The real significance of Ron DeSantis’s presidential announcement on Twitter had little to do with DeSantis but everything to do with Musk. It’s that Twitter, under Musk, has fully embraced the political right. Why is Musk doing this? He acts as if he wants to be the darling of libertarian bros. But he’s really aiming to lead democracy’s foes.
Musk wants to crush unions and declare the United States a free-to-make-as-much-as-you-can-on-the-backs-of-working-stiffs zone. He calls himself a “free speech absolutist”, but that’s utter baloney. He wants to elevate the speech of people like DeSantis but suppress the speech of workers who want to unionize. He’s even gone along with Turkey’s recent ban on anti-regime comments in the run-up to the Turkish election. DeSantis is not exactly a libertarian himself, of course – unless you define a libertarian as someone who bans books, forces women to give birth, threatens to take trans youth away from parents who approve of them getting gender-affirming care, prohibits teachers from mentioning gender identity or sexual orientation, bars teachers from talking about America’s history of racism, and wreaks vengeance even on Mickey Mouse for opposing his authoritarian policies.
What unites Musk and DeSantis isn’t libertarianism at all. It’s authoritarianism. Twitter started to become a rightwing media hotspot when Musk lifted bans on thousands of accounts that had spread disinformation about the pandemic and the 2020 elections. More recently, Tucker Carlson has said he would revive his show on Twitter after losing his Fox News slot (Musk has denied that Twitter has signed a deal with Carlson). It’s also been reported that the Daily Wire, a rightwing, anti-democracy media outlet, will make Twitter the home for all its podcasts.
Unquestionably, Twitter is benefiting from the dissatisfaction of the anti-democracy movement with Fox News. Musk can credibly claim to be outside the mainstream rightwing media world of Rupert Murdoch. But the reason Musk wants to be a force on the right is because he wants to be in control.
That’s been his business MO since the start. It’s why he refused a seat on Twitter’s board and instead mounted a hostile takeover. It’s why he hates unions. And now Musk wants to control everything else. He wants to dominate the right wing of American politics. Not content to be the (or among the) richest on the planet, not satisfied with taking over one of the biggest media machines in the world, Musk now wants to impose his will on America and the world directly.
Remind you of any other billionaire? Say, the former guy? Musk said on Tuesday he isn’t formally backing any Republican candidate. But he is backing Republicans. And you can bet his eye is focused like a laser on the biggest Republican of all. Right now, Musk wants to send Donald Trump a message that he – Musk – has the power to make life difficult for Trump if Trump so much as hints at making life difficult for Musk. Musk knows that the best way to deal with a bully is to bully him. Show him you are even bigger than he is. Have more billions of dollars than he does. Have more millions of Twitter followers than he does.
And show him you have power over him by helping Republicans who are opposing him. Which is why Musk is helping DeSantis. And why, earlier this week, Musk retweeted a campaign kickoff video for Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina. Musk is only 51. Trump is 77. Trump may be the next president, but Musk will outlast him. The US constitution bars Musk from becoming president, as he was born in Pretoria, South Africa. But there’s no end to the power he can wield over America and the world in coming decades. And make no mistake. Musk plans to wield it.