Unusual full-page ads in Sunday editions of the New York Times and the Washington Post called on the iconic entrepreneur Elon Musk to “dump Trump.” The ads were taken out by a Silicon Valley startup investor Doug Derwin, who told CNN he paid $400,000 for 4 ads (which also ran in the San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News).
What motivated Derwin to make such an extravagant expenditure? He believes Elon Musk has too close a relationship with Donald Trump, serving on his advisory council. Derwin maintains a site for this campaign called “Elon Dump Trump” where he calls Musk a “an important propaganda symbol for Donald Trump”. More specifically, the site says Musk’s relationship with Trump legitimizes the President's "disastrous" policies on climate change.
The newspaper ads are actually just part of a larger $1 million campaign by Derwin which already included ad vehicles and a billboard close to Tesla HQ in Palo Alto. The effort also has an additional $1 million dollars to be donated to charity if Musk denounces Trump’s environmental policies and changes to the EPA.
Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla Motors, SpaceX and Neuralink, is a man of many ideas. What makes him a modern-age Edison (with a touch of Tesla) is that he finds a way to put his ideas into action. Which is why it is not surprising he would be looking to work with President Trump. Especially if you consider Trump’s stated goal of investing into large infrastructure projects.
Musk has been on Trump’s Strategic and Policy Forum and said previously that being on the council does not mean he agrees with all of Trump’s policies, including on climate change and the travel ban affecting a number of Muslim-majority countries. His purpose is to advise and he did, in fact, make specific objections to Trump over the executive order on immigration.
His statement from February explained that he felt it was important to engage:
“My goals are to accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy and to help make humanity a multi-planet civilization, a consequence of which will be the creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs and a more inspiring future for all. I understand the perspective of those who object to my attending this meeting, but I believe at this time that engaging on critical issues will on balance serve the greater good,” wrote Musk.
There's an open letter to Elon Musk in today's NYTimes urging him to "dump Trump." pic.twitter.com/AKrIiYfDMC— Seth Fiegerman (@sfiegerman) April 23, 2017
What Doug Derwin hopes to achieve is for Musk to become a leader of the opposition to Trump’s climate change policies. This would start by a tweet with the following content:
“I, Elon Musk, oppose Donald Trump's climate change policies and ask other Americans to join me.”
Musk has not commented on the matter but Tesla Motors released a statement, where they said their “entire reason for existing is to accelerate the advent of sustainable energy”. They also thought there are better ways Derwin could spend his money for an environmental objective “than attacking the people who are most committed to that very purpose."
Ironically, Doug Derwin is funding this campaign with what he called “blood money,” which he made as a result of the stock rally following Donald Trump’s victory.
Derwin’s pressure on Musk comes on the heels of a number of successful recent instances of public outcries influencing corporations. Widespread backlash following the incident when a United Airlines passenger was violently dragged off the plane resulted in airlines changing how they treat passengers who are bumped from their flights.
Such PR disasters for large companies show that the public has a powerful voice, evidenced by the shaming of Uber, thanks to its CEO yelling at a driver, or the firestorm leading to Fox having to fire its star commentator Bill O’Reilly due to sexual harassment allegations. And this voice is especially strong on social media.
Will Derwin’s quest catch on with the public? Elon Musk’s work is admired by people of all political persuasions and as long as he delivers technological marvels, his popularity is likely to continue.