By Emmett Baumgarten, Columnist
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla and SpaceX, has come into controversy lately over his decision to join Donald Trump’s advising team. Similar tech billionaires, like Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, declined to do so. Last week, controversy continued to build when he failed to completely denounce Trump’s immigration ban, saying, “The blanket entry ban on citizens from certain primarily Muslim countries is not the best way to address the country’s challenges.” These decisions have both been interpreted as a departure from his typically progressive goals — specifically, that he intends to combat global warming and promote clean energy, while Trump denies global warming and seeks to reinvigorate the coal industry.
It is easy to be critical of Musk. Many feel that he has betrayed not only his values, but also those of his loyal following. However, I argue that his actions are a benefit to the American people. Donald Trump does not take advice from many people and is quick to criticize those who disagree with him. Of the people from whom he takes advice, most support heavily conservative or even harmful alt-right agendas. Many of his advisors deny human-instigated climate change outright. Elon Musk, on the other hand, is not one of these people. He is a successful entrepreneur and huge proponent of clean energy, who might just be able to rein in, if not occasionally sway left, Trump’s policies. Only time will tell. Regardless, it is likely to be a frustrating task for Musk to even attend these advising meetings, where his opinion will be in the minority. For this, I believe Musk deserves some commendation; it is tough to work with people you disagree with, let alone a large group of people you disagree with. In addition, due to the scarcity of progressives, or even moderates, that Trump has assigned to advise him, anyone that may diversify his views is a great asset to the American people.
Some also argue that Musk has joined the advising council solely for his own business benefit, seeking tax incentives to aid him in delivering on his ambitious promises. While I doubt that this is his intent, I argue that, even if it is, it will still be of great benefit to the American people. Tax incentives that would benefit Musk would undoubtedly benefit efforts to combat climate change and, thus, benefit Americans.
Regarding Musk’s failure to decry Trump’s immigration ban outright, I feel that this is an unfortunate, yet necessary, measure to ensure he remains in Trump’s favor. If he were to decry it outright, Trump would likely be unhappy, which could result in Musk being removed from the advising council, or at least losing Trump’s trust. A similar event occurred recently when Trump removed Sally Yates from her position as acting attorney general. Thus, while criticizing Trump’s ban, but not being too harsh, Musk has sent a message to his supporters that he aims to represent them and their concerns within the Trump Administration and has tactfully refrained from crossing a line that would send him out of Trump’s favor. Some may say that failure to decry Trump’s ban by anyone deserves criticism, but in this case I believe it was a tactful and necessary move.