adviser and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ronan Farrow claimed on Tuesday evening that Tillerson admitted that he wasn't prepared for the job, "Tillerson, if he had any logic, knew that he was going to be fired on some level", Farrow told Seth Meyers on Late Night. Tillerson said the VMI honor code helps students understand that "without personal honor, there is no leadership". "And your commitment to this high standard of ethical behavior and integrity will be tested".

However, the main theme of Tillerson's commencement speech appeared to be rooted in "ethics and integrity". "And blessed is the man that can say that the boy he was would be proud of the man he is".

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