Secretary of State: Tillerson Was Bad – Pompeo Will Be Worse


My mother–who under no circumstances could be considered an optimist–had a couple of favorite sayings: “Every silver cloud has a black lining,” and “Things are never so bad that they can’t get worse.”

Until Donald Trump’s election, I didn’t believe her.

Yesterday we learned that Rex Tillerson had been fired as Secretary of State and that he would be replaced by Mike Pompeo. Tillerson has hardly been a star, but he was one of the few seemingly rational actors in an administration epitomized by appointees like (arguably lobotomized) Betsy DeVos. (As one Facebook post described Tillerson, “He was terrible, but not insane.”) And it didn’t escape notice that he was dismissed immediately after issuing a strong statement in support of Theresa May’s assertion that Russia was behind the poisoning of a British spy and his daughter.

Mike Pompeo is evidently a favorite of our buffoon of a President, which is probably enough to disqualify him without knowing more. But let me share a description of our new Secretary of State from The Nation:

In the Republican wave election of 2010, when Charles and David Koch emerged as defining figures in American politics, the greatest beneficiary of Koch Industries largesse was a political newcomer named Mike Pompeo. After his election to the House eight years ago, Pompeo was referred to as the “Koch Brothers’ Congressman” and “the congressman from Koch.”…

Pompeo’s pattern of deference to his political benefactors is likely to make him a better fit with Trump. Pompeo will bring to the position an edge that Tillerson lacked. He is a foreign-policy hawk who fiercely opposed the Iran nuclear deal, stoked fears about Muslims in the United States and abroad, opposed closing the Guantánamo Bay detention camp, and defended National Security Agency’s unconstitutional surveillance programs as “good and important work.” He has even gone so far as to say that NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden “should be brought back from Russia and given due process, and I think the proper outcome would be that he would be given a death sentence.”

Pompeo’s open disregard for privacy rights in particular and civil liberties in general, as well as his penchant for extreme language and more extreme policies are anything but diplomatic. That makes him an even more troublesome Secretary of State than Tillerson, who was relentlessly corporate in his worldview but not generally inclined to pick fights—even when it came to standing up for a State Department that decayed on his watch.

The Nation is a publication with a point of view, but it doesn’t do “fake news.”  If this description is even remotely accurate, my mother was right. Things are never so bad that they can’t get worse.


[Originally published at on March 14, 2018]

Sheila Kennedy is a former high school English teacher, former lawyer, former Republican, former Executive Director of Indiana’s ACLU, former columnist for the Indianapolis Star, and former young person. She is currently an (increasingly cranky) old person, a Professor of Law and Public Policy at Indiana University Purdue University in Indianapolis, and Director of IUPUI’s Center for Civic Literacy. She writes for the Indianapolis Business Journal, PA Times, and the Indiana Word, and blogs at For those who are interested in more detail, links to an abbreviated CV and academic publications can be found on her blog, along with links to her books..


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