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The Truth About Musk and Trump

Elon Musk has become an important propaganda symbol for Donald Trump. Musk is being used by Trump to legitimize the most radically anti-environmental presidency in American history, a presidency that directly contradicts Musk’s core values on climate change and other vital issues.

Elon Musk is not a moderating influence on Donald Trump. Trump has embarked on a series of actions designed to roll back climate change regulation, including appointing climate change-denier Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA and proposing a budget that eliminates most federal climate change regulation. Trump’s spokesperson called climate change work a waste of taxpayer dollars and said “we’re not spending money on that.”

Musk had no influence as Trump gutted environmental protections. Even worse, Musk has not spoken out. When Trump’s anti-environment budget was announced, Musk had nothing to say. Instead, he tweeted a pretty picture of a rocket launch.

Elon Musk is an important Trump supporter

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
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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,, 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.

Musk is not a moderating influence on Trump and has remained silent as Trump has rolled back climate change protections

Musk has been widely criticized for his high-visibility support of Trump. In response, Musk argues that his support is justified because he’s acting as a moderating influence:

Activists should be pushing for more moderates to advise President, not fewer. How could having only extremists advise him possibly be good?

— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) February 5, 2017

Elon Musk is wrong. He has had no influence at all on the Trump Administration on any issue.

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The Atlantic Monthly had this to say about Musk’s so-called influence on Trump:

In Musk’s statement on Twitter, he said that one of his goals is to “accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy.” According to Bloomberg, he has already floated the idea of a carbon tax to the president. But so far, there is no evidence that Musk has had any effect on the administration’s climate and energy policy. And in his statement on Twitter, Musk did not indicate why he thinks he’ll be more persuasive on immigration, which replaced birtherism as Trump’s signature issue at the very start of his presidential campaign.

Despite Elon Musk’s alleged influence, Donald Trump has taken numerous steps to roll back environmental protections, including key climate change regulations. These steps directly contradict values Musk claims are vital for the future of the human race, but Musk has remained silent.

“Within moments of the inauguration of President Trump, the official White House website on Friday deleted nearly all mentions of climate change. The one exception: Mr. Trump’s vow to eliminate the Obama administration’s climate change policies...” When Donald Trump took this highly-symbolic step, Elon Musk was silent.

Trump appointed climate-change denier Scott Pruitt as head of the EPA. This is how the New York Times described that choice:

President-elect Donald J. Trump has selected Scott Pruitt, the Oklahoma attorney general and a close ally of the fossil fuel industry, to run the Environmental Protection Agency, signaling Mr. Trump’s determination to dismantle President Obama’s efforts to counter climate change — and much of the E.P.A. itself.

Mr. Pruitt, a Republican, has been a key architect of the legal battle against Mr. Obama’s climate change policies, actions that fit with the president-elect’s comments during the campaign. Mr. Trump has criticized the established science of human-caused global warming as a hoax, vowed to “cancel” the Paris accord committing nearly every nation to taking action to fight climate change, and attacked Mr. Obama’s signature global warming policy, the Clean Power Plan, as a “war on coal.”

Mr. Pruitt has been in lock step with those views.

The Atlantic Monthly described the selection of Pruitt as follows:

In a certain light, Pruitt is an inspired choice to lead the EPA, as he has made fighting the agency a hallmark of his career. His own website calls him “a leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” The significance could not be more clear: As he promised on the trail, Trump will likely use the powers of the presidency and the legal expertise of Pruitt to block or weaken the Obama administration’s attempts to fight climate change.

And Trump will be able to try for more than that. For what distinguishes Pruitt’s career is not just his opposition to using regulation to tackle climate change, but his opposition to using regulation to tackle any environmental problem at all.

Scott Pruitt is a climate-change denier who has devoted his career to rolling back EPA climate-change regulations. When Donald Trump proposed Pruitt to head the EPA, Elon Musk was silent.

EPA employees were so upset at the possibility of Pruitt as head of the agency that they publicly objected, doing so at considerable risk to their own careers, since he’s now their boss. This public opposition by employees to an appointed EPA head was an “unprecedented” action. When courageous EPA employees objected to Donald Trump’s appointment of Pruitt, Elon Musk was silent.

Pruitt immediately staffed the senior ranks of EPA with climate-change deniers who are committed to rolling back environmental regulations. Elon Musk was silent.

Pruitt scrapped an Obama-era regulation requiring oil and gas companies to report methane emissions, a rule called “crucial” to combating global warming. Elon Musk was silent.

