Our Billionaire Trolls
Plus: Kevin’s Humiliation... Best of the Bulwark.
“Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” —Probably not Abraham Lincoln or Mark Twain.
As you may have noticed, Elon Musk is tweeting again. Or, rather, still.
The headline in the Washington Post captures our timeline: “Elon Musk, notorious Twitter troll, is now trolling Twitter itself.”
The world’s richest man, embroiled in a complex, high-stakes takeover bid amid the falling share prices of his company, nevertheless takes time out for some social media lulz.
And, of course he is, because we live in an age of sh*tposting billionaires — phallic-obsessed rocketeers, who have decided that they should transform themselves into divas of performative assholery.
It’s good to be f-you rich in an age without guardrails or shame. The mega-rich can pose as populists, create memes, and even assume the personas of emotionally stunted adolescents. When you are a celebrity, they let you do anything, right?
This is, of course, a choice. Billionaires can actually be anyone they want to be. They can be philanthropists, they can be thought leaders, they can measure their words carefully. They can stay silent.
Or they can tweet things like this:
Musk has also brought his distinctive style to debates over tax policy:
The wit; it burns. But that’s not the point is it?
Musk’s forays into juvenile dickishness were not isolated incidents. Vanity Fair reminds us of his online record:
Claiming in March 2020 that people worried about the coronavirus were “dumb”
Predicting on March 19, 2020, that the U.S. was going to have “close to zero new cases” by the end of April
Questioning the safety of the COVID-19 vaccines, and baselessly asserting that there were “quite a few negative reactions” to getting a second shot
Likening Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau to Hitler
Saying the U.S. government shouldn‘t provide subsidies to companies after receiving billions in subsidies from the U.S government
Using Twitter to engage in securities fraud
Tweeting, “Pronouns suck”
Tweeting misogynistic things at Senator Elizabeth Warren because she said he should pay more in taxes
Writing to Bernie Sanders, who also thinks the richest man in the world should pay more in taxes, “I keep forgetting that you’re still alive”
Tweeting dumb, sexist jokes
Tweeting a photo of Bill Gates and writing, “in case u need to lose a boner fast”
Time magazine, which has it’s own journalistic kink for star-f***ing, proceeded to name him “Man of the Year.”
This is American Greatness, circa 2022.
The Florentines had the Medici. We get Elon Musk.
Which brings us to Musk’s Twitter announcement that he was converting from Democrat to Republican. Given his recent activity that was wholly predictable, but what was striking was the way that he pre-emptively cast himself as a victim.
Poor Elon, who increasingly sounds like.. well, you know.
Inevitably, I suppose, the guy who built this rocket also feels the need to up his trolling game.
Alamy Stock Photo
As Jack Shafer writes in Politico, Jeff Bezos “has chosen to straddle the zone between junk mail from [Bill] Gates and Musk’s shitposting.”
Last week, when President Joe Biden published a silly tweet saying that taxing billionaires will cure inflation, Bezos responded Musk-style that the Disinformation Governance Board should investigate that pitch. He followed that tweet with an anodyne one about inflation that could have been scripted by Gates’ pen, aligning Bezos’ anti-taxation philosophy with that of Sen. Joe Manchin, Democrat from West Virginia. Today, he filed another two inflation tweets. Previously, Bezos asked on Twitter if the Twitter deal by his rocketeering rival would give the Chinese government “leverage” over Musk, who builds Teslas there. (Bezos concluded no, but the dig remained.)
But, Shafer asks the key question: Why?
Bezos owns the Washington Post, and his company, Amazon, spends more on lobbying than any other tech company. He’s capable of engaging in long-form, serious thought. So why would he “feel the need to campaign for his business interests with the dumb brevity of Twitter that favors wisecracks over substance.”
Bezos should consider how counterproductive his Twitter spats with the president and his fellow mogul are. Whether he likes it or not, he’s now the face of the Washington Post. Twitter fulminations may give Bezos a Blue Origin rush of ego-gratification, but why should the man who owns an entire dairy get such a kick out of sipping from a personal-sized milk carton?
But these are the times we live in. And these are the choices that men who can make any choice — any choice at all — are making.
There was a time, not long ago, when politics was downstream from culture, but those lines have been obliterated, as we see the conjunction of cultural, political, and oligarchical dickishness. Politicians continue to take their cues from popular culture, but it also the works other way around. Almost inevitably, the unapologetic obnoxiousness of our politics has seeped into the world of business, or at least the world of celebrity business.
And we are all dumber for it.
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The Humiliation of Kevin McCarthy
Watching Kevin McCarthy over the last 24 hours has been like peeling an onion of humiliation. And there is no reason to think we are anywhere close to being done.
The story so far:
In the wake of the January 6 Insurrection the GOP Leader had a spasm of conscience and a momentary sense of duty. It faded quickly.
