A Tale of Two Mavericks

There are strange forces at work. Meg Whitman and Michael Bloomberg are just two of the former Republicans who switched political allegiances rather than vote for Donald Trump in this week’s US elections. Ms Whitman has described Trump as a demagogue [1] and Mr Bloomberg has called him a con as well as a risky, radical and reckless choice [2]. Quantum’s Jim Rogers, was less kind, suggesting that bankruptcy and war would be on the menu if the entertainment magnate made it to the White House[3] and Rogers’ close associate, George Soros, told Bloomberg in January that “Trump is doing the work of ISIS”.These four are high profile figures whose views, so publicly shared, are unlikely to change in the space of a day or two. As the dust settles, however, many, who might be expected to share their views but who have kept their counsel, have proven overtly conciliatory. Tim Cook of Apple, who hosted a fundraiser for the President-elect’s opponent, Hillary Clinton, has urged his staff to remain united and concentrate on moving on.[5] Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has tried to remind his followers that humanity has more important things to worry about than a temporary resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.[6]

One Silicon Valley boss who has remained quiet is Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla and Chairman of Solar City. His preference for a Democratic win was clear from his pre-election comments but his references to Mr Trump were restrained then and non-existent now.

On the face of it, he does not look set to benefit from the next President’s manifesto. Both Tesla’s electric vehicles and Solar City’s entire production output are based on the premise that the world would be a better place with fewer fossil fuels. Mr Trump has repeatedly stated that he is keen to unlock the USA’s considerable reserves of oil, shale gas and coal, famously describing climate change as a hoax:

“The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.” (Twitter, November 2012)

It is unclear how he would finance extensive exploration and extraction of high carbon fuels. He has promised to reduce taxes ‘across the board’ [7] so revenue will not be growing there. If he really is unconvinced of the merits of renewable energies, axing their subsidies would seem a logical next step. Buyers of Tesla’s Model 3 car currently enjoy a significant tax credit that could just tip the balance between opting for an electric vehicle and sticking with a gas guzzler so Mr Musk’s post-election silence might be fear-induced.

His shareholders are about to vote on the wisdom – or not – of Tesla’s proposed merger with Solar City. They are divided at best, opposed at worst and any doubts about the car company’s ability to assume the Solar City’s debts must now be compounded by anxiety about Tesla’s own revenue projections.

However, Mr Trump’s victory seems to have moderated some of his more extreme opinions and softened his invective on other commitments such as incarcerating Mrs Clinton. Barack Obama has also been upgraded from the founder of ISIS [8] to a very good man. [9]

It could just be, then, that he looks fondly on Tesla and Solar City as homegrown ‘Made in America’ firms that need to be championed and conveniently overlooks their quirky green credentials.

Stranger things have happened. And there are strange forces at work.