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Kane without Rosebud
Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter comports with what I said about him back in November — he wants to run for President. But he’s not buying Twitter as a megaphone for that ambition, as one might buy a PR shop or news network. He means for the purchase and administration of the service itself to serve as his pitch — his Declaration of Principles, to use a reference to Citizen Kane, which has been widely employed as an analogy to Musk’s purchase (though I think most of those who’ve been citing it — including this cowboy who adds, “have never made it through Citizen Kane so unware if this is good or bad” — have been missing the point).
You can read what I said about Musk, but the short version is, Musk checks all the GOP boxes: He has that sociopathic self-confidence and lack of empathy that signals to the Republican base he’ll deliver vengeance against the minorities they think are supplanting them (that his wealth derives from apartheid is just the cherry on top); he’s a Trump-level bullshit artist; and, most importantly, he’s a God to the GOP’s increasingly important techbro constituency — by which I mean not actual, competent tech workers but surly youngish males who know nothing except tech (and that mainly through User Experiences), think NFTs and crypto are the dawning of the Age of Aquarius, and worship Musk and his vaporware values as the avatar of all things techbrotastic.
(There is the Constitutional Article II obstacle, but why shouldn’t they find a way around that — they had a president and a bunch of leading electeds try to overthrow the government and nothing happened to them. Maybe they’ll claim to have found Musk’s real birth certificate showing he was born to real estate agents in Sandusky, Ohio, as sort of a reverse birther thing.)
No one has convincingly explained to me what financial incentive Musk would have for this purchase — how he turns this into profit, of itself or in synergy with Tesla and SpaceX. So that leaves as motivations image and cause — which for such as Musk would be the same thing.
It would be foolish to take anything Musk says about why he’s doing this seriously except as signals to his fans (and potential voters). Everything out of his mouth since this kicked up has been about “free speech,” which, ha ha. But I find this Wall Street Journal account of his late pitch to shareholders interesting:
The potential turnabout on Twitter’s part comes after Mr. Musk met privately Friday with several shareholders of the company to extol the virtues of his proposal while repeating that the board has a “yes-or-no” decision to make, according to people familiar with the matter. He also pledged to solve the free-speech issues he sees as plaguing the platform and the country more broadly, whether his bid succeeds or not, they said. (emphasis added)
The most interesting part of that statement, to me, is not the “succeeds or not” hedge in case the deal collapsed, but rather the “country more broadly” part. I assume this was what Musk wanted to bruit about — that he’s not just trying to solve Twitter’s alleged speech issue, but also trying to solve America’s.
This makes sense because what, really, is the free speech complaint against Twitter? That it sometimes suspends people for breaking its terms of service or, as in the case of Trump, attempting the violent overthrow of democracy? By itself that might be sufficiently exciting for the techbros and MAGA soreheads, but if Musk kept to that focus, the only thing interesting about it to normal people would be whether or not his governance made Twitter better.
And it won’t. We know that already. Musk will flood the site with the Nazis, threepers, and berserkers who either were ejected or stormed off in a huff to join Gab and Gettr and Trump Social or whatever the dozen or so other digital rat’s-nests that sprang up after Trump’s ejection were called.
Maybe Musk expects Twitter to remain a conversation-driver for the prestige media after it has been thus infested. But face it: The prestige media is doing a great job of mainstreaming far-right sentiments already without the aid of screenshots from RealDonaldTrump, Jewhunter7274 and HelicopterRidesLOL. More likely Musk’s interventions will either drive normal people away, or make no useful difference at all and thus become another expensive Musk boondoggle like his famous tunnels.
But Musk’s implied bid to reform America — well, that’s a different story. Because as we’ve seen with the cancelculture grift, you can always claim America has been turned into a socialist gulag without any evidence at all and a lot of people will still throw money and votes at you. To claim you can fix it and back that claim with a spectacular $44 billion purchase does not give it proof, but it does command attention and, for people who have been taught that money is the ultimate value, respect.
So it doesn’t matter what happens to Twitter, because Musk and his disciples can offer a multitude of excuses for any failure to achieve meaningful positive results with it (It was too woke for too long! The Deep State made everyone quit!) while continuing to prescribe the Free Speech cure for the rest of society, for which actual results are unnecessary to the grift.
Back to the Kane comparison: I’ve seen Musk’s seemingly profligate Twitter purchase widely compared to Charles Foster Kane’s similarly bold purchase of the Inquirer, specifically in reference to the “lose a million dollars a year” scene: “Mr. Thatcher, at the rate of a million dollars a year, I’ll have to close this place in... 60 years.” But, for one thing, in considerably less than 60 years Kane was smacked down by the Great Depression. Also Musk is less like Kane than Noah Cross with hair plugs.
But mainly there’s no tragedy inherent in this rewrite — no Rosebud. Musk’s going to get what he wants even if Twitter or the country goes bust, because he has circumvented the tedious traditional prerequisite for running for president — a career in public service — by pretending to perform one. Trump established himself as presidential timber by using Twitter; Musk has done so by owning it. And it may very well lead to the same result.
The blather from Musk’s announcement about how “free speech is the bedrock of a functioning democracy and Twitter is the digital town square where matters vital to the future of humanity are debated” is his version of Kane’s Declaration of Principles — the sententious front-page pledge of honesty and respect and support of the readers’ rights with which Kane hoped to make his media empire “as important to New York as the gas in that light.” Except you can’t imagine Citizen Musk ever being mortified when, later on, someone who once believed him throws those shredded principles in his face — because Musk never believed in them in the first place. And neither, really, does anyone else.
I’m willing to entertain other explanations in comments.