In a direct attack on an environmental issue crucial to the San Francisco Bay Area where Tesla’s headquarters is located, Donald Trump put electrification of Caltrain on hold. Elon Musk was silent.

The head of EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice resigned after more than two decades at the agency, stating that the Trump/Pruitt cuts to the EPA would harm those the agency was designed to serve. Elon Musk was silent.

In an interview on March 10, EPA head Pruitt again rejected the global scientific consensus on climate change:

Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, said on Thursday that carbon dioxide was not a primary contributor to global warming, a statement at odds with the global scientific consensus on climate change.

In response to this reaffirmation of climate change denialism by the man Trump appointed to head the EPA, Elon Musk was silent.

On March 16, Donald Trump announced his first federal budget, including a 31% cut to EPA and zeroing out efforts to combat climate change across the federal government. Trump’s spokesperson described climate change regulation as a “waste” of taxpayer money and said “we’re not spending money on that.” In an article titled “EPA Hit Hardest as Trump Budget Targets Regulations,” Reuters described the anti-environment effects of the Trump budget as follows:

President Donald Trump's administration on Thursday proposed a 31 percent cut to the Environmental Protection Agency's budget, as the White House seeks to eliminate climate change programs and trim initiatives to protect air and water quality.

The EPA would sustain the biggest cut of any federal agency in the White House 2018 budget, as Trump seeks to clear away regulations he claims are hobbling U.S. oil drillers, coal miners and farmers.

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The proposal would slash funding for enforcing regulations, fighting water pollution, cleaning up sites contaminated by toxic waste and promoting energy-efficient appliances. It would eliminate 3,200 EPA employees, or 19 percent of the agency's workforce.

It would effectively erase former President Barack Obama's initiatives to combat climate change by cutting funding for the agency's signature Clean Power Plan aimed at reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

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The budget would also eliminate some $100 million in spending on research and international programs on combating climate change.

Trump also doubts the science of climate change and has said the country can reduce green regulations drastically without compromising air and water quality.

Asked about climate change programs, Mick Mulvaney, Trump's budget director, told reporters "we consider that to be a waste of your money."

"I think the president is fairly straightforward. We're not spending money on that," he said.

When Trump issued his EPA-gutting budget, when Trump’s spokesman made it clear Trump considers climate change regulation a “waste” of taxpayer money, Elon Musk was silent. Not entirely silent, to be sure. He did tweet a pretty picture of a rocket launch. But Musk didn’t say a word about Trump’s climate change actions.

On March 28, Trump issued an executive order designed to overturn President Obama’s climate change policies. The Washington Post described the order as follows:

“President Trump on Tuesday took the most significant step yet in obliterating his predecessor’s environmental record, instructing federal regulators to rewrite key rules curbing U.S. carbon emissions.”

When Donald Trump moved to destroy federal climate change programs, Elon Musk was silent.

Other people spoke out, including ExxonMobile and GE, which criticized Trump’s actions. Here’s what Vanity Fair said: “that a corporate giant that has not exactly been a friend of the planet in the past is speaking out against this administration’s actions shows just how little support Trump’s climate policies have with executives.”

Consider that for a moment. ExxonMobile is speaking out in opposition to Trump’s climate change policies, but Elon Musk isn’t.

GE spoke out. ExxonMobile spoke out. Numerous technology companies spoke out, including Apple, Amazon, Google and Microsoft. Elon Musk stayed silent.

Rather than criticize these anti-environment Trump policies, Musk argues that none of it is his responsibility:

Advisory councils simply provide advice and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the Administration. My goals are to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization, a consequence of which will be the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a more inspiring future for all. I understand the perspective of those who object to my attending this meeting, but I believe at this time that engaging on critical issues will on balance serve the greater good.

Elon Musk believes that climate change is among the most important issues facing the human species, and that it could lead to “more displacement and destruction than all the wars in history combined.”

And yet, at a critical time for the environment, at a time when Donald Trump is attempting to radically roll back climate change protections, at a time when public opposition from respected leaders is vitally important, Elon Musk is silent.

Others are speaking up. The EPA employees who opposed Scott Pruitt are speaking up. So are moderate environmental voices:

The Environmental Defense Fund, which has for decades cultivated relationships with Republican administrations, was so concerned about Trump’s agenda that it publicly opposed Scott Pruitt’s nomination for EPA administrator, a first for the group. As Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt had led legal challenges against a series of major EPA regulations, including a power plant rule that formed the centerpiece of Obama’s climate strategy.

“We’ve worked with every Democrat and every Republican, and we’ve never opposed any Cabinet official, period,” EDF President Fred Krupp said in an interview. “That’s how far outside the bipartisan environmental tradition the agenda is.

