Two Important Questions For Rex Tillerson That Aren’t About Vladimir Putin

Here are some questions Americans should be listening for Mr. Tillerson to address Wednesday.
01/10/2017 12:16 pm ET Updated Jan 11, 2017

Mr. Tillerson’s ties to other enemies of democracy should also trouble you

Wednesday morning at 9:15 a.m., the public will get their best chance to learn about Donald Trump’s Secretary of State nominee, Rex Tillerson, when he testifies in front of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. While Mr. Tillerson’s relationship with Vladimir Putin gets most of the attention, his record of working closely with other dictators would likely trouble most Americans; especially those of us who believe our country should stand for freedom, human rights and democracy around the world.

How Mr. Tillerson responds to these issues during Wednesday’s hearing will show us whether he and President Trump will be on the side of democrats or dictators.

As Chairman of Exxon, Mr. Tillerson developed close relationships with leaders of a number of oppressive governments. Though his “very close relationship” with Putin has drawn scrutiny from Republican Senator John McCain and almost everyone else (Google it), we should also be questioning his ties to other autocrats. We should question how he plans to protect democracy in places like Turkey and the Philippines when his (potential) future boss may have a desire to do otherwise. And as the nomination hearing for Mr. Tillerson approaches, we should stand up and participate in our own democracy.

Our democracy in the U.S. is rightly held up as a shining global example of how multiculturalism, transitions of power, and the watchdog role of the citizenry can co-exist peacefully. Yes, our representative democracy (read: Electoral College) is a bit messier than its more direct version; but our separation of powers and rights as citizens allow us the opportunity to hold our elected officials accountable to their offices. Though we have to live with them during their terms (except in rare cases), we can ― and do ― vote against leaders who have not fulfilled their obligations.

These are our democratic norms that citizens of (among others) Angola, Chad, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, and Equatorial Guinea did not (and in many cases still do not) have. Prizing political stability ― and thus lucrative contracts ― in these places above their leaders’ (lack of) tolerance for democratic discourse, there is little doubt that Exxon (under Tillerson’s leadership) extended their autocratic rule. What was good for shareholders was bad for democracy and human rights.

Here are some questions Americans should be listening for Mr. Tillerson to address Wednesday.

First question: If confirmed as Secretary of State, how will Mr. Tillerson reconcile this history and (in some cases current) relationships with the need to promote democratic values and human rights abroad?

Moreover, Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdoǧan and the Philippines’ Rodrigo Duterte are making strong cases to include their regimes in the annals of autocracy. From jailing journalists and political opponents to extrajudicial killing of alleged criminals, both see democracy (they both were popularly elected after all) as a pawn ripe for manipulation. Business conflicts of interest aside, both also see a close relationship with Donald Trump’s White House as a way to further entrench their rule at the expense of democracy. Given his budding bonds with Duterte and Erdoǧan, it’s plausible that Mr. Trump would not take any issue with their approach.

Second question: If confirmed as Secretary of State, how will Mr. Tillerson stand up for democracy and human rights when his boss in the White House may have a desire - or even incentive - to do the opposite?

As Marian Wright Edelman and so many other have aptly said: “democracy is not a spectator sport.” It is up to us as U.S. citizens to participate in our democracy and demand that our elected leaders ― and the people they nominate to represent us ― protect that which we hold dear. The right to choose our leaders. The right to be heard. The right to democracy.

Rex Tillerson has been nominated by President-Elect Donald Trump to serve as the next Secretary of State and will be questioned by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, January 11th at 9:15am eastern. I will be watching the hearing (click here) and publishing a follow-up post afterwards.

I encourage you to do the same. Join me in defending our democracy and standing up for its principals in places where others may not have the ability to do so.

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