Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk stuck to his word and departed President Donald Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum on Thursday after Trump withdrew from the Paris climate agreement. Musk has served as an adviser to Trump since December but despite every other contemptible decision from the White House, saw no reason to distance himself before now.
"The more voices of reason that the president hears, the better," Musk told Gizmodo in January after first facing criticism. "Simply attacking him will achieve nothing."
Trump's decision to withdraw from the Paris agreement could be devastating for the country and the planet. But it's also bad news for Tesla, which relies on the government requirement for clean energy sources.
That's just one reason why Musk's departure from Trump's circle is not worthy of praise. The SpaceX and Tesla founder, along with his Silicon Valley counterparts, seem to believe that his presence on a presidential advisory board for this administration doesn't signal anything disheartening to his employees, the public and the world. And he seems to believe that his unique power of persuasion alone might make the difference between peace and the world going up in flames.
Musk sat on Trump's council — one that calls on members to "meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his plan to bring back jobs and Make America Great Again," according to the forum's initial announcement — while he signed an executive order that aided in reversing the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan.
Musk maintained his seat at the table as the White House's webpage was scraped clean of any mention of climate change. He remained on the forum as the administration doubled down on policies that hurt immigrants, women, people of color and the LGBTQ communities. And even though Musk publicly objected Trump's immigration ban executive order, he continued to offer him his counsel for several months. (Even Uber CEO Travis Kalanick bowed out then.)
Musk, however, took to Twitter to explain his decision to remain an adviser then.
It took Musk nearly six months to come to terms with the fact that his voice of reason wasn't going to convince Trump to act in a reasonable fashion: Science can't change a temperamental and predictably unpredictable president with a penchant for nepotism, corruption and collusion.
It remains to be seen whether Musk omitted the sobering realization that his influence wasn't as great as he imagined it would be, or if it was because the United States leaving the Paris accord would have a direct impact on his own business selling electric cars.
It's almost like Musk didn't feel the need to back out of the arrangement, which gave him access to power and a kind of prestige, until it had the potential to impact his bottom line.
Maybe he and Trump have more in common than Musk would like people to believe.