“They have their exits and their entrances,” wrote Shakespeare, and so it is, as we see some actors deliver frantic speeches while others leap, slide, or crawl on and off the foreign-policy stage.
Rex Tillerson said farewell to the Department of State much as he entered it: clueless about government service, clueless about his department, and clueless about his boss. He invoked the cliché of Washington as a “mean-spirited town”—as though executive suites in Houston were foreign to nastiness, and as though the capital were demonstrably short of the amiability that characterizes Chicago, Miami, Los Angeles, or Las Vegas. He could not accept the true diagnosis of his failure: that he had chosen to work for an immoral egomaniac who predictably treats his subordinates—and treated him—as shabbily as he has betrayed his wives and allegedly attempted to buy his sex partners.
At almost the same moment that Tillerson was delivering his meagerly attended soliloquy, National-Security Adviser H. R. McMaster was similarly given the boot. The world was notified by tweet of his dismissal, but the exchange of compliments between the general and the commander in chief was more civil. Like Tillerson, McMaster had been surprised by his initial job offer; like Tillerson he never established a rapport with the president; like Tillerson he suffered repeated humiliations and put-downs from a boss who shared neither his decency nor his regard for public service. But Trump was a bit more gentle in this case: perhaps because he has a sneaking affection for generals, who are, in his parlance, “killers.” He may also have reflected that in addition to a moralistic streak, McMaster has a temper and a gift for effective writing.