This is Not Okay
This won’t take long. Because there’s not much to say.
It involves something that went out earlier today on Twitter, that social media platform that limits thoughts to 280 characters and can be both inspirational and a cesspool. One user who tends to wade into the latter is the tech billionaire Elon Musk, who posted and then deleted a Tweet that created quite a stir. That he eventually removed his Tweet is welcomed, but it is far from sufficient.
Here is an image of what Musk shared:
For context, Musk posted his tweet in response to this:
I do not want to get bogged down in the details of cryptocurrency, the Canadian government, or the truck blockade. Those are all important stories that deserve their own treatment. I want to get at something far more basic. There are no words to capture the depravity of what Musk did in using a meme of Adolf Hitler, but words are what we have so we must try. It was offensive, disgusting, and shameful. It trafficked in the basest currencies of hate and ignorance.
This kind of dangerous rhetoric cannot go unchallenged. I cannot imagine any resepected national public figure in my lifetime doing something like this. It’s not some “tech dude” being provocative. This is appropriating the deaths of millions of people to make a snarky political comment. And Musk is not alone. More and more we are hearing Hitler and the Nazis invoked to demonize science, knowledge, public health, and social and racial justice. There can be no false equivalence in how widespread the Third Reich is used by right-wing actors in their political and social attacks. But we should denounce all instances where the specter of Nazism is bandied about with abandon.
On the individual level this raises serious concerns about Musk, whose public pronouncements have become increasingly strident and aligned with fringe political actors. Meanwhile, his company Tesla is being sued in California for racism.
The opprobrium Musk is getting is well warranted. His behavior raises many questions. Will it hurt the popularity of his Tesla cars? What will it mean for his SpaceX company’s contracts with NASA? Or, will anyone really care? Is this all just normal now, within the spectrum of what is considered “acceptable”?
The fact that he decided to delete his tweet is encouraging, and in ways that are much bigger than Musk, or this incident.
I am confident that the vast majority of Americans and people around the globe find this rhetoric reprehensible. Just because you are a feted centibillionaire (a new word for those in the $100 billion club) doesn’t mean you can get away with this outrageousness. When people rise up and say, “No,” “This is not okay,” “We will not let it stand unchallenged,” the world has no choice but to pay attention. There can be swelling choruses for good. Public pressure can lead to better outcomes.
More generally, we also need to teach more history. There is a great danger in forgetting, about the holocaust, and about other manifestations of hate. When the forces of intolerance push against our common humanity, they must feel a repelling force of dignity and hope. Bullies will not slink back into their holes if their dangerous words are ignored; they will only get louder. But even those with the biggest pulpit cannot ignore the majority when it speaks in powerful unison.
No Mr. Musk, this is not going to be allowed. Even those with unlimited funds can be bankrupt of decency. My hope is that this episode causes Musk to pause and reflect. I desperately desire that we can find ways to start to pull back from some of this caustic rhetoric. And that those who will not, will hear about it.