Elon Musk, who has never since the day he was born taken a breath that wasn’t in his own personal interest, is now purporting to make public policy.
That’s right. He’s going to make decisions that affect you and me. This past week, California Governor Gavin Newson had to remind Musk that he remains in the private sector, subject to regulation at all levels, including the county. But that didn’t stop Musk from declaring that he would open the Tesla plant in Freemont, despite an Alameda County order not to do so. Reopening policy in California is being implemented at the county level.
Of course, he announced his rebellion on Twitter, the anarchist’s platform of choice, the same one Donald Trump has been using to hijack the government. Effectively, Trump’s destruction of the government from the inside has given Musk air cover for a move that he would never otherwise make in saner times. Alameda has the standing to arrest Musk, and may do so, but the county should probably keep the plant shut for a symbolic period anyway, just to make a point about who gets to make public policy. That is why we have government: to make and implement policy, usually with the cooperation of the citizenry.
Musk can run for office if he likes, but he has to convince the rest of us that he has our well being at heart. And therein lies the rub. I doubt he can do it.
Robert Moses — the czar of New York, who, through the Triborough Bridge Authority, ran a budget bigger than that of New York City in the mid-twentieth century — could only operate top down. He had to tell people what to do. The one time he ran for public office, he was laughed off the stage for his pedantic and hectoring manner. He was competent, but he was an unpleasant dictator, who ran public development from a private authority for 44 years, doling out billions in taxpayer money to cooperative parties and various private organizations. He thought of himself as a doer and had the chops to prove it. But he wasn’t a people person.
And nor is this guy Musk, who is so elitist and heartless that he doesn’t even bother to hide it. Like some Ayn Rand antihero, he believes he can do what he likes because he’s better than we are. It’s no more complex than that. As one of the PayPal boyz, Musk threw his lot in with Peter Theil, whose extreme libertarian beliefs are even more frightening. This crew has no more morality than Genghis Khan, who, when asked why he raped and pillaged most of the known world, said, “Because it’s fun!” I don’t want that guy crossing over into my political world.
This smearing of boundaries isn’t new. Movie stars have been elected to all sorts of offices, including the Presidency. And more are happy to shoot from the sidelines. Entertainment figures opine all the time on political matters. Football players become business experts. I remember a surgeon telling me about Japanese real estate, as if he were an authority. Someone who is good at one thing thinks he must be good at another, sometimes everything. Crossover stars are a thing. But some do it more gracefully than others.
Musk, businessman and now impromptu political leader, is taking his cue from the near anarchy of our current situation. He has decided to take matters into his own hands. Is he a pied piper, leading the children away forever? Or is he the vanguard of a brave new world, where titanic oligarchs run our lives via electronic leashes. We are still a democracy, but even democracies have to enforce their authority on occasion.
We know how this will end. Musk will mostly get his way. Alameda may get token recognition, but the essential nature of it is: people who want to go back to work in Freemont will. And we — the United States, the nation with the worst record among the world’s nations for combating the corona virus — will see what happens to mortality on the manufacturing line. In real time. Without controls. Musk will be gambling with the lives of others.