American Consequences - February 2019

Unsworth, who tried in vain to shake off the hero’s mantle himself, Musk’s contribution was a self-serving distraction at a time of crisis. Or, as he put it, “He can stick his submarine where it hurts.” Musk sprang to his own defense, ranting to his Twitter followers that his submarine engineers had done their research and would do a demo anywhere, anytime – to which Unsworth replied that when Musk arrived at the rescue scene, he “was asked to leave very quickly.” At that, Musk took to Twitter once more, this time calling Unsworth a pedophile. Come August he vented yet again, now to a Buzzfeed reporter, that Unsworth must be a “child rapist.” Why else, Musk reasoned, would a grown man move from Britain to Thailand? Unsworth, and the Thai girlfriend he’d relocated to live with, sued for defamation later that month. Their hearing is set for April. When he wasn’t slandering a heroic expat, Musk answered a Twitter follower’s query about taking Tesla private with a mock announcement that he’d been considering it at “$420” a share and had “funding secured.” In the ensuing chaos, Tesla stocks soared. (Ironically, in a letter Musk sent employees to explain away the tweet, he invoked Tesla’s topsy-turvy value fluctuations to justify his stated preference for privatizing.) Many shareholders didn’t get the pot joke – 420 is a popular code for weed – but the Securities and Exchange Commission did. The Wall Street watchdog called his reckless

announcement another stunt, perhaps to impress his Canadian popstar girlfriend Grimes – who told the rapper Azealia Banks that the referential number amuses him – and hit him with a fine for securities fraud. They subpoenaed both Grimes and Banks concerning the motivation for the tweet, which was, by all accounts, the product of a hazy, lost weekend last August. Musk agreed to pay a $20 million penalty and let the board choose a new chairman to keep an eye on him and restore a semblance of stability. What actually happened that weekend is anyone’s guess. Musk’s destructive tweeting tends to fall short of the president’s easy bravado. But, per one ex-employee’s theory anyway, he models his social media manners after Trump’s. “He became sort of hyper-powered once he saw the president’s ability to tweet with impunity,” I’m told. His jokes confuse people in public settings almost as profoundly as they do online. In person, he pauses awkwardly between sentences and his attempts at humor typically fail. Musk even bombed at the Paris climate talks with a crowd

predisposed to worship him. (He compared greenhouse

gases to a turd in the punchbowl: Crickets.) He breaks unnervingly into a “Merlin’s laugh” – bent over in a fit of giggles for no clear

“He can stick his submarine where it hurts.”

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February 2019

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