But, before it passed, McCarthy told colleagues that he was going to tell Donald Trump he would be impeached, and that the president should resign. Within days though, McCarthy had wrestled with his conscience — and won.
The result, as you know, was this:
And for the last 16 months, it has been humiliation all the way down. McCarthy made the calculation that all of this groveling was worth it, if it got him the gavel. But last November, I ventured this question: “What will happen to a speaker who rose to power by shrinking himself? What sort of power will be wielded by a man who obtained it through displays of weakness?”
Which brings us to yesterday’s rolling revelations, denial, and taped coup de grâce. The morning began with the bombshell report from the NYT”s Alexander Burns and Jonathan Martin about the comments that McCarthy and GOP Senate Leader Mitch McConnell had made to colleagues about their disgust with Trump’s behavior, and their belief that he had to go.
McConnell remained mum. But McCarthy understands that his speakership hangs by the thread of Trump’s favor, and he moved quickly to reassure his audience of one that he had never, ever said the things that the NYT claimed. By mid-day, McCarthy had issued a blanket denial, calling the report “totally false and wrong,”
But, Lordy, there were tapes. And they showed him saying exactly what he had just denied saying.
The recording, obtained by New York Times reporters Alex Burns and Jonathan Martin — and heard publicly for the first time Thursday on MSNBC — shows McCarthy preparing to formally break from Trump in the aftermath of the deadly riot and as House Democrats started drawing up an impeachment resolution.
On the tape, McCarthy says: “Now, this is one personal fear I have. I do not want to get into any conversation about Pence pardoning. Again, the only discussion I would have with him is that I think this will pass, and it would be my recommendation you should resign.”
The episode is, of course, filled with special irony, because he’s having this conversation with… Liz Cheney. As my colleague, Sarah Longwell tweeted last night, “Kevin McCarthy is casually discussing 25th Amendment, telling Trump to resign, and making sure Pence won’t pardon him…WITH LIZ CHENEY. Only to, weeks later, kick Cheney out of leadership for saying the same things he did.”
So what happens now? Politico’s Playbook is asking: “Is Kevin McCarthy toast?”
For years now, through controversy after controversy, House Minority Leader KEVIN MCCARTHY has bent over backward to stay in former President DONALD TRUMP’s good graces, all to serve one major purpose: He wants to be speaker someday.
That hope may have just blown up on the launchpad.
But, if he is toast, it’s not because he has just been caught in a lie, because that’s not really a disqualification in today’s GOP. If his dreams of becoming speaker have been torched, it’s only because he’s seen as disloyal by Trump. And because he’s a cynical moron.
1. Right-Wing Creeps Claim Bringing Brittney Griner Home Was Woke
Here’s the thing: The Biden administration almost certainly didn’t have a choice between Griner and ex-U.S. Marine Paul Whelan, who is imprisoned on charges of espionage. The only source for claims to the contrary is an early NBC News report on the swap which said that the Kremlin gave the White House the choice of Griner, Whelan, or no one, and which was soon corrected to: “The Kremlin ultimately gave the White House the choice of Griner or no one after different options were proposed.” . . .
One can certainly question the wisdom of the trading Viktor Bout, a Kremlin-connected arms smuggler who goes by the colorful nickname “the Merchant of Death.” (If you want to talk about “woke” points, releasing a man who has sown death primarily in Africa should probably be a demerit.) The fact is that he has served nearly 15 years of his 25-year sentence. The fact is also that he is extremely unlikely to pose any present danger: An arms dealer who has been out of the game for that long doesn’t just get back into business, especially when he’s as visible at Bout. For the moment it appears that he’s getting into far-right politics in Russia and may end up in the Duma.
2. The Democrats Have a Deeper Bench Than You Think
Ron DeSantis is an important point of reference for prognosticating about Gretchen Whitmer’s fortunes: They are, in some respects, close to mirror images of one another. Right-wingers seem to hate the Michigan governor as much as the left hates the Florida governor, and few things energize base voters more than a candidate despised by the opposing party.
While plenty of Democrats are loathed by conservatives, they typically hail from the “elite” coasts. Whitmer leads a Midwestern state, demonstrating strength in the region that consistently swings the hardest.
Whitmer is also well positioned to speak convincingly on the issues most beneficial to the electoral success of Democrats: abortion and political violence.
The overturning of Roe v. Wade will remain a grounding issue for Democrats heading into 2024. Whitmer has a deeply personal connection to this issue: She has publicly disclosed that she was a victim of sexual assault. As Republican state legislatures weigh the inclusion of rape and incest–based exceptions in new or prospective abortion bans, Whitmer’s story could be a powerful motivator for voters.
And again, there is the kidnapping plot. Whitmer’s personal experience makes vividly real the consequences of the GOP’s increasingly violent rhetoric.