I stopped listening to the BBC in my car one Summer day in 2016. Some commentator (I forget who) made the observation, “Say what you like about Donald Trump, he’s a brilliant businessman.” I shouted at the radio in angry derision, punched the OFF button and never turned it on again. I decided then and there that my car, on the rare occasion I drive it, is to be a sanctuary of silence against an infuriatingly misinformed world. Nearly seven years later it has remained thus.
Obviously that doesn’t mean I haven’t continued to follow the news. I know as well as anybody that the myth that Donald Trump is a “brilliant businessman,” though somewhat tattered, still prevails, proving the old adage, “Cultivate a reputation as an early riser and you can sleep until noon.”
The old crop of defenders of businessman Trump remind me of the new crop of defenders of businessman Elon Musk. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in many cases, they are the same people. But the idea that Musk is simply playing a “chess game” with Twitter and the rest of us are too dull to comprehend it just took another hit on Thursday. This time he did something so breathtakingly stupid that I can scarcely believe it. At first I thought it was a joke.
No, it’s not a joke. It’s true. The New York Times reported that “Twitter’s already depleted workforce shrank further on Thursday, after an estimated 1,200 employees accepted CEO Elon Musk’s offer of three months’ severance rather than commit to his vision of a new ‘extremely hardcore’ work culture.” And what was that “extremely hardcore” work culture? Among other things Musk wanted his people to start working 80 hours a week. And no, I am not making this up.
I guess a lot of those people thought that doing a second job, which amounted to charity work for the world’s richest man (or as Jeff Tiedrich puts it, “tHe WoRlD’s RiChEsT mAn”) was, as it were, a bridge too far. Three months’ severance pay was more than adequate compensation for not having to work for a madman.
Me, I would have stayed on, defied the idiot’s edict and waited for them to fire me. After which they still would have to pay me (by contract) severance pay and a stock settlement that could be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Then I would sue his ass.
But that’s just me. I don’t blame the rest for doing exactly what they did. They took the money and ran. And they left the USS Twitter without a crew sufficient to run it and a very, very, very stupid, stupid, stupid captain.
But don’t worry, the myth that Elon Musk is a “brilliant businessman” will continue, and perhaps even prevail. You see, once the masses get something into their collective heads it’s very difficult to get it out again. So Musk, like Trump, has been conferred a permanent aura as an invincible genius of the business world, and no amount of evidence to the contrary will ever suffice to alter it.
Does that mean that you can become “tHe WoRlD’s RiChEsT mAn” on luck alone? To a certain degree, yes, I think that’s true. I don’t deny that Musk has a lot of what it takes. He’s a driven workaholic with a talent for engineering. But luck plays a huge role in the success of many people. Every historian will tell you that, unquestionable genius though he was, Napoleon would have never risen to the heights he did without a phenomenal dollop of good luck.
Like Trump, Musk was born with a proverbial silver spoon in his mouth. Much of his success was handed to him, and much of the success that followed him was also handed to him. Like Trump, people automatically opened doors when they saw Musk coming because they assumed the myth he was creating around himself was true. And it became, quite naturally, a self-fulfilling truth.
It is true that Musk’s IQ is undoubtedly higher than Trump’s. But that’s just a matter of degree. People, particularly driven people, frequently get rich beyond their talents, and Musk is an extreme example of that. In a world of 8 billion people, it’s no accident that we see the spectrum of all the possibilities that that many people will generate by chance over time.
Musk is just MAGA Trump 2.0. A sleeker, younger mode to be sure,, but every inch as misguided, with the same phenomenally low Emotional Quotient of the original model. The sad part is that when people like Musk and Trump involve their egos on the world stage, sanity and good people suffer. It is the way of the world that enough of us elevate fools to the point they become superstars. I, for one, call bullshit. 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.