Over the past week, we have witnessed a dramatic split between the President Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. NBC News reported that Tillerson called Trump a “moron” during a Pentagon meeting over the summer. Tensions only rose after a hastily scheduled press conference in which Tillerson avoided denying the claims. Reports have also indicated that the president has a habit of humiliating Tillerson, which led to Tillerson considering resignation in July.
As all of this news broke, many have called for Tillerson to resign, either to restore order in the State Department or as a political statement against the administration. The reality though, is that in order for the administration to function as best it can, Tillerson must stay. It is his duty to stay a part of the administration, whether it is thriving, floundering, or blatantly failing the American people. Although there are just criticisms of Tillerson’s competency, he is the best fit for the job specifically because he willing to disagree the President. More importantly though, his conflict with Trump unquestionably benefits the country which needs any possible checks on the president’s power.
The rumors of Tillerson’s potential resignation should first fear about who Trump might appoint to replace him. In his past firings—notably Attorney General Sally Yates—Trump has replaced career public servants with loyalists from his campaign. Yates’ replacement was former senator and first national officeholder to endorse Trump, Jeff Session. Trump’s illustrated commitment to loyalty over competence is discouraging when thinking about who he could select to replace Tillerson. What experienced, competent public servant would want to serve as Secretary of State in this environment and what Trump campaign loyalist could serve better as Secretary of State?
Tillerson’s greatest current value to our country comes from the very conflict that has raised questions about his future in the administration. Tillerson must act as a counter to the “yes men” already flooding the current administration. In this administration foreign conflict could start because no one in the situation room has the spine to stand up to Trump. In the book Groupthink, Irving Janis discusses the dangers of a group that values cohesion over discussion of outside viewpoints. As Janis notes, dissents can have a significant effect on the extent to which groupthink impacts a group. Thus, even the simple act of calling Trump a “moron” will decrease the incidence of dangerous groupthink at the highest levels of power. Janis uses the Bay of Pigs invasion as a classic example of government making disastrous military decisions because of dangerous groupthink: President Kennedy’s subordinates created a plan of action to please the president, rather than one that acted merely in the best interests of the country. With the prowess of the U.S. military, we could face a crisis even worse than those of the Kennedy administration.
As his duty to the American people, Tillerson must think through both of these points when he decides his future within the administration. As one of the few rational actors left to counteract a potentially dangerous executive branch, Tillerson must remain for the good of all Americans.
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons / U.S. Department of State / U.S. Department of Defense