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Elon Musk’s politics, like Trump’s, are clear

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When you take just a step or two back, the picture isn’t that complicated. A billionaire business executive who has given to both Democratic and Republican candidates begins to make clear that his personal politics lean more heavily to the right. This seems in part to be a function of the media environment in which he operates. It is clearly exacerbated, too, by frustration at critical reporting from traditional news outlets.

The next thing you know, he’s sharing overtly right-wing content and cocooning himself in a universe of allies — even to the detriment of his own credibility. Once just a rich celebrity, suddenly the guy is a central component of a political movement. And leaning into it.

So it was that Donald Trump became president.

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Oh, did you think I was talking about Elon Musk? Well, yeah, I was. That carefully articulated outline of behavior applies to both men by design. But that doesn’t mean that the parallels are contrived. Musk’s willing step into the spotlight has left little doubt about his current political inclinations, just as Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign made very clear — if more explicitly — where he stood.

This is worth mentioning because of a column published by the New York Times over the weekend. In it, Jeremy Peters notes that Musk’s politics can be hard to categorize, in large part because his discussions of politics tend to occur within the context of Twitter, the social media site he owns, and in part because of Musk’s political history. Is it safe to say that a guy who has given to Democratic candidates and insists he’s voted Democratic in the past and may again in the future is antithetical to the Democratic Party?

The answer is yes, for several reasons.

The first is that the contribution patterns of wealthy business executives should probably not be treated as clear indicators of their own ideologies. Giving the maximum allowable contribution to every candidate in every House and Senate race will cost you less than $3 million, money that, for a multibillionaire, is chicken scratch. Business executives admit regularly that they give to both parties to advance their interests; it was actually a central part of Trump’s shtick in 2016!

Then, of course, there’s the difference between politics and partisanship. In 2004, Trump said that he identified more as a Democrat than a Republican. Until 2008, in fact, he was registered as a Democrat — after having switched to the party from being an independent, after having been a Republican. This partisan history did not end up being a good guide to his politics.

In the months since Musk took over Twitter, he’s been more overt about both his partisanship and his politics. He’s said he would support Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in a potential 2024 presidential bid and encouraged Twitter users to vote Republican in the midterm elections as a purported counterweight to the left.

But that’s fundamentally less important than the political rhetoric he has embraced and amplified. His purchase of Twitter — a commitment, it’s worth remembering, that he tried quite hard to wriggle out of — has allowed him to occupy a much larger share of the public (and “elite”) conversation than he used to. And as he’s done so, he’s aligned both directly and indirectly with right-wing voices and arguments.

Peters walks through this at length, a recitation that by itself largely answers any questions about where Musk stands politically. That he’s engaged repeatedly with fringe actors like Mike Cernovich and “Cat Turd” and has sought to weaken the standing of traditional journalists are indirect manifestations. His repeated insistences that the left is becoming toxic are direct ones.

Then there are comments like these, published after Peters’s piece.

He went on to explain why he chose the twin targets of that tweet: that “forcing your pronouns upon others” is bad and that Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, was complicit in the spread of the coronavirus — unproven allegations that are common as right-wing points of attack against the epidemiologist villainized by Trump.

Musk has framed his purchase of Twitter itself as an effort to fight on behalf of free speech against the “woke mind virus,” a rationalization for the reluctant purchase that diverges from his stated reason when he first launched his bid to buy the company: spam from automated accounts.

Here, too, politics intrudes. The right has long argued that it was being unfairly targeted by social media platforms, Twitter specifically, on ideological grounds. Musk has embraced that argument, using his new stewardship of the platform to pass internal documents to sympathetic writers to present the case that Twitter had acted unfairly against the right. They have obliged, putting together multipart Twitter threads purporting to show how the platform went after right-wing actors, Trump included.

The reality that’s emerged from the “Twitter Files” releases, as Musk has framed them, is no different than the reality that preceded their release: The platform had a glitchy, subjective process for assessing high-profile accounts but that there’s no evidence efforts to reduce the reach of certain accounts was spurred by political ideology. Musk and his allies have insisted that this ideological bias has been proven by the releases, itself mirroring the behavior of Trump and his supporters: If you insist hard enough, the facts become what you want them to be.

There’s an underrecognized point here. Consider why Musk posted that “Prosecute/Fauci” thing. He wants engagement by stirring up controversy, certainly, as well as to present views that contrast with the left-wing “mind virus.” But he’s doing so by trolling, by intentionally trying to irritate people.

This, at its heart, was what Twitter began to crack down on in the wake of the 2016 election and what led to the sense that the right was being unfairly targeted. Twitter implemented new, public policies that limited the reach of people whose accounts had repeatedly been flagged as abusive. This affected a lot of users whose preferred style of using the service was to try to irritate the actual or perceived left. Trolling and “lib-owning” had become central tactics of the online right. Twitter was not cracking down on right-wing accounts because they were right wing, in other words, but in part because right-wing accounts often engaged in activity that increased the toxicity Twitter was trying to stamp out. It wasn’t the politics but the practices.

In the case of Musk’s Fauci tweet, the medium was also the message.

