We’re at a point in America’s slide toward the bottom where everything has become a code, often signaling the exact opposite of what is being claimed.
Those who talk about “right to life” of course are really referring to their own imagined right to impose their fundamentalist religion and moral strictures, through law, on people who don’t share them. The true goal being to somehow drag our country back toward the Eden they fancy existed in the 1950s, when women who had sex for reasons other than procreation could be branded as sluts who must bear the fruit of their folly, or risk their lives with back alley butchers and end up in the sepsis ward of Cook County Hospital. We’re well on our way.
Or when Donald Trump talks about “voter fraud” he is trying to facilitate a fraud of his own, pushing to undercut fair elections while promoting unfair contests skewed in his favor, since those who might vote against him are limited by a variety of disingenuous roadblocks and barriers.
“Free speech” is now the equivalent of being free from the consequences of your malicious, deceptive, and toxic ramblings, the First Amendment a shield to hide behind. Thus Elon Musk, the richest man in the world, on Monday reached a deal to buy Twitter, the dynamic social media platform, with the express intention of removing the guardrails that led to the ejection of those who, for instance, traffic in anti-vaccine fantasy, or engage in the kind of bullying and harassment Musk relishes.
It’s like the worst nuisance on the beach buying a private swim club so he can freely kick sand in weaklings’ faces.
Thus it was a reality check, a day after the hopeful news that racist authoritarian wannabe Marine Le Pen lost in France on Sunday, to see Musk buy Twitter for $44 billion of mostly other people’s money. It’s assumed he is doing so to hand the Twitter megaphone back to racist authoritarian wannabe Donald Trump just in time for his third try at the presidency.
Of course what Musk says he’s going to do, and what he actually does, can be two very different things, as those who braved the sub-basement gloom of eternally struggling Block 37 on June 14, 2018 already know. That was the day he came to Chicago to pair up with then-Mayor Rahm Emanuel to announce the imminent construction of “The Chicago Express Loop,” a rich people’s underground railroad from downtown to O’Hare. Never one to be dazzled by Musk, I bet one of the mayor’s aides a steak lunch that not a teaspoon of earth would be overturned in earnest. Which, spoiler alert, it wasn’t.
The rhetoric of that day is laughable to recall.
“This is the fast lane to Chicago’s future,” Mayor Emanuel said. Actually, it was the slow lane to nowhere.
So what will New Twitter look like under Musk’s guidance? Hard to say.
I tend to cling to optimism. Autocrats tend to overreach, because they are never satisfied, and are not limited by decency. That is often their downfall, as Vladimir Putin is discovering, or might discover, assuming the consequences of his murderous invasion of peaceful neighbor Ukraine doesn’t end up breaking his way.
Like those notional babies, like the Big Steal, like Putin’s liberation of the cities he is in reality destroying, Musk’s freedom of expression banner is another smokescreen to disguise his turning Twitter into the kind of fact-free, consequence-free shooting gallery where Trump can spin the nation into fits with his daily, if not hourly, fabulations.
As Henry Ford demonstrated in his shift from admired car manufacturer to darling of Hitler, Musk is building on his immense success with Tesla and SpaceX to promote his own self-glorifying war on reality, or in this case on the idea of a fact-based social media sphere where some measure of decency is enforced by the adults running the system.
Unless he doesn’t.
In the meantime, what can patriotic, decent Americans do? Those of us who are not quite ready to submit to becoming the chanting subjects bowing before totalitarian visions of self-appointed strongmen? I suppose what we’ve always done: cling to truth, and the idea that people should be allowed to live their lives unmolested by plutocrats. That job just got a little harder. But it was already hard, a long, uphill slog. Luckily, surrender just isn’t an option. Too many people have already done that.