What’s com­mon be­tween Musk and Trump?

Global Times - - Viewpoint -

Un­til this sum­mer, in many peo­ple’s eyes, Elon Musk was a pow­er­ful high-tech guru, a suc­cess­ful in­ven­tor and en­tre­pre­neur and quite pos­si­bly a ge­nius. How can one not think so? The South Africa-born Cana­dian-Amer­i­can taught him­self com­puter skills by age 10, sold his first game code by 12, sold a com­pany he founded named PayPal to eBay for $1.5 bil­lion by 31, ranked 21st on the Forbes’ list of “the World’s Most Pow­er­ful Peo­ple” by 45, and now, with a $19.8 bil­lion net worth, the 47-year-old Musk is the one of the rich­est peo­ple in the world.

His star­dom con­tin­ued to in­crease ear­lier this year. In Fe­bru­ary, he suc­cess­fully launched the “Fal­con Heavy,” the most pow­er­ful rocket in the his­tory of the US which was built by SpaceX, one of the cut­ting edge tech com­pa­nies he founded with a goal of help­ing hu­man be­ings to in­habit Mars. The rocket brought one of his own Tesla Road­sters, an elec­tronic sports car made by his Tesla flag­ship com­pany, as a pay­load. The car, driven by a dummy called Star­man, is now hap­pily trav­el­ing in the sun’s or­bit.

And in July, when a team of Thai teenage soc­cer play­ers and their coach were stuck in a flooded cave, Musk sent over a mini sub­ma­rine made by Tesla to help in the res­cue. This en­deavor got a mixed re­view in terms of its ra­tio of real value ver­sus self-pro­mo­tion. And it was not used in the res­cue – some of the res­cue divers said it wouldn’t have worked. Nev­er­the­less it helped re-en­force Musk’s rep­u­ta­tion as the om­nipo­tent “steel man.”

But around the same time, Musk started to be­have er­rat­i­cally and has been do­ing so ever since. He lashed out at Wall Street an­a­lysts for ask­ing “bor­ing, bonehead ques­tions” at a post earn­ings call. He called a Bri­tish diver who said his mini sub­ma­rine was use­less a “pedo.”

The most damn­ing blow came on Au­gust 8 when he went on Twit­ter to boast that he was “con­sid­er­ing tak­ing Tesla pri­vate at $420. Fund­ing se­cured.” Tesla’s share price jumped 11 per­cent on that day. But the US Se­cu­ri­ties and Ex­change Com­mis­sion (SEC) also took note. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion and law­suit fol­lowed. Dur­ing ne­go­ti­a­tions for a set­tle­ment, Musk al­most blew up the gen­er­ous deal that would re­quire him to step down as the chair­man of Tesla for at least three years but al­low him to re­main as the CEO only be­cause the agree­ment didn’t al­low him to pub­licly say he did noth­ing wrong. The show­down took place only two days be­fore the deal was even­tu­ally an­nounced. And not long after, Musk went to Twit­ter to mock the SEC by call­ing the agency the “Short­seller En­rich­ment Com­mis­sion.”

Musk’s un­pre­dictable be­hav­ior not only sent the price of Tesla stock on a roller coaster ride – mainly down – but also led to ques­tions about his men­tal con­di­tion. There were sto­ries with head­lines such as “A Ques­tion for Tesla’s Board: What Was Elon Musk’s Men­tal State” (New York Times) and “Musk should take time out to fo­cus on men­tal health, cam­paigner says” (CNBC).

Musk didn’t hide his strug­gles. In an in­ter­view with the New York Times, he re­vealed that he has been work­ing 120 hours a week, of­ten sleep­ing on the floor of the fac­tory and had to take Am­bien. When asked whether he was bipo­lar on Twit­ter, Musk said: “Yeah. Maybe not med­i­cally tho. Dunno. Bad feel­ings cor­re­late to bad events, so maybe real prob­lem is get­ting car­ried away in what I sign up for.”

Musk’s drama re­minds one of an­other just as bizarre, if not more so case. That per­son is US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

Pub­licly at­tack­ing peo­ple with dis­re­spect­ful words, call­ing them names, trash­ing en­e­mies and an­nounc­ing ma­jor sen­si­tive news on Twit­ter, and walk­ing away from the ne­go­ti­a­tion ta­ble, such be­hav­ior is way too fa­mil­iar to the pub­lic now. And the men­tal con­di­tion of the pres­i­dent has been un­der scru­tiny too, es­pe­cially in the 2017 book The Dan­ger­ous Case of Don­ald Trump,a col­lec­tion of es­says by 27 men­tal health ex­perts on how Trump’s men­tal con­di­tion can be dan­ger­ous to the coun­try.

To psy­chol­o­gists and psy­chi­a­trists, it may not be a sur­prise that Musk or Trump emerged at the cen­ter of the men­tal health de­bate. Pre­vi­ous re­search has shown that, at least for one type of the men­tally ill – psy­chopaths – the preva­lence rate among en­trepreneurs and politi­cians is much higher than among or­di­nary peo­ple.

But if his­tory is a guide, nei­ther Musk nor Trump need to worry too much for now. The US econ­omy is ro­bust with an unem­ploy­ment rate of 3.7 per­cent, its low­est since 1969, and eco­nomic growth at a strong 4.2 per­cent. As for Tesla, the newly an­nounced Quar­ter 3 pro­duc­tion and de­liv­er­ies beat Wall Street ex­pec­ta­tions.

As long as such per­for­mances con­tinue, Musk and Trump will need no psy­chi­a­trists. There are, after all, so many men­tally ill peo­ple who gained the “ge­nius” tag through­out his­tory only be­cause they won the game. Win­ning is what the world re­ally seems to care about.

Il­lus­tra­tion: Liu Rui/GT

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