His pledge to reinstate those whose accounts had been frozen by Twitter in the Before Times promised to simply reinject that toxicity into the platform. Outsiders making objective observations about how the platform worked — the same group that accurately predicted how Musk’s verification scheme would collapse — suggested that many of those reinstated would simply violate the platform’s terms again and test Musk’s tolerance for abuse. (See: Ye.) We shall see.

To Musk, though, this is itself a statement of politics. This group, he feels, was overwhelmingly right leaning, and he is welcoming them back. He thinks their voices were unfairly muffled and demand to be heard, something that he frames inaccurately as being derived from the First Amendment. He is sympathetic here because he largely agrees with what they were saying and how they were saying it.

Elon Musk is right wing. He has tried hard to make that very clear.

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Uyghur refugee vote by Canada MPs angers China

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OTTAWA –

The Chinese government says a motion MPs passed Wednesday to provide asylum to persecuted Uyghurs amounts to political manipulation by Canada.

MPs including Prime Mister Justin Trudeau unanimously called on Ottawa to design a program that would bring 10,000 people of Turkic origin, including Uyghurs, to Canada from countries other than China.

They passed a motion that acknowledges reports that Uyghurs outside China have been sent back to their country of birth, where they have faced arrest as part of Beijing’s crackdown on Muslim groups.

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Foreign ministry spokeswoman Mao Ning said in Beijing that people in the Xinjiang region live in peaceful harmony, contradicting widespread reports of forced labour and sexual violence.

An English translation by the ministry said Canada should “stop politically manipulating Xinjiang-related issues for ulterior motives,” and Ottawa is “spreading disinformation and misleading the public.”

The non-binding motion said the government should come up with the outline of a resettlement program by May 12 that would begin in 2024 and meet its target within two years.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 2, 2023.

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Republicans push to remove Ilhan Omar from foreign affairs panel

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Washington, DC – In one of his first moves since becoming speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Kevin McCarthy is leading an effort to block Congresswoman Ilhan Omar from serving on the chamber’s Foreign Affairs Committee over her past criticism of Israel.

On Wednesday, the Republican majority in the House advanced a resolution to remove Omar from the panel. Democrats opposed the move, accusing McCarthy of bigotry for targeting the politician – a former refugee of Somali descent who is one of only two Muslim women serving in the US Congress.

A few Republicans initially opposed McCarthy’s effort, casting doubt over his ability to pass the resolution against Omar, given the GOP’s narrow majority.

But on Wednesday, all 218 House Republicans present voted to move forward with the measure, as Democrats remained united in support of Omar with 209 votes. A final vote is expected on Thursday as progressives rally around Omar.

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The Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) defended Omar, calling her an “esteemed and invaluable” legislator.

“You cannot remove a Member of Congress from a committee simply because you do not agree with their views. This is both ludicrous and dangerous,” CPC Chair Pramila Jayapal said in a statement on Monday.

The resolution

The resolution aimed at Omar, introduced by Ohio Republican Max Miller on Tuesday, cites numerous controversies involving the congresswoman’s criticism of Israel and US foreign policy.

“Congresswoman Omar clearly cannot be an objective decision-maker on the Foreign Affairs Committee given her biases against Israel and against the Jewish people,” Miller said in a statement.

Omar retorted by saying there was nothing “objectively true” about the resolution, adding that “if not being objective is a reason to not serve on committees, no one would be on committees”.

While the Republican resolution accuses Omar of anti-Semitism, it only invokes remarks relating to Israel, not the Jewish people.

For example, the measure calls out the congresswoman for describing Israel as an “apartheid state”, although leading human rights groups – including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch – have also accused Israel of imposing a system of apartheid on Palestinians.

Early in her congressional career in 2019, Omar faced a firestorm of criticism when she suggested that political donations from pro-Israel lobby groups – including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) – drive support for Israel in Washington.

Omar later apologised for that remark but Palestinian rights advocates say accusations of anti-Semitism against Israel’s critics aim to stifle the debate around Israeli government policies.

In the past two years, AIPAC and other pro-Israel organisations spent millions of dollars in congressional elections to defeat progressives who support Palestinian human rights, including Michigan’s Andy Levin, a left-leaning, Jewish former House member.

‘Different standards’

Although the Democratic Party is standing behind Omar now, the Republican resolution prominently features previous criticism against the congresswoman by top Democrats.

Lara Friedman, president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace, an advocacy and research group, said Republicans are trying to validate their talking points against Omar by using the statements and actions of Democrats.

“They own this,” she said of Democrats who previously attacked Omar. “They made a decision in the last few years to jump on board and score political points at Ilhan’s expense … And that decision is now the basis for the resolution that is being used to throw her off the committee.”

Friedman added that Omar and her fellow Muslim-American Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib are held to “different standards” when it comes to addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Both legislators were the subject of racist attacks by former President Donald Trump who in 2019 tweeted that they, along with other progressive congresswomen of colour, “should go back to the broken and crime-infested places from which they came”.

Omar in particular became a frequent target of Trump’s anti-refugee rhetoric in the lead-up to the 2020 elections. At one rally in 2019, Trump failed to intervene as his supporters chanted “send her back” in reference to Omar.

