Vowing to take his concerns about immigration restrictions directly to the source, entrepreneur and billionaire Elon Musk says he will take his objections straight to President Trump. Is this announcement more bluster and PR theater from a CEO who has proven adept at grabbing headlines, or does the mind behind SpaceX and Tesla really plan to dive into this incredibly divisive political environment?
Musk met with Trump and a group of other business leaders at the White House last Friday, and little has come out of that meeting at this point. But what is interesting is the timing of Musk’s initial announcement. It came shortly after Uber CEO Travis Kalanick announced he was leaving President Trump’s business advisory committee. That statement led some to demand to know why Musk was still participating in a committee that other business leaders – especially those in renewable energy industries – have opted out of.
Musk, typically immune to any public criticism, deigned to respond to this line of questioning, via Twitter: “Advisory councils simply provide advice and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the Administration… 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…”
In later conversation, Musk went a bit further with his comments. Announcing that he would “express objections” to Trump’s travel ban which affects all refugees as well as tens of thousands of people from seven different Middle East or African nations. Musk added he would “offer suggestions” for changes in the policy.
There’s no doubt that President Trump has an agenda for the meeting, but, surrounded as he will be by large egos and strong personalities, it’s a cinch that there will be some give and take. How contentious was it, and what, if anything, did Trump listen to? Tough to say at this point, but one thing is certain, Kalanick’s departure from the group before the initial meeting drew a previously undefined political line.
His departure puts more pressure on leaders like Musk to either step up and use the meetings as a chance to put a lever under Trump and try to move him off some of his more controversial positions, or follow him out the door.
Musk, for his part, is not one to follow anyone. He’s an innovator by nature and in practice. He doesn’t put much stock in what other people think of him and his ideas. He just does things the way he feels they should be done. At this point, he feels like dipping his toe in the political pond. What happens next? No one can say for sure, but it’s bound to be interesting.