Let’s face it: the 2020s have not been great. We’ve dealt with a global pandemic, mass protest movements from Washington to Tehran, war, and constant fear of an economic meltdown. It’s been difficult to find anything positive in the news over the last couple of years. But as we head into 2023, I am glad for at least one thing: the world can finally see what an unmitigated schmuck Elon Musk truly is.
It wasn’t enough that Tesla, the company that he did NOT START, has consistently been the target of lawsuits alleging rampant racial discrimination and harassment. It wasn’t enough that he floated an idea for saving a group of trapped Thai children in 2018 in a way that he had no capacity to realize and then disparaged someone who actually saved those children. It wasn’t enough that he he was charged with manipulating the stock price of Tesla and received the equivalent of a slap on the wrist as a result. It wasn’t enough that tech sycophants continued to praise his “genius” despite his propensity to capitalize on government subsidies ad infinitum as a business model. Even the accusations of animal cruelty at his Neuralink company weren’t enough.
What it finally took was a $44-billion vanity purchase that has exposed both Musk’s inability to run a business and the fragility of our communications infrastructure. With his purchase of Twitter, Musk revealed his management style to the world: capricious, sometimes nonsensical decision-making, such as the entirely predictable fiasco that resulted from opening Twitter’s verification checkmarks for purchase; complete disregard for the well-being of employees, illustrated by the arbitrary decision to fire half of Twitter’s staff and then demand that the rest be ready to work grueling hours; and his apparent love for right-wing provocateurs that masquerades under his self-proclaimed title as a “free speech absolutist.”
CTNewsJunkie’s own Terry Cowgill experienced Musk’s so-called commitment to free speech when he was temporarily banned from Twitter for linking to a flight-tracking website. Musk had been publicly feuding with the @elonjet Twitter account over its posting of his jet-setting, greenhouse gas-emitting lifestyle. Referring to sharing the already publicly available information as “doxxing,” Musk suspended the account and several journalists. The accounts were eventually restored after a Twitter poll was posted.
Granted, this is all pretty personal for me. I’m a Black journalist who absolutely loves Twitter. So yes, the fact that Musk’s obvious racism, grifting, and general jerktitude have been virtually ignored by the rest of the media until now grinds my gears. It always has. Now add the silencing of critics, including one of my colleagues, to the list. It’s perfectly fine to accuse me of having sour grapes.
Here’s the main point though, and it’s one that no one wants to touch with a 10-foot pole: Musk is the product of his environment, and that environment has produced someone who is a direct threat to people who aren’t like him. He is a man who was raised in apartheid South Africa, who has always been wealthy and has always been on the receiving end of unearned praise and adulation. If you think those things don’t matter, then you simply don’t want to see how the degradation of apartheid and the arrogance of wealth informs the way he interacts with everyone he perceives to be in an inferior position to him. Given that he’s a billionaire who has been anointed as one of the modern titans of industry, his demeanor suggests that he perceives just about everyone as inferior.
Everyone thinks that the target is on someone else’s back until it turns out they’re lined up against the wall next. People were content to ignore the crushing work conditions in Tesla factories because they fell on the already marginalized: Black people, physical laborers, high-school educated people, and others. “Well if they don’t want back-breaking labor, they should have gone to college,” says the old argument. So what’s the argument now that he’s brought those exact same working conditions to the rarified quarters of Silicon Valley?
Not to get all sci-fi, but this is a man who has openly stated his desire to colonize Mars, and he has even gone so far as to include in SpaceX’s terms of service that Earth’s laws do not apply on the Red Planet.
We’ve already seen what he does when given control over one of the most important social media platforms on this planet – a disregard for workers’ rights, rule by whim, and doors thrown open to abusers of all stripes. It was the same at Tesla, but his behavior there was ignored. We’ve allowed this man build a mythology around himself that masks a history of damaging behavior. If 2022 finally makes the truth about Elon Musk plain for all to see, then it will be one of the few good things to happen since 2020.