Friedman said attacks on Omar appeal to the Republican base and play well for the party politically.

“It’s a really handy way to embarrass and corner Democrats because when Democrats vote against this tomorrow, the Republican argument is going to be: ‘I don’t get it. You said all these things [against Omar]. Why are you not holding her accountable?’ Politically, this is just fantastic for them.”

For her part, Omar has remained defiant, calling McCarthy’s effort to remove her from the committee, against initial opposition from his own caucus, “pathetic”.

Yasmine Taeb, legislative and political director at MPower Change Action Fund, a Muslim-American advocacy group, praised Omar’s commitment to a “human rights-centered foreign policy”.

“Rep. Omar speaks truth to power – a rarity in Congress. And House Republican leadership would rather waste time by attacking a progressive Black Muslim woman and pushing a far-right agenda than working on addressing the needs of the American people,” Taeb told Al Jazeera in an email.

Omar has been a vocal proponent of human rights and diplomacy in Congress. While her comments about Israel often make headlines, she criticises other countries too – including those in the Middle East – for human rights violations.

Still, critics accuse her of perpetuating anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel and even allies have described some of her comments as “sloppy”, if not malicious.

On Thursday, Win Without War, a group that promotes diplomacy in US foreign policy, decried the Republican push against Omar as an attempt to strip the House Foreign Affairs Committee of a “progressive champion and skilled legislator who challenges the political status quo”.

“Rep. Omar has helped raise the bar for progressive foreign policy in Congress. She has steadfastly advocated for cuts to the Pentagon budget, held US allies accountable for human rights abuses, and confronted the racism and Islamophobia present in US foreign policy,” Win Without War executive director Sara Haghdoosti said in a statement.

Committee wars

Congressional committees serve as specialised microcosms of Congress. The panels advance legislation, conduct oversight and hold immense power over the legislative process.

Usually, the party in power appoints the chairs and majority members of committees, while the opposition party names its own legislators to the panels.

But back in 2021, Democrats voted to remove Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene from her assigned committees for past conspiratorial, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.

That same year, the Democratic House majority also formally rebuked Paul Gosar, another far-right Republican, for sharing an animated video that depicted him killing Democratic Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now, Greene is an outspoken proponent of removing Omar from the Foreign Affairs Committee.

“No one should be on that committee with that stance towards Israel,” Greene said earlier this week. “In my opinion, I think it’s the wrong stance for any member of Congress of the United States – having that type of attitude towards our great ally, Israel.”

After Greene was stripped of her committee assignments, McCarthy had openly promised payback against the Democrats if they became the minority in the House, an event that came to pass in the 2022 midterm elections.

“You’ll regret this. And you may regret this a lot sooner than you think,” McCarthy said at that time.

The newly elected speaker has also blocked Democrats Adam Schiff and Eric Swalwell from joining the intelligence committee. Schiff was the former chair of the panel.

Meanwhile, Republican Congressman George Santos, who is facing calls to step down for lying about his heritage and professional and personal history, “temporarily recused” himself from committee assignments as he is being investigated over his campaign conduct.

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Former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen steps down as MP

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Member of Parliament and former interim Conservative leader Candice Bergen has resigned her seat in the House of Commons.

Bergen, 58, has represented the Manitoba riding of Portage—Lisgar since 2008. She served as interim leader of the Conservatives and leader of the Opposition from February to September 2022. Prior to that, she served as deputy leader of the Conservatives.

In a video posted to Twitter Wednesday, Bergen said she has submitted a letter of resignation, “ending an incredible and very fulfilling 14 years.”

Bergen thanked her constituents, family, volunteers, staff and political colleagues “on both sides of the aisle, regardless of your political stripe.”

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Bergen announced in September of last year that she would not seek reelection. Pierre Poilievre replaced her as Conservative leader that month.

Bergen did not give a specific reason for her resignation and did not mention any future plans.

“I’m choosing to leave now not because I’m tired or I’ve run out of steam. In fact, it’s the exact opposite,” she said in the video.

“I feel hopeful and re-energized. Hopeful for our strong and united Conservative Party, and our caucus, under the courageous and principled leadership of my friend, Pierre Poilievre.”

Bergen ended her goodbye message on a hopeful note.

“With God’s grace and God’s help, I believe that the best is yet to come. Thank you so much Portage—Lisgar, and thank you Canada.”

The Toronto Star was the first to report the story.

“On behalf of the Conservative Party of Canada, thank you Candice for your leadership, your devotion to our Conservative movement and your service to the people of Portage—Lisgar, and all Canadians,” Poilievre said in a tweet Wednesday.

The news means there will be a byelection in Portage—Lisgar to replace Bergen.

Manitoba Finance Minister Cameron Friesen announced last week that he’d step down as an MLA to seek the federal Conservative nomination in the riding.

The death of MP Jim Carr late last year set up a byelection in another Manitoba riding — Winnipeg South Centre. The Alberta riding of Calgary Heritage and the Ontario riding of Oxford are also up for byelections later this year.

“I thank her for her many years of service,” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said of Bergen in a media scrum Wednesday.

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