Elon Musk is a very stable genius

OPINION: Should you be worried that the business mogul who promised to make Twitter great again turns out to be a fragile, tyrannical, incompetent right-wing conspiracy theorist?

SpaceX And T-Mobile Hold Joint Event In Texas
SpaceX founder Elon Musk during a T-Mobile and SpaceX joint event on August 25, 2022 in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. (Photo by Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images) ()
SpaceX founder Elon Musk during a T-Mobile and SpaceX joint event on August 25, 2022 in Boca Chica Beach, Texas. (Photo by Michael Gonzalez/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.

“Sir, I live in Alabama.”

From 2016 until 2020, whenever I was asked if I was worried about America’s new CEO, this was my standard reply. Sure, I was concerned about Donald Trump’s racist dog whistles and his legion of feeble-minded, right-wing MAGA minions (Some of them, I assume are good people). But, unlike those who suffer from “economic anxiety,” I had a few years of experience in dealing with white nationalist regimes. After growing up in South Carolina, I lived in Florida and Alabama, so I understand that white people often conflate wealth, privilege and an overinflated business record with intelligence. 

So when Twitter’s new CEO began peddling conspiracy theories about pronouns, prosecuting Fauci and defeating the “woke mind virus,” I wasn’t shocked. Elon Musk might just be presenting a few “alternative facts.” After all, he isn’t the first chief executive who promised to expose the “deep state.” Maybe he fired all of those Twitter employees because he wanted to “drain the swamp.” Even when Musk suspended the Twitter accounts of journalists who dared to criticize him, I figured Musk was tired of “fake news.” Perhaps he believes that the press is the “enemy of the people.” Either way, I felt like I’d seen this before

Musk’s hypocrisy on free speech isn’t just reminiscent of the immediate past president. He is just the latest example of someone intoxicated by the elixir of power after sipping privilege from a silver spoon their entire lives. Now, the man who pledged to democratize social media has somehow become an authoritarian snowflake made of white tears. Or maybe, when he called himself a “free speech absolutist,” he was referring to those whose speech absolutely agrees with him. Of course, there’s also another possibility that no one seems to consider.

What if Elon Musk is dumb?

I know it’s a reach. Maybe it’s wrong to assume a dumb person who was raised by a rich white man who grew up surrounded by other rich white men could somehow manage to become a rich white man. Could a dumb person earn a degree in economics from an exclusive, Ivy League institution like the Wharton School of Business? Sure, a demonstrably dim-witted dullard like Donald Trump managed to do it. But, aside from the fact that Musk and Trump share an alma mater, a love for conspiracy theories, far-right fanboys, allegations of sexual misconduct, racial discrimination lawsuits and a propensity for whining about witch hunts and government collusion, it’s difficult to believe that these two are anything alike. 

Of course, if Elon is the same kind of dotard that Trump turned out to be, the Musk stans will refuse to believe it, and very few news outlets will outwardly say it. For MAGAmuffins and the American media, the idea of incompetence is incompatible with financial success. They’re rich so they must be smart. But what if Tesla’s stock is plummeting because Tesla investors are slowly beginning to see beyond the popular, manufactured narrative about the boy genius who invented the electric car? What if Elon Musk overpaid for Twitter because he doesn’t know things? 

Elon was the richest man in the world partly because people believed he was competent. Stock valuations are based on crowdsourced perception and, to believe in the mythology of Elon Musk’s superintelligence, people were willing to ignore the fact that Tesla has been unprofitable for most of its existence and has literally never made a profit from actually selling cars. They didn’t care that actual neuroscientists have questioned whether his Neuralink startup is just a bunch of unscientific boasts. No one cares that the Boring Company, Musk’s attempt at underground highways, is falling apart. He was ousted as CEO of PayPal before it was PayPal. Elon doesn’t have a track record of business success. But he is great at selling Elon.

But facts don’t matter when you’re endowed with so much privilege. Or, maybe Musk is as smart as he thinks he is. Perhaps, in the quiet moments when he’s not firing people for criticizing him or banning Twitter accounts for speaking freely, he actually believes in freedom of speech. I have to admit that Musk might very well be a free-speech warrior. Maybe he’s just banning people for doxxing him.

Unlike most people, I have proof of Elon’s love for free speech.

Two weeks before Elon’s Twitter rampage, I received a direct message from a slow-witted follower who spends a lot of time targeting Black journalists on Twitter. I had already muted him because I generally ignore white people who have never experienced racism when they try to tell me why I’m wrong about racism. He warned me that I should block him before he “releases information about me.” I had seen that trick before — I’d block him; he’d doxx me, and I’d never know about it until something happened.

He doxxed me.

Because he was not very bright, he doxxed the wrong person. Unlike Elon, who claimed to ban journalists because they posted his real-time location, I am not a free-speech absolutist, so I reported the tweet to Twitter’s Safety Team. They replied that they “reviewed the reported content and didn’t find it to be in violation of the Twitter rules. In this case, no action will be taken at this time.” 

The tweet is still up.

Twitter is a lot like America. 

Black people’s ability to survive the unyielding menace of America is partly due to our unfathomable perseverance and strength. But a lot of it is because white people are not as smart as most people believe they are. Given the advantages of 400 years of privilege, wealth and freedom, they still have not been able to crush our spirits or our souls. It’s not just our determination, but their incompetence.

It’s hard to sympathize with white boys whining about wokeness, vaccines and pronouns when you live in a country that’s willing to put a low-wattage white supremacist in charge of the entire enterprise. Twitter is just another place where whiteness will never lose its valuation. And none of this justifies suspending the Twitter accounts of journalists. As someone who literally makes a living with words, I recognize the importance of free speech but…

Sir, I live in America.  


Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in 2023.

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