Elon Musk has prominently attended meetings of several Trump business councils, including the Strategic and Policy Forum and the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative. For example, Musk’s attendance at a Trump business advisory council meeting in February was front-page news across the country, including an AP wire photo showing Musk listening attentively while Trump talks:AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Newspapers prominently ran this story, including the photo. USA Today captioned the picture as follows: “President Trump talking with Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, center, and White House chief strategist Steve Bannon during a White House meeting with business leaders.”
On March 8, Musk attended another Trump council meeting, this one having to do with infrastructure. This meeting was widely covered in the press, and virtually every story emphasized Musk’s attendance. For example, Reuters ran a picture of Musk and led its story as follows:
U.S. President Donald Trump met with business leaders on Wednesday including Tesla Inc Chief Executive Elon Musk and real estate developers, as the administration seeks partnerships with the private sector to boost infrastructure spending.
Here was UPI on the same story:
Among the most prominent private sector attendees at Wednesday's meeting was Musk, the billionaire co-founder of PayPal, who has gone on to several leading edge technological projects -- including a private space mission and electric automaker Tesla.
The Trump advisory council meetings have received wide-spread press coverage. In virtually all of that coverage, Musk is singled-out by name. Thus, Marketwatch referred to Musk as being a “notable participant” in Trump’s infrastructure meeting, and CNN’s Moneywatch said Musk may be “Donald Trump’s favorite tech billionaire.”
In the three months since Trump's surprise victory, Musk has changed course, becoming something of an ally to Trump. When the then president-elect held a tech summit in December, Musk agreed to attend. He wasn’t the only one. Apple’s Tim Cook, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, Microsoft’s Satya Nadella, and others joined him at the table. But they didn’t agree to a larger role advising the Trump administration as did Musk, who has met with the president and his team more than any other tech industry leader, save for Peter Thiel.8
The Daily Caller, a pro-Trump right-wing website, bragged about Musk’s importance for Donald Trump’s image:
Musk has become one of Trump’s biggest supporters, at least on business matters.
The tech entrepreneur, who made opposition to fossil fuels a key component of his brand, also offered an endorsement of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who formerly served as CEO of Exxon, shortly before his confirmation hearings.
The relationship benefits Musk and Trump equally, Bloomberg’s report explains. The connection gives the president cover for techie-types in Silicon Valley, many of whom consider Trump an anti-science dullard.
Similarly, Breitbart.com, the right-wing website that was previously edited by Steve Bannon, Trump’s chief of staff, called Musk’s support of Trump a “home run.”
The importance of Elon Musk’s support for Donald Trump’s image has been repeatedly noted in the national press. The Atlantic reported as follows:
Musk knows that every time he accepts an invitation from the White House, he allows Trump to leverage his unique cultural status in American life, as perhaps the most admired technologist since Steve Jobs. In the decidedly pro-immigration technology industry, many were already suspicious of Trump, and are especially so now, following the executive order. Many Tesla owners hold similar views. Musk is paying a price for these repeated meetings, among his current staff, future prospective hires, and his customers.
New York Magazine gave this description of Musk’s presence at Trump’s side:
[I]f the last few weeks have shown us anything, it’s that the president has a tendency to say whatever he was told by the last person he spoke with. But it’s unlikely that this business-advisory panel will ever occupy that slot (unless Musk can implant a device in Trump’s ear that allows him to whisper advice before any major decisions are made) and it seems more likely that the meetings will serve as a useful prop for an administration keen on seeming business-friendly.
Clean energy publication Cleantechnica also noted the importance of Musk for Trump’s image:
What can a poor Trump do to get a break and convince people he’s trying and isn’t completely batshit crazy?
Well, he can bring the most popular names in the tech and cleantech industry into Trump Towers to get their advice! That includes, of course, widely loved and idolized Elon Musk. Trump tells them that his phone line is open and they can call him any time. Ah, reassuring, yeah? Maybe the world won’t bake into a burnt pile of [expletive deleted].
Is there a chance Donald will take some piece of advice from Elon and help society in some way? Well, sure, there’s a chance. I’m hoping as much as anyone that Elon’s brilliance can somehow break through to Donald at some point. But let’s really look at what happened here: Donald deflected attention away from insane anti-EV, anti-science, anti-humanity selections by putting a bunch of the smartest and most loved tech leaders in one room with him in Trump Towers.
Donald all of a sudden looks better by association.
Let’s also remember — Donald is notorious for not listening to his advisors. Friends and top advisors kept giving up on him during the campaign — and beforehand — because he didn’t listen to them. Starting off with millions from his father and connections galore, Donald hasn’t exactly “worked his way up” in the world. People who questioned him — fired. People who thought they were smarter than him — attacked and labeled. Donald can say he’s listening to these top advisors till the cows come home, but he hasn’t put any of them in charge of anything. He has put science-denying, pollution-pushing, anti-humanity people in charge of things.
Musk may think he’s there to advise Donald Trump. In truth, however, Trump is using Musk as a highly-visible political prop designed to generate political legitimacy for Donald Trump’s agenda.
Elon Musk has been Trumped.