In a previous article I quoted a tweet by Elon Musk complaining about being “doxxed” by reporters. In the tweet Musk wrote, “They posted my exact real-time location, basically assassination coordinates, in (obvious) direct violation of Twitter terms of service.”
What I didn’t know at the time was posting exact real-time locations was not, in fact, a violation of Twitter terms of service. I made the mistake of believing Musk. Musk made posting real-time locations as part of the terms of service retroactively in order to justify kicking several journalists off of Twitter.
That’s what tyrants do, and the tyrannical practice of creating retroactive laws is nothing recent. In fact, it’s so old a practice of tyrants that the United States Constitution specifically guards against it. They are what the Constitution refers to as “Ex post facto laws” and they are expressly forbidden in Article 1, Section 9, Clause 3. Congress is prohibited from passing ex post facto laws.
Elon Musk is showing us in real time how a fascistic regime works and why it ultimately fails in microcosm. It can help us understand why fascistic regimes are inherently unstable, ultimately bad for the state and are given to eventual self-destruction.
Typically (though not always) fascistic regimes begin as a cult of personality. They are often notable for the extreme use of physical symbols. Think swastikas, flags and uniforms in the case of Hitler, black shirts in the case of Mussolini or MAGA hats and Trump flags in the case of Donald Trump. For Musk his symbology was prefabricated in the form of corporate symbols: Tesla, SpaceX and now the bluebird of Twitter.
It’s easy to understand why fascistic regimes are unstable, because they reflect the immediate and often deeply flawed impulses of their dictator. They lack the subtle opposing forces of checks and balances. Elon Musk, for example, is a deeply unstable man whose unfiltered impulses have all but wrecked Twitter. His inherent rashness is untempered by the deliberation of a body of cooler heads. For Musk, to think is to act.
What’s more, like most tyrannical, fascistic dictators Musk is deluded by his own ego. He believes he’s a genius in all things including leadership. It is a feature of a cult following that many of his glassy-eyed adherents see his mistakes as part of a grand and brilliant strategy when in fact they are nothing more than mistakes.
Fascism is also a feature of the extreme right. Wikipedia defines fascism as “a far-right, authoritarian, ultra-nationalist political ideology and movement, characterized by a dictatorial leader, centralized autocracy, militarism, forcible suppression of opposition, belief in a natural social hierarchy, subordination of individual interests for the perceived good of the nation and race, and strong regimentation of society and the economy.” Elon Musk is a notorious member of the extreme right, and he makes that clear almost daily.
Musk knows he’s been a bad leader and has made many mistakes. That is why Musk recently posted a tweet conducting a poll in which he says, “Should I step down as head of Twitter? I will abide by the results of this poll.” I voted YES, along with 56% of other Twitter users. Expect him to lose the vote and claim he won. Expect him not to step down. That’s also what fascists do, conduct polls or hold elections then refuse to abide by the results.
Whatever the eventual outcome, Musk has been unequivocally bad for Twitter in the same way all fascist dictators are bad for a nation. He is giving us all a lesson in microcosm. We should all profit and learn from that lesson. And, as ever, ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sisters, comrades and friends, stay safe.
Robert Harrington is an American expat living in Britain. He is a portrait painter.