What’s common between Musk and Trump?

By Rong Xiaoqing Source:Global Times Published: 2018/10/11 18:38:40



Illustration: Liu Rui/GT



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.

The author is a New York-based journalist. rong_xiaoqing@hotmail.com

Posted in: COLUMNISTS,VIEWPOINT

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