Tesla founder and SpaceX rocketeer Elon Musk has gone from pop culture hero to zero this year. Should progressives reconsider his exile?
Over the past decades, tech companies and Silicon Valley, with the combined wealth and influence of several small countries, have come to dominate more and more of our lives.
The Great Technological Revolution happened exactly as geologists think the earth came to be as it is; long, slow transformational processes and rapid-onset changes that left the landscape permanently and instantly altered.
With the improvements like GPS and text messages came new concerns. Few offerings of technology have offered more problems and potential problems than social media.
The new town square has produced inevitable debates about what speech should be permitted, who should do the permitting, how transparent that process should be, what role the government should play in oversight, and how to protect problematic types of speech like political dissent and criticism of powerful people, companies and systems.
Twitter, like Silicon Valley itself, is populated by more than a few people who want much more censorship on social media platforms. Limiting who is allowed to speak, what discussion topics are off limits, even deciding what constitutes as misinformation and disinformation, have left tech companies in a veritable pretzel of moral relativity, constitutional principles and changing attitudes.
Elon Musk is one person in Silicon Valley who does not believe tech companies should censor public opinion in the new town square. Months ago, Musk wanted to be the new sheriff on Twitter, and pledged to run censorship right out of town by buying the social media platform and transforming it.
And with that, Musk lost his status as a cult-hero of progressives.
Musk did as much for the electric car as Henry Ford did for horses. Musk revolutionized the prototype, which until then had the zero coolness factor of a Toyota Prius.
Electric cars aren’t going to save the planet, of course. In fact, the majority of the electricity flowing through the nation’s power grid is currently being produced by burning fossil fuels; coal, natural gas and petroleum.
Still, as far as moving mankind away from our potentially dangerous and certainly doomed dependence on fossil fuels- which apart from anything else are not a renewable resource- electric cars may be the wave of a greener future.
As we all learned in elementary school science class the day we found out what gasoline is made from; fossil fuels were created millions of years ago, hence the name. They are not a renewable resource; when they are gone, they are gone.
Revolutionizing the electric vehicle should have endeared Elon Musk to Green Party progressives forever. There is only one thing he could have done to turn their ire against him: Anything favorable involving their undisputed public enemy number one, former President Donald J. Trump.
Once Musk hinted he might be open to reinstating Trump’s Twitter account, the cultural worm turned on Elon Musk.
Since Elon Musk came down hard on side of free speech, even for speakers like Donald Trump, the press has had a veritable field day.
“He doesn’t really have enough money to buy Twitter,” goes one line of attack. “He isn’t as rich as he says he is.”
“He never had any intention of buying Twitter,” goes another. “Elon Musk is trolling as usual.”
“Billionaires should not be allowed to control speech on Twitter,” this line from those with apparently no idea who currently owns Twitter.
“Elon Musk Has So Many Lawsuits They’re Teaching a Whole Class in Law School,” laughed the Intelligencer this week. “Elon Musk Dad Says He’s Not Proud of Son, Says He’s Fat,” heckled TMZ last week.
“Twitter Just Went Into Ludicrous Mode in Its Legal War Against Elon Musk,” chimed the New Yorker, following another hot take: “Elon Musk Tries to Wriggle Out of Twitter Deal.”
Suddenly, there were a lot more feature stories about the personal life of Elon Musk; his relationships, past and present; his children and family situation; past controversies from old nondisclosure agreements and settlements out of court to the crash-tests of self-driving Teslas.
It isn’t as if details about Musk’s personal and private life haven’t long been matters of public record; they have. A billionaire celebrity-type living very much in the public spotlight, and posting his thoughts and opinions daily to Twitter, has very little private life.
Results on a Google search, should anyone care to take the trouble, aren’t quite the same as the average top-tier, mainstream media outlet hit piece plastered all over the internet and social media.
The sudden deluge of media attacks against Elon Musk might not have helped progressives as much as sympathetic news outlets might think.
It certainly hasn’t compelled Elon Musk to toe the progressive line. If anything, it has pushed him further from the fold.
Elon Musk is an inventor trying to get to Mars; he’s a trouble-maker, a muckraker. Most trail-blazers are. To go where nobody else has gone before takes a certain audacity; a willingness to break rules, buck trends, defy expectations- and swim against the current of the crowd and popular opinion.
Elon Musk is a contrarian. A contrarian thrives on debate. They love to argue one side very convincingly, then turn around and argue the other side just as well. Being able to see a good argument from all sides is what makes a persuasive speaker. It’s that same quality which allows a great inventor or artist to persevere in the face of failure, derision and rejection.
In its rush to abandon Elon Musk, the Twitter mob and media blue-checks lost one of the left’s most valuable assets. Though it got far less attention in the press than his family dramas and tabloid coverage of his personal appearance and clothes of which a middle school bully would be proud, Musk took a strong stance for the pro-choice lobby when the recent Dobbs ruling overturning Roe V. Wade was announced.
Having pulled down their one-time hero, progressive media outlets could hardly turn around and tout Musk’s full-throated, unequivocal support for their cause.
Which is perhaps unfortunate for progressives and the causes they champion, including abortion.
If you’re trying to grow a movement, or a business, or a sewing circle or anything else, it isn’t your friends you have to worry about. Your friends will show up, turn out, patronize your new establishment, talk-up your new venture, raise money for your cause.
It’s those precious friends of friends who grow social circles into networks, grassroots movements into electoral superstorms. A total stranger might not listen to you; they don’t even know you, have no reason to trust you, don’t owe you a moment of their time.
Elon Musk has the listening ear of an entire subset of likely voters who don’t listen to a word they say on CNN. They don’t read the Washington Post or the New York Times; they are one of the 4 out of 5 Americans who don’t bother with Twitter and wouldn’t do so for a million likes.
With the mid-terms fast approaching, the Democratic Party needs the support of moderates; both parties do. It is this fight for the middle which will decide the results of the next election, and probably the one after that.
Perhaps progressives shouldn’t be so quick to shun someone who can help them win in November.
Someone like Elon Musk.
(contributing writer, Brooke Bell)