The Hamilton Spectator

Why the Right Loves Elon Musk So Much

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One of the most remarkable developmen­ts of the new century has been the concentrat­ion of right-wing power and adulation in two men. Donald Trump is the obvious one, the unquestion­ed king of the American right. But easier to miss if you are outside the world of Make America Great Again, or MAGA, is the central importance of Elon Musk.

Why is Musk so important to the right? Why is a reported illicit drug user and unmarried father of 11 children by three women, a man whose social media site, X, is overrun with hatred and pornograph­y, celebrated across the length and breadth of the new right, including parts of the Christian right?

The answer is that if Trump is MAGA’s champion, Musk is its gatekeeper. He does not just use his immense reach (he has 174 million followers on X) to fight the left; he owns the right wing’s public square. This is because outside of X, the public is not reading the right. And as a result, X now shapes the right as much as even Fox News.

On February 22, a website called The Righting released an analysis using Comscore data to compare web traffic at top right-wing sites from January 2020 to January 2024. Of the top right-wing sites in 2020, only Newsmax gained audience over the past four years. Every other right-wing site lost visitors; most lost a staggering percentage.

The Righting reports that The Washington Examiner lost 66 percent of its visitors. The Washington Times lost 82 percent. Aside from Newsmax and Fox News (which lost only 24 percent), every other rightwing site has lost at least half its visitors in four years. Some have lost so many that The Righting could no longer measure their reader numbers.

This means that social media — and principall­y Musk’s X — becomes the central way in which many right-wing figures reach the public.

There are several consequenc­es of this reality. It is altering the way the right speaks. People are naturally prone to focus most of their efforts on the medium through which they interact with the most people. A vast majority of people who interact with my work, for example, do so by reading my pieces, not by viewing my social media posts. My written work is the central focus of my profession­al life, while my social media posts are essentiall­y an afterthoug­ht.

But what if that balance is reversed? It bends a person (or a movement) around the attitudes of social media and away from the kinds of arguments that require the length of a column or essay. Social media creates not a marketplac­e of ideas so much as a gallery of takes, where you can spend hours doomscroll­ing through short videos and snappy retorts.

That is how a movement transfers its allegiance from the ideas of a man like William F. Buckley Jr. to an X influencer like @Catturd2 and his 2.4 million followers.

This transforma­tion has the effect of further radicalizi­ng the right. There is a “Can you top this?” dynamic to posting that pushes people to extremes. In the offline world, paranoia is a liability. In parts of the online world, you are considered a rube if you are not paranoid, if you are not seeing a leftist plot around every corner.

Moreover, a social media-centered movement understand­s what to think, but often breaks down on the why. Last month, the Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz interviewe­d Chaya Raichik, the founder of the popular X account Libs of TikTok. Libs of TikTok is one of the most influentia­l accounts in conservati­ve America. Yet in the interview, Raichik proves unable or unwilling to articulate the basis for her beliefs. Her attitude is clear. Her ideas are not.

Finally, this dependence on social media is shaping the right’s position on free speech. As the platforms they created lose traffic, it becomes even more important that rightwing figures secure their place on the platforms they did not create. Thus, the same Republican Party that stood together to protect corporate speech and the corporate exercise of religion in Supreme Court cases involving Citizens United, Hobby Lobby and 303 Creative has now passed laws in Florida and Texas trying to dictate private companies’ moderation policies.

The dynamics of social media are corrosive to both right and left, and it is not just right-wing sites that are losing readers. Left-wing activists on social media can be just as conspirato­rial and vengeful as the worst actors on the right. But there has been a substantia­l divergence. Whereas pre-Musk Twitter was once a center of the left-leaning journalist­ic and activist universes, they have substantia­lly abandoned the site as a sideshow. For the right, meanwhile, Musk’s X has become the main stage.

It is hard to think of a worse pair of human beings to shape the character of a movement. Yet here we are, with Trump controllin­g the right’s access to power, and Musk increasing­ly controllin­g the right’s access to the public. Like Trump’s ugly, erratic politics, Musk’s website is substantia­lly contributi­ng to the devolution of thinking on the right. The ideas are in retreat. It is the attitude that matters now.

As conservati­ve sites lure fewer readers, X is all MAGA has.

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