Opinion | Why Elon Musk Is the Second Most Important Person in MAGA

This transformation has the effect of further radicalizing the right. There’s a “Can you top this?” dynamic to posting that pushes people to extremes. In the offline world, paranoia is a liability. It inhibits you from seeing the world clearly. In parts of the online world, you’re considered a rube if you’re not paranoid, if you’re not seeing a leftist plot around every corner, if you’re not believing that Taylor Swift and Travis Kelce’s romance is a Biden administration psy-op that culminated with rigging the Super Bowl.

Moreover, a social media-centered movement understands what to think — the marching orders, however incoherent, typically trickle down from Trump — but often breaks down on the why. To take one vivid example, last week the Washington Post journalist Taylor Lorenz interviewed the founder of the popular X account Libs of TikTok, a woman named Chaya Raichik. Libs of TikTok is one of the most influential accounts in red America. Her posts don’t just trigger public outrage (and sometimes spawn an avalanche of threats against her targets), they directly affect legislation. Yet the interview is agonizing to watch. Time and again, 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 right-wing figures secure their place on the platforms they did not create. Thus, the same Republican Party that circled its wagons 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.

To be clear: The dynamics of social media are corrosive to both right and left, and it’s not just right-wing sites that are losing readers. (The Righting also reported that CNN had lost 20 percent of its visitors, for example.) Left-wing activists on social media can be just as conspiratorial and vengeful as the worst actors on the right. But there’s 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’s hard to think of a worse pair of human beings to shape the character of a movement than Donald Trump and Elon Musk. Yet here we are, with Trump controlling the right’s access to power, and Musk increasingly controlling the right’s access to the public. At best, those on the right who wish to maintain that access must cynically ignore, rationalize and minimize the two men’s profound flaws. At worst, it means actively embracing their personal values to curry favor. 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’s the attitude that matters now.

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