Friday, December 23, 2022

Failure to Launch?


Friends, my latest article explores the very real possibility that Elon Musk will flop as the savior of your cherished right to free expression.  It's kind of a downer, but it injects a dose of realism at a critical moment, I feel.  Frankly, it's shocking how normalized censorship has become, and how mortified people become when they have to confront views different from their own.  Musk can't fix that.  I'm not sure anyone can.  It may literally be in our DNA.  C'est la vie.

Elon Musk: Fair-Weather Friend?

Recently, Elon Musk, Twitter's new master, has been intimating that he would like to step down as CEO of the social media platform. That's not entirely surprising, as Musk always intended for his role as “Chief Twit” to be temporary. Musk, however, only took the helm at Twitter in October, and so for him to be sponsoring polls already about whether it's time for him to step aside suggests a degree of uncertainty about his future with the company. He may even be feeling some remorse about his decision to take on the herculean challenge of saving free speech online. The sheer number of vitriolic attacks that have been launched against Musk in recent weeks by the mainstream media, by Democratic politicians, and by opinion leaders across the world, must have been deeply shocking to a man who, only recently, was being feted as Time's “Person of the Year”, and who historically elicits more plaudits than paroxysms of outrage. Elon Musk is now reaping the whirlwind that is the inevitable fate of anyone who threatens the hegemony of the left-leaning cultural, economic, and political elite, and he doesn't seem to enjoy it one bit! Who could blame him if, in the end, he mounts a strategic retreat?

On the face of it, one might assume that the world's richest man is in a uniquely strong position to thumb his nose at the progressive nags who are accustomed to running the media, social media, and, well, more or less every major institution in existence. Yes, Musk can afford to buy Twitter, as he has proven, and he can afford to run it at a loss, perhaps indefinitely. Musk also can draw on a reservoir of good will that many well-connected people feel towards him, based on his history of technological and commercial achievement and, frankly, based on his past embrace of many causes beloved of leftists. Musk's assets are not unlimited, however, and even he may fear ruination if he pushes his luck too far.

Consider the fact that Musk is massively exposed to the risk that big government will turn against him. Musk benefits from enormous tax breaks and subsidies, flowing from local, state, and federal government, and one of his biggest companies, SpaceX, is hugely reliant on federal contracts. Moreover, since most of Musk's wealth resides in Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, it is worth remembering that the company's customer base is comprised mostly of affluent, highly educated, and liberal-minded people whose increasingly negative perceptions of Musk could imperil (and already are imperiling)Tesla's business model.

The risks to Musk may go beyond the merely financial, however. Musk recently suspended several prominent journalists from Twitter for sharing a website that tracked his physical location. He appears to take seriously the idea that his political and philosophical adversaries are prepared to share “assassination coordinates” online in a way that jeopardizes his safety and that of his loved ones. That may be paranoia, or it may not be, but increasingly Musk is among the world's most hated men, and, unlike many other men on that inauspicious list, he does not enjoy Secret Service protection. That's food for thought, at the very least.

In addition to all the objective factors that might lead Musk to pull back from his campaign for free(r) speech, one must also recall that Musk has never been temperamentally disposed towards ideological combat. Musk is a futurist and an entrepreneur. He is also something of a technological and corporate dilettante. He is currently leading no less than six companies, some of which are household names and some of which are more quixotic than economically viable. If ultimately Musk were to step back from his latest venture, Twitter, it would not be the first time he has done so, and it probably would not be the last.

All in all, conservatives and lovers of liberty have always had excellent reasons to doubt Musk's devotion to their cause. As Musk takes more and more incoming fire from leftists, it would hardly be surprising if he began to reassess his commitment to the goal of protecting and enhancing freedom of expression online.

Is Musk a fair-weather friend to the right? The question presupposes that he was ever a friend to begin with, but certainly his constancy is, and always was, doubtful.

Dr. Nicholas L. Waddy is an Associate Professor of History at SUNY Alfred and blogs at: He appears on the Newsmaker Show on WLEA 1480/106.9. 

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  1. Fair commentary and reasonable questions Dr. Waddy.
    To the heart of your post: "Is Musk a fair-weather friend to the right?"

    He is more of a political ideologue than many had postulated, at least on foundational Constitutional principles and a desire for truth.

    Why would Elon subject himself to the scorn and potential financial punishment of the left with his commentary and disclosure of damming evidence? He was/is a wise enough guy to know backlash would be significant.

    Could Twitter be another "quixotic" venture that he envisions evolving from quixotic to pragmatic prosperity? That type of transformation is right in his wheelhouse. My money is on that eventuality.

  2. I sincerely hope you're right, Richie! I suspect, though, that Elon didn't anticipate the sheer viciousness with which he would be assaulted by the Left. Does he have the character to stand up to that kind of enmity? Again, I hope so. It would help if those of us who share his basic goals and principles stood with him, and fortified his spirit to the best of our abilities.

  3. Dr.Waddy from Jack: Ditto, ditto, ditto. If we don't support those who are willing to hazard so much to defeat the monstrous threat of the left, we may well lose all we cherish in what Churchill termed ". . . a new Dark Age". Who could blame those willing to risk all for abandoning us to the deserved consequences of ingratitude!

  4. Jack, it almost makes me want to buy a Tesla (if only I liked Teslas)!