Rex W. Tillerson, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, ExxonMobil Corporation, USA, speaks during the session 'Completing the Malaria Mission' at the Annual Meeting 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 31, 2009.
Donald Trump’s pick for Secretary of State is the consummate Davos Man–and that’s probably a good thing.
He’s the head of the world’s largest oil company. But he’s not a climate denier. He also has a demonstrated commitment to corporate responsibility in areas that are of importance to the United Nations, like combatting Malaria and promoting girls education in the developing world. In 2011, he received a “Global Leadership Award” from the United Nations Foundation for his commitment to those issues.
Tillerson’s career suggests that he is the kind of global elite who appreciates the respect of other global elites.
He’s a Davos Man. And indeed, he’s a regular at the World Economic Forum and Clinton Global Initiative. These are places where elites gather to discuss global social ills. They operate under the general principle that with wealth and power come social responsibility to address issues of global concern. Under his leadership ExxonMobile acknowledged humans’ role in climate change declared support for the Paris Agreement. (These are not obviously high bars, but they are pre-requisites to be included in the Davos-Aspen-CGI crowd)
This suggests that he is open minded or otherwise susceptible to social pressure and peer pressure. He is not someone who seems to relish in bombast or operate outside the fold of acceptability.
Tillerson’s ties to Vladamir Putin have so far dominated the headlines and will likely dominate his confirmation hearings. And, indeed, there are important questions that need to be answered. But should he be confirmed as Secretary of State, his past suggests that he is someone who would not dismantle the international system or aggressively work to reverse progress on issues that the global elite profess to care about, like sustainable development. Considering other names that were floated to lead Foggy Bottom, that’s at least one small sliver of hope onto which those of us who care about these issues can hold.