We need to be as skeptical of Silicon Valley billionaires as we are of any other billionaire

Elon_Musk_gives_tour_for_President_Barack_Obama.jpg
Elon Musk meeting with President Obama, courtesy wikimedia.org

We all know billionaires have a disproportionately weighted amount of power and influence in our society. That’s no secret. Billionaires like the Koch brothers and the Adelson family have bought and influenced elections across the country for years. While I’d argue this influence needs to regulated and reigned in, it’s not new.

Some billionaires however – particularly the new class of Silicon Valley billionaires – seem to feel their wealth lays upon them a responsibility to change the world. Jeff Bezos bought the most influential political newspaper in the country, the Washington Post. Mark Zuckerberg has been mysteriously touring Iowa, which just so happens to be the most important state in the Democratic primary. Mark Cuban has also not ruled out a run for president.

Elon Musk is the perfect example. One of the founders of Paypal, and the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, he feels that since he has earned tremendous wealth, that he should do his part to fix the world’s problems. Musk is typically well loved among members of the public, and has used his wealth to take on a number of challenges from global warming, to the colonization of other planets, to traffic congestion in California. He feels that he should be using his wealth to make the world a better place.

Then we come to Peter Thiel. Another cofounder of PayPal with Musk, Peter Thiel feels that it is also his responsibility to use his billions to fix the world’s problems. Thing is, Thiel has a totally different worldview than Musk, and along with it, a totally different set of “the world’s problems” which need “fixing.”

15448437356_4a814db326_b.jpg
Peter Thiel, courtesy flickr.com

Thiel is notoriously a neoreactionary – which means that he believes our democracy and institutions have failed us, and that humanity needs an authoritarian strongman to lead it towards greatness. Thus it should be no surprise that he has supported Trump, and holds some of the same views against a free press that Trump holds. Thiel is largely responsible for taking down the website Gawker, either out of vindictiveness for stories published about him or out of motivations to curtail the perceived “bullies” of the free press, by funding the Hulk Hogan lawsuit against the company.

Can we not see how dangerous this thinking is? Believing that it is your responsibility to fix the perceived problems in the world is all well and good if your perceived “problems” align with the rest of our perceived problems. But what if they don’t? What if you perceive the “problems” in the world to be the first amendment and the people’s right to assemble and petition their government?

Being a billionaire does not give you authority – given that this was the fuel behind Trump’s candidacy for president, we see how flawed that argument can be. All it does is give you wealth and power. We the public need to be much more skeptical of these Silicon Valley billionaires. It is easy to want to see the founders of the devices and websites we love as leaders and heroes, but they don’t know any better about how to run society than you or me. And the more skeptical we are of Silicon Valley billionaires, just like any other billionaire, the better off we’ll be, and the less likely the left will get caught up in an all too familiar populist wave behind an incompetent leader.

Advertisements

Is Trump playing chess while his critics play checkers?

Rachel Maddow, courtesy slate.com

There is a narrative that President Trump is a buffoon. That he’s unqualified, an egomaniac, a narcissist, doesn’t know what he’s doing, etc. Every time there is controversy, it seems to play right into this common narrative – Trump is causing chaos with executive orders because he has never held public office before and is screwing up, Trump is going to hurt his supporters by supporting the American Health Care Act because he doesn’t know the difference between medicare and medicaid, etc.

I’m here to provide a different narrative. This narrative, to me, survives Occam’s Razor, because it is a much simpler explanation than, say, “an unqualified narcissist stumbled backwards practically on accident into the most powerful office in the world because Americans are racists.” My narrative is that Donald Trump and his team are far more intelligent than they let on, and they play into this “buffoon” narrative to serve their own ends. Some said during the campaign that Donald Trump was playing chess when everybody else – the media, the other candidates, the voters – were playing checkers, and I believe this to be, at least in some parts, true.

Take for example Tuesday’s “bombshell” 2005 tax return release, drummed up by Rachel Maddow and MSNBC on Twitter as “we have Trump tax returns” which quickly turned social media into a frenzy, only to disappoint because the tax returns had nothing even a little bit nefarious in them. One idea, hinted at even by Maddow on her show, was that these returns were leaked on purpose by the Trump team to put the story to bed – the story that he won’t release his tax returns because it will show a link to Russia and the Kremlin. This is quickly cast aside because, even if that were true, people believe that it would have been a stupid move by the Trump team anyways because it put his non-release of tax returns back into the spotlight. But maybe this wasn’t meant as a nuclear bomb that was going to put the story to bed once and for all, because obviously, it wasn’t going to do that.

Perhaps it was meant as one more chip away, in a sequence of a hundred little chips, at the legitimacy of the press and the media?

Think about it. People aren’t talking about the content of Trump’s tax returns right now – I mean, there was nothing in the two pages Maddow released that made him look bad at all. What people are talking about right now is how Maddow drummed up this frenzy over nothing. It makes her, and MSNBC, and to some extent the entire media, look like rabid dogs frothing over anything they can possibly spin to make Trump look bad. I am not blaming Maddow for covering this (aside from her tweet that hinted that they had more than they did), as a journalist she has an ethical duty to cover this story. But this plays perfectly into the idea that Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer, Donald Trump, and his entire camp have been pushing – that the media cannot be trusted.

Even I read news now with a doubtful eye. It is always in the back of my mind that the media wants to spin anything it can into something negative about Trump, so I have to second guess any news that comes out. I know how to fact check, but a lot of people don’t. A lot of people don’t even realize fact checking is important, or even a thing. And those are the people that this attack on the legitimacy of the media is meant to confuse.

Doing damage to the legitimacy of the press serves the purpose of making all the negative news surrounding Trump sound like hysterical weather coverage – a lot of panic and hysteria drummed up over a minor storm that ends up being nothing, because that’s what sells. It causes people to “turn off” to all of the negative news, thus making it less politically risky to implement an extreme agenda.

There are many other examples of these little chips away at the legitimacy of the media. The White House provides competing narratives, “alternative facts” as we have so lovingly taken to calling them, that are meant to make people debate about what is and is not fact, rather than the facts themselves. Donald Trump called CNN “fake news” for covering the Russian intel dossier claiming the Kremlin might be blackmailing him. Even the memo that was leaked claiming that Trump wanted to create a militarized deportation force of 100,000 could have been meant as a distraction, something leaked on purpose that could easily be dismissed as “fake news.” Trump has done this over and over from the very beginning because there is a lot of negative news surrounding him that would have crippled any other candidate, yet he always survives. And now his administration might be doing it too, on a much larger scale and over much bigger and more dangerous issues.

Obviously a theory is only a conspiracy unless there is substantial, objective, and verifiable evidence to back it up. I realize all I have here are a lot of breadcrumbs with no bread. So I’m not asking you to swallow without question that the Trump camp is waging a war of Orwellian doublespeak on the minds of the American people. What I am asking you to think about is the idea that Trump is not causing chaos because he’s a buffoon, that he didn’t fall backwards into the Presidency on accident. Perhaps the Trump administration is causing chaos, and chipping away at the legitimacy of their critics one piece at a time, because it makes their extreme agenda more palatable and politically feasible. I’m asking you to think about the idea that perhaps Trump is smarter than he lets on, and that underestimating him in this way is going to fail time and time again.