Even Little Lies Are a Big Threat to American Democracy, Tillerson Says

WASHINGTON — In what appeared to be a rebuke of President Trump, former Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson warned on Wednesday that American democracy is threatened by a “growing crisis in ethics and integrity.”

“If our leaders seek to conceal the truth, or we as people become accepting of alternative realities that are no longer grounded in facts, then we as American citizens are on a pathway to relinquishing our freedom,” he said in a commencement address at the Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Va.

Even small falsehoods and exaggerations — things Mr. Trump are prone to — are problematic, Mr. Tillerson said. “When we as people, a free people, go wobbly on the truth even on what may seem the most trivial matters, we go wobbly on America,” he said.

“If we do not as Americans confront the crisis of ethics and integrity in our society and among our leaders in both the public and private sector — and regrettably at times even the nonprofit sector — then American democracy as we know it is entering its twilight years,” Mr. Tillerson warned.

The former Eagle Scout — who often cited a commitment to respect, integrity and accountability as the guideposts of his life and leadership — has been in near-seclusion at his Texas ranch since he was fired by tweet in March, just hours after returning from a trip through Africa. He had agreed to deliver the V.M.I. commencement address before he was fired.

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