Stop me if you’ve heard this story before: A ballsy billionaire with elite credentials, yet who is shunned by the elite, takes over an enterprise he plans to transform filled with people shaken by and poised to sabotage him, while under massive public assault.
I’m of course talking about Elon Musk but the parallels between Musk’s bid for Twitter and Donald Trump’s bid for the White House are striking, and they’re worth drawing out. The Trump presidency provides lessons Musk should heed if he is serious about restoring freedom to the digital public square. If he applies them at Twitter, it will redound to the benefit of every American.
The most important lesson is that it is imperative to know what time it is—to fully understand the stakes of the battle and the lengths to which one’s opponents will go to win.
As with Trump, most of the stated reasons that the political class and media decry Musk, mask the underlying truth. Despite a slew of claims from detractors about how Musk’s victory imperils democracy, or hypocritically among many of these opponents, raises questions about foreign influence or could fuel white supremacy, the reality is that our Ruling Class thinks he—Musk, like Trump—threatens its reign. And it can’t abide them. In fact, it must eliminate any kind of threats.
Why else would its leading mouthpieces feel the need to pursue pseudonymous Twitter accounts curating progressive insanities? Answer: Because the Ruling Class wants to mainstream that insanity, but for the public to see what it is mainstreaming in such unvarnished form is discrediting and delegitimizing. But would there be a @LibsofTikTok without a @realdonaldtrump?
Trump posed a threat to the Ruling Class by challenging its power, privilege and prerogatives in government Musk poses a threat to the Ruling Class by challenging its power, privilege and prerogatives in communications, where the ruling class has a monopoly on narrative, both how it’s disseminated and what’s disseminated.
The core threat, in both cases, was and is that millions of god-fearing, freedom-loving, non-progressive people that the Ruling Class holds in contempt, the deplorables, and others, and that it views as an impediment to its absolute power, might be permitted to express themselves symbolically and in policy through Trump. And literally through a Musk-owned, free speech-promoting Twitter.
That’s why there is a freakout over Musk that echoe the freakout over Trump—with literal sob stories, a press offensive and political and legal blowback if not abuse.
Musk, for his part, seems to understand that he is under fire because of what he believes, because if his free speech philosophy is allowed to be put into practice, would enable dissent, dangerous to the regime.
Musk would also seem to understand the second major lesson from the Trump presidency: That personnel is policy. Musk may well face an onslaught from Twitter’s own equivalent of the Deep State. Reports suggest Twitter locked its source code to protect the platform from employees angered over the prospect of his pending acquisition. One would have to assume Musk at least partially influenced this effort, and that he therefore anticipated a potential mutiny. Will Musk face his own Russiagate/Spygate equivalent, and see his agenda subverted by staffers, as part of a coordinated campaign to take him down? Even if these hypotheticals are extreme, arent they worth considering?
The surest way for Musk to see his agenda implemented is to hire like-minded executives, who will then hire like-minded staffers. Again, the Trump example might be extreme, but it iillustrates the challenge of executing when leading an organization staffed by people who hate you and your agenda. Musk might not draw the same level of vitriol, but he will be trying to right the ship at a firm, and in a Silicon Valley, owned by the progressive Left—and a progressive left that operates out of Silicon Valley that seems to take responsibility for inadvertently creating what it perceives to be the horrors of Brexit and Trump because of some level of free speech.
Some early tests for Musk will be very telling, here. They might tell us everything about how his ownership of Twitter will go. For example, Will he fire Twitter’s CEO, whose view on Twitter and speech—that the platform is in his words “not to be bound by the First Amendment, but…to serve a healthy public conversation”—would seem to be diametrically opposed to Musk’s view of free speech?
Will he fire Twitter’s general counsel, under whose command Twitter has become such a speech stifling and censorious place? Will he fire Twitter’s deputy general counsel, the former FBI general counsel during the critical years in which Russiagate unfolded, and who apparently played a not-insignificant role in fomenting it?
Musk would seem at least to be aware of these problems internally, per his own tweets. We will see if he addresses them. Because of course everything about this effort is just so meta in every single way. We’ll see if he addresses all these personnel issues. That these people were brought in under Jack Dorsey, who appears to be a vocal Musk champion, at least raises some questions.
Last but not least, it is imperative that Musk expose the size, scope and nature of Twitter’s viewpoint discrimination. Opening up Twitter’s algorithms, as he has suggested he would want to do, would seem to be a part of this process. It would be a great public service for Musk to investigate and reveal in detail Twitter’s previous shadow-banning and censorship practices. And then to hold to account those individuals who devised and executed those policies, and if possible then, to give individuals unfairly targeted—digitally gulaged, of course without due process—some kind of redress.
This effort could do three things at least. It could pressure social media competitors continuing to engage in this behavior to knock it off. If that is too hopeful, and it maybe it is, it might at least give future players pause about engaging in such behavior. Last but not least, such a reckoning could prevent far worse conduct in the future. Otherwise, the rot will continue to fester.
One of the major reasons the federal bureaucracy fought tooth and nail so viciously to cripple and try to topple Trump from before his inauguration was that it feared its most corrupt efforts would be exposed—particularly in the national security realm, including in its targeting of Trump. By constantly going on offense against Trump —well beyond just Russiagate and impeachment 1.0 and 2.0 and other continued efforts to disqualify Trump going into 2024—it made it exceedingly difficult for his administration to find and reveal where the bodies were buried, of course to execute his agenda, let alone bring the henchmen to justice. Thus, its behavior only got more brazen and lawless over time in trying to destroy trump.
If Musk can take these lessons to heart and apply them, it could serve as a powerful model for non-progressive executives facing hostile bureaucracies. More important, it would be a boon to our first freedom: the right to free speech. In an ironic twist, the de-platforming of Donald Trump, including his banishment from Twitter, may well have proven a catalyst for this rebirth.