Sunday, February 12, 2017

The Old Potomac Two-Step

Donald Trump and Rex Tillerson
Like Rex Tillerson, my father was an Exxon lifelong career man. When he retired from Exxon he became an industry consultant. In the mid 90's he and I worked together on a series of international oil companies projects, collaborating with major consultants including McKinsey, Accenture, and PA Consulting (UK). Contrary to popular belief, Exxon and most of the major oil companies have been spending significant time and resources on cleaner, alternative energy. My father collaborated with one or two universities, with a minor assist from my part, on studies involving the impact of improved engine efficiency, the gloomy future of oil prices, and the end of the oil industry as we know it.

Towards the end of the 90's, Accenture asked for our help on a project in Russia (Samara), not far from the Caspian Sea. Rex Tillerson was VP of Exxon's operations in the region at the time, Exxon Ventures CIS. We met with Tillerson on one occasion, he struck me as a straight-shooter. The culture at Exxon, one I experienced by osmosis at home growing up, has always been strongly pro-science. There was an exception during the administration of Lee Raymond (1993-2005), when Exxon took a skeptical approach to climate change. In 2006 Exxon changed leadership and self-corrected. The new CEO declared there was no question that human activity was the source of CO2 emissions, one of the leading causes of detrimental climate change. That new CEO was Rex Tillerson.

Now, I'm not going to go out on a limb for a politician. I don't know if Tillerson will do the right thing as Secretary of State, politically or otherwise. I really don't know if he has any skeletons in his closet, though I'm fairly certain he was picked by Trump-Bannon for his Russian stripes. Either way, it's not my turn to watch him. For those whose job it is to watch him, Tillerson's confirmation was not among the most bipartisan. That honor belonged to Gen. James Mattis, a true warrior and principled anti-torture dissenter amidst a lair of scorched earth high-anxieters. What has been said about Tillerson by his opponents is that his climate change position has made him a respected foe. 

For his part, unlike Mattis and Tillerson, President Trump has already demonstrated he lacks character and wisdom. Unfortunately for the majority of our country we’re stuck with him for at least four years. Unless he places us in clear and present danger, beyond the shadow of constitutional doubt, for the next four years we will be testing the structural strength of our mighty constitution. After all, what the Founders giveth the Founders can taketh. Don't hold your breath though, Donald Trump has mastered the "art of the deal": riding lawyers to a legal netherworld, a sanctuary of entitlement where you can turn six bankruptcies and 3,500 lawsuits into profitable exit strategies. Having said that, and in the meantime: just like Obama supporters pleaded with the opposing view to at least try and find common ground, perhaps a taste of the same medicine is now in order. 

For those of us who have lived long enough to see a few U.S. presidential cycles, and a few global recessional ones, the pattern is getting predictable. What isn't predictable, and therefore a threat to freedom and democracy as we know it, is irrational fear. Fear moves us in unpredictable ways, we don't like the unknown. So we adopt convictions through trial and tribulation as our road map. Then we set off on our journey according to our map, justifying our choices by seeking confirmation that we are on the right path. That confirmation bias is what makes us prey to the preachers of half-truths. It also distorts reality beyond recognition, creating fictitious alternate universes where no common ground exists. 

Thankfully for the fate of our planet, common ground is all we've got. It's the ground where Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Atheists already coexist peacefully. Where rational conservatives and rational liberals currently work together productively. It's the ground where blacks, whites, and browns befriend and reproduce. Where straights and gays create art together without prejudice. It is the ground where Tillerson met with Obama multiple times, to plead his case on sanctions that carried unintended consequences. Where General Mattis was appointed by Barack Obama as Commander of the U.S. Central Command. It is, when all other ground has been scorched by the lords of war, the only ground that matters. Everything else is fear-based distortion of the weak-minded. It is the dancing in the dark of foes and fools.

To my oil industry phobic friends on the far-left: it seems to me that peer-reviewed science journals are as inconvenient to you as they are to the far right. Have you two met? Perhaps you can do dinner sometime. 

To my climate change denier friends on the far-right: How well do you know our new Secretary of State? You should reach out to him sometime and ask him where he gets his "fake, tree-hugging science". 

Has it ever occurred to both of you far-siders that it is getting more difficult to tell the two of you apart? In the words of another Donald, albeit a more poetic one:

What a tangled web we weave, go 'round with circumstance.
Someone show me how to tell the dancer from the dance”.

Don Henley / The Eagles (1973)

From Clear and Present Danger: (1994) "The Old Potomac Two-Step"

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