Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson offered a subtle rebuke of President Donald Trump’s administration as he delivered the commencement speech at the Virginia Military Institute on Wednesday.
“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts,” Tillerson said, “then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom.”
Tillerson’s use of the phrase “alternative realities” is a spin on a controversial term that White House senior adviser Kellyanne Conway coined shortly after Trump’s inauguration in 2017.
During a televised interview at the time, Conway referred to the false claims about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration made by then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer as “alternative facts.”
Tillerson made one of his first public speeches since his ouster in March as he spoke to graduating cadets from the Virginia Military Institute. His tenure in the Trump administration was marked by disputes with Trump and other cabinet officials. It reached a tipping point when it was revealed that he called the president a “moron” during one meeting.
Despite repeated denials from the White House that Trump and Tillerson were at odds, the president eventually replaced Tillerson with then-CIA director Mike Pompeo for the top US diplomat position.
“A responsibility of every American citizen to each other is to preserve and protect our freedom by recognizing what truth is and is not, what a fact is and is not,” Tillerson said in his speech, “and begin by holding ourselves accountable to truthfulness and demand our pursuit of America’s future be fact-based — not based on wishful thinking, not hoped-for outcomes made in shallow promises, but with a clear-eyed view of the facts as they are, and guided by the truth that will set us free to seek solutions to our most daunting challenges.”
Since his firing, Tillerson has spent much of his time at his ranch in Texas, according to The New York Times. He had reportedly agreed to deliver the commencement address before he left the Trump administration.