While others speak out about Donald Trump’s attack on climate change protections and environmental protection as a whole, Elon Musk is silent.

Trump treats Musk's climate suggestions with contempt

Musk has not been silent on every issue. At a Trump council meeting in February, Musk raised the issue of a carbon tax directly with Donald Trump. This is the only climate-related issue Musk is known to have discussed with Trump.

The Trump Administration responded to Musk’s proposal with open contempt:

Tesla Motors Inc. founder Elon Musk is pressing the Trump administration to adopt a tax on carbon emissions, raising the issue directly with President Donald Trump and U.S. business leaders at a White House meeting Monday regarding manufacturing.

A senior White House official said Musk floated the idea of a carbon tax at the meeting but got little or no support among the executives at the White House, signaling that Trump’s conservative political orbit remains tepid on the issue.

The Trump Administration’s response to this suggestion by one of Trump’s top supporters was extraordinary. Trump could have ignored the suggestion. Instead, the Administration went out of its way to tell the press that Trump had no interest in Musk’s carbon tax idea.

If Musk’s presence at Trump’s side can’t get Trump to even pretend to take Musk’s advice seriously on a critical climate change issue, then what exactly is Musk accomplishing?

Donald Trump cheats everyone; Musk is naive if he believes he's an exception

Elon Musk may believe he’ll get something out of Donald Trump. If so, Elon Musk is naive. Donald Trump cheats everyone he does business with. No one else wins.

Trump cheats everyone who enters into any kind of agreement with him, including large businesses, small businesses and individuals:

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Donald Trump often portrays himself as a savior of the working class who will "protect your job." But a USA TODAY NETWORK analysis found he has been involved in more than 3,500 lawsuits over the past three decades — and a large number of those involve ordinary Americans, like the Friels, who say Trump or his companies have refused to pay them.

At least 60 lawsuits, along with hundreds of liens, judgments, and other government filings reviewed by the USA TODAY NETWORK, document people who have accused Trump and his businesses of failing to pay them for their work. Among them: a dishwasher in Florida. A glass company in New Jersey. A carpet company. A plumber. Painters. Forty-eight waiters. Dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, coast to coast. Real estate brokers who sold his properties. And, ironically, several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others.

Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act since 2005 for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage, according to U.S. Department of Labor data. That includes 21 citations against the defunct Trump Plaza in Atlantic City and three against the also out-of-business Trump Mortgage LLC in New York. Both cases were resolved by the companies agreeing to pay back wages.

In addition to the lawsuits, the review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens — filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies or his properties claiming they were owed money for their work — since the 1980s. The liens range from a $75,000 claim by a Plainview, N.Y., air conditioning and heating company to a $1 million claim from the president of a New York City real estate banking firm. On just one project, Trump’s Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, records released by the New Jersey Casino Control Commission in 1990 show that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, including workers who installed walls, chandeliers and plumbing.

The actions in total paint a portrait of Trump’s sprawling organization frequently failing to pay small businesses and individuals, then sometimes tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. In some cases, the Trump teams financially overpower and outlast much smaller opponents, draining their resources. Some just give up the fight, or settle for less; some have ended up in bankruptcy or out of business altogether.

Newsweek reached a similar conclusion on Trump’s propensity to cheat everyone he does business with:

Lost contracts, bankruptcies, defaults, deceptions and indifference to investors—Trump’s business career is a long, long list of such troubles, according to regulatory, corporate and court records, as well as sworn testimony and government investigative reports. Call it the art of the bad deal, one created by the arrogance and recklessness of a businessman whose main talent is self-promotion.

He is also pretty good at self-deception, and plain old deception.

Trump University and the Trump Institute were notorious scams that cheated ordinary people to whom Trump had made personal promises.

Trump cheated charities he had publicly promised to donate to.

Large banks stopped doing business with Trump; the major exception being a German bank currently being investigated by the Department of Justice over possible involvement in Russian money-laundering.

The only person who ever comes out ahead in a Donald Trump deal is Donald Trump. He cheats everyone else.

If Elon Musk believes Trump will follow through on promises made, Elon Musk is naive. Musk won’t moderate Donald Trump. Musk will be used for as long as he’s valuable to Trump, and ultimately find himself discarded and ignored when he tries to cash the checks.

If Musk has any questions about this process he should ask Mitt Romney, another intelligent man who opposed Trump before the election but then thought he could act as a moderating influence. Instead, Trump publicly humiliated Romney. Elon Musk’s time will come.