Following the election, it’s difficult to look across the political or business landscape and see anyone who already stands against President-Elect Donald Trump on a variety of issues.
Democratic politicians will do their democratic duty and now maintain that we must stand together and heal the divides that were opened by the campaign. President Obama has been a relentless Trump detractor, but even he will — at least temporarily — need to serve the transition.
There is one business leader who is really more than a business leader and whose entire vision of the future stands in opposition to Trump’s: Elon Musk.
As I’ve often argued, to see Musk as the CEO of a car company, or a space-exploration company, or — soon — the CEO or co-CEO of a solar company misses the point. Musk took the hundreds of millions he made when he and his partners, including Trump supporter Peter Thiel, sold PayPal to eBay and immediately invested in a save-the-Earth vision.
You may have missed this, but over the past two years, as Musk has been running Tesla and SpaceX, he’s become the world’s most prominent proponent of action against climate change. He gave a speech in Paris last December in connection with the UN Climate Summit in which he laid out a plan to accelerate humanity’s departure from the the fossil-fuel era, and he has revisited that speech’s specifics when he unveiled the Tesla Model 3 earlier this year and revealed Tesla’s Solar Roof last month.
There are climate-change deniers, and there climate change debaters, but there is really only one CEO who has made doing something decisive about what many scientist argue is an existential threat the collective mission of his companies.
How it works
It works like this. Tesla builds millions of all-electric cars that finally start the process of displacing the internal-combustion engine from its century of dominance (a big part of this is the validation of a mass electric-car market, to induce major automakers to commit to the change). This helps lowers carbon emissions.
Solar power provides the clean energy to run the cars, and also gives homeowners the chance to disconnect from grid power, which comes from burning coal and natural gas. More lowered emissions.
SpaceX then provides the escape plan, if the Tesla-solar thing doesn’t work and climate change becomes life-threatening: we move to Mars.
Apart from maintaining that global warming is a Chinese hoax, Trump has shown no engagement with electric cars, sustainable energy, or space exploration. His energy policy will likely favour the fossil-fuel industry, and his EPA will probably back off on the higher fuel-economy standards that are mandated for automakers — and that have spurred electric-car development. Who knows what will happen with federal EV subsidies?
And when it comes to a mission to Mars, well … I guess a Mars colony will eventually need gilded casinos and golf courses. Extra-terrestrial real estate is still real estate, right?
Diametrically opposed brains
Musk, of course, represents the latest in a long line of scientists and technologists that have charted the future of humanity since the Enlightenment. Trump, by contrast, appears to have no engagement with science, has implicitly denied the scientific consensus when it comes to global warming, and he wasn’t supported by the tech industry during the election (the highly ideological, libertarian Thiel notwithstanding).
I won’t go so far to say that Trump is obviously anti-science or anti-tech — he loves Twitter, after all — it’s just that he doesn’t seem to have ever given the subjects any thought whatsoever. (That said, no less an authority than Scientific American is concerned that Trump will be anti-science.)
Musk, meanwhile, is a de facto mechanical engineer, energy authority, computer scientist, economist, and rocket scientist. He is an actual physicist. He thinks about science and technology every minute of every day.
It’s possible that there are no two more diametrically opposed brains currently functioning on the planet. Their only possible point in intersection is, weirdly, Twitter. (Musk is an active tweeter, often breaking news there and bantering with people about highly technical subjects.)
It’s about the science
There are countless different ways to oppose Trump and whatever Trumpism winds up looking like, starting with disdaining racism, misogyny, and vulgarity. Less often discussed is holding up the values of scientific inquiry and progress against the anti-rational, fact-free messages that Trump has so willingly disseminated since he took the Republican nomination.
Trump is a secular individual; religion doesn’t particularly seem to matter to him. But neither does science, and that might be his biggest break from modern presidents — and why a figure like Musk could logically oppose Trump more forcefully than he has already. The history of America has been in many ways the history of innovation on science and technology, and I’m not sure you could go back to even the Founding Fathers and find a true exception to that legacy in our Chief Executive.
I’ve covered Tesla and Musk for over a decade, but I’ve also spent, in total, 20 years living in or near New York, and like anyone with a career in the media, Donald Trump has been ever-present. With Musk, I’ve been consistently impressed with how much the language of science, technology, and rational inquiry is woven into his conversation, often at a granular level. Musk lives simultaneously in the worlds of vision and facts — but the facts always come first.
Trumps also lives in a world of vision, but in my experience that vision has always been about the man himself, a phenomenon that was on vivid display during the primaries and the election. As for facts, they still came last, if they came at all.
The Musk alternative
We’ve always had someone in America who completely symbolises science and technology applied to the task of improving the human species. Musk is now that guy. We’ve also always had people in the United States who deny facts, embrace conspiracy and superstition, and seek to reverse the course of what has actually made America great. Trump could very well be the first of those individuals to make it to the White House since science became what America does best.
So if anything about Trump’s attitude toward truth or reality disturbs you, there is an alternative, a big alternative, with a one company that has a $30-billion market cap and another that’s wants to send rockets to Mars, along with a comprehensive plan to rescue the Earth from becoming uninhabitable. Elon Musk is that alternative.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.
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