“I find him very problematic,” says Lindsey, 46, a clinical psychologist. “He’s an attention-seeking person.” Musk’s tweets, which appear to have gone into overdrive since he announced a hostile $44 billion takeover bid on Twitter in April, make her “uncomfortable and anxious.” If Musk succeeds in acquiring the social media platform, she says, “it’s going to be a less safe space — not like it is now. It might get worse.”
Earl, also 46, an Air Force major and neuropsychologist retweeted by Musk, is accepting more. “I see him as a human being, as a genius with flaws,” Earl says. “He lacks some empathy. He’s definitely patched up some relationships along the way.”
The car is a marvel, owners rhapsodize. When it comes to the man, they have Muskgivings.
Tesla owners buy the cars, and often the stock, because they care about the environment and love the way they drive and look. But much of their passion was complicated by Musk’s behavior and public musings.
Musk’s tweets and others comments are so common and so no filter that for some of his nearly 96 million followers—though many may be bots—he has lost all ability to shock. To generate childish and sexist tweets, offensive to trans and non-binary, with grossly inaccurate statements about the coronavirus. Trolling Twitter CEO Parag Agrawal with a poo emoji. Oh, and involved in securities fraud in 2018, resulting in: Musk and Tesla will each pay $20 million in fines.
He wears out his patience and darkens the sun. He rules the Twitter sphere once ruled by Trump, who has surpassed Musk in followers. In April, and not for the first time, Musk shared that half of his tweets are made in the toilet† Musk did not respond to email requests for comment.
In the world of Tesla owners, Musk can be a constant source of conversation, as few CEOs are. After all, how many can most of us name? “Elon Musk lives rent-free in my husband’s head. All. The. Time,” said Colleen Shattuck, 66, a retired physician assistant and Tesla owner in Montana, of her husband, Paul, a retired mining engineer.
The arguing that with any great genius, great flaws often surface. “Let Elon be Elon,” his admirers say, uniformly addressing him by his first name. Genie has his privileges. Look, he gave us hip electric cars – provided you can afford the sticker price and tolerate delayed gratification, in some regions a delivery wait of more than six months. Last spring, Musk announced on “Saturday Night Live” that he has Asperger’s Syndrome, part of the autism spectrum, which has won him sympathy from some followers as it knocked on by others like “self service and hollow” to imply explaining his behaviour.
“My experience is that geniuses are always messy,” said Sara Thorne, 63, a DC and Episcopal deacon a Tesla X owner. “They can do a lot of good for society. At the same time, they can cause a lot of problems.” For Thorne, Musk’s logorrheic commentary is beside the point, “I don’t have the bandwidth or the interest to pay attention. I don’t have to play in the sandbox with him.”
Still, she adds, “I would pray for the people who work for him because it can’t be easy.”
Dissociation abounds. Love the car, not the tweeter.
Too many, Musk is related to a fictional character, someone who lives on Twitter. It’s like he’s cosplaying to be the richest guy in the world, worth about $218.1 billion depending on the day. Tesla drivers compare him to a crazy uncle, Albert Einstein, an undisciplined adolescent (albeit someone in his 50s), Donald Trump, one of Reader’s Digest’s Most Unforgettable Characterseven George Constanza.
“I chose to see Elon Musk as this distinct character alongside Tesla, a blessing and a curse,” said Andy Slye, 32, who works in information technology in Louisville and directs a tech YouTube channel with over 270,000 subscribers. That said, “I’ve always admired how he can be himself, super weird and super polarizing.”
Robert Rosenbloom, 60, a Los Angeles emergency physician and co-host of the “Talk Tesla” podcast, considers Musk’s social media salvos a window into how the superior mind works. Imagine if Einstein or Edison had mused on Twitter? “Maybe we see a lot of the same conversation,” Rosenbloom says. “If we put a filter on it, we’d be back in the Stone Age. We don’t want anyone sticking their neck out. It’s a good thing we have geniuses pushing the boundaries.”
There are his changing politics. Some owners hate Musk’s statements in May that Democrats are the party of “division and hatred”, he will vote Republican and, if successful in acquiring Twitter, he will undo Donald Trump’s ban on Twitter, which he called a “morally bad decision, to be clear, and in the uttermost foolishness”. Two-thirds of electric and hybrid vehicle owners identified or leaned Democratic, according to a 2021 Pew Research Center study† What CEO offends the vast majority of? his potential customer base?
Shattuck describes himself as “a recovering Republican,” the recovering because of Trump. She’s taken aback by Musk’s outrageous, misogynistic comments. Again, it’s that complete lack of filter. Does no one call him aside and say, ‘This is not appropriate at this time’?” For her, Trump’s return to the social media platform would be a tweet too far: “I understand freedom of speech, but you can’t let lies go unchecked. You can’t shout ‘fire’ in a crowded building.”
Ben Sullins, a data science teacher and YouTube reviewer for electric vehicles, calls Tesla’s “actually the best cars in the world. They have changed the whole industry.” He is completely disappointed in Musk.
“Twitter hasn’t been his friend,” said Sullins, 40, of San Diego. “You’re not just any man. You are a leader of a movement, of righteous cases. I firmly believe in the mission. I see him making wrong choices, being controversial.” The company, Sullins says, “don’t need him anymore. To go. Leave Tesla alone. This company is too important for him to mess up.”
Sean Mitchell, 41, a real estate agent in Denver and president of the local Tesla club, says, “I often feel conflicted about him.” “Let Elon be Elon” doesn’t always triumph: “From my perspective, he’s his own worst enemy. There are things he can create awareness and goodness around. But using social media to discredit Democrats? I think that’s probably more harm than good.”
Musk can sneak into a marriage, like the Bannings. “It’s part of my intermittent discomfort of owning a Tesla,” said Lindsey, the clinical psychologist. Her values do not match his professed.
“Given Elon’s position and his level of power, I think that comes with responsibility,” she says.
But Earl, the neuropsychologist and Air Force major, says, “Elon is super successful. He is incredibly rich and famous. Like, who could handle that well?”
There are times when Lindsey says to Earl, “I think you have a blind spot when it comes to Elon.”
To which Earl says, “I have a bit of a blind spot when it comes to Elon.”
And yet, when they make the 3800 mile journey to move from Ohio to Alaska this month, their gray Tesla X will come too, because they really cherish that car.