The age of ‘mavericks’ like Elon Musk, Trump and Kanye is over

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Last Sunday, Elon Musk posted a poll on his new toy, Twitter, leaving his future as the platform’s CEO in the hands of its users. “Should I step down as head of Twitter?” he wrote. “I will abide by the results of this poll.”

In retrospect, it might just be one of the billionaire’s less prudent decisions (and this is a man who named his kid X Æ A-Xii). 

With over 17.5 million votes cast, some 57.5% of respondents decided that the 51-year-old SpaceX founder shouldn’t stay on as the site’s boss, doubtless denting an ego so gargantuan that, ironically, it’s actually visible from space.

Now, Twitter is actively looking for a new CEO with Musk tweeting that he would remain in the post until he finds “someone foolish enough to take the job!” 

In buying Twitter for $44 billion, Musk might just have reached that tipping point when a maverick’s rampant ego begins to devour their more rational thought processes, especially as it’s an operation that has only occasionally tuned a profit since it went public in 2013 and, of course, a deal he tried to back out of.

This month, Twitter CEO Elon Musk foolishly asked users of the social media platform to vote on whether or not he should continue in the job—and got a (perhaps) surprising answer: 57.5% said no.
This month, Twitter CEO Elon Musk foolishly asked users of the social media platform to vote on whether or not he should continue in the job—and got a (perhaps) surprising answer: 57.5% said no.
Twitter account of Elon Musk/AFP

That’s the issue with mavericks. Yes, they do things differently, pushing boundaries and envelopes and people who get in their way, but eventually, their egos become their own hurdle — and we all end up suffering in the process.

Yes, fame, vast fortunes and all that endless ego-stroking will inevitably change anyone. But in the hands of a self-styled maverick, it can cause untold damage. Just ask any Brit who had to endure the endless bluster of Boris Johnson until very recently. 

Self-styled maverick British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (with wife Carrie) has had extra-marital affairs and an unspecified number of kids — but lost his job after getting too cocky.
Self-styled maverick British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (with wife Carrie) has had extra-marital affairs and an unspecified number of kids — but lost his job after getting too cocky.
Getty Images

With his shabby suits and haystack hair, Johnson has long portrayed himself as a political maverick and, for the most part, the United Kingdom seems to like it — it’s why he won a landslide victory in their 2019 General Election. 

But he believed he was bulletproof. 

He hosted parties in contravention of COVID rules and fraternized with Russians who had KGB links. He had extra-marital affairs and an unspecified number of kids. And, in his final act as PM, promoted a friend, even though he was known to be a sexual predator.

Trump possessed that single-mindedness and blatant disregard for the status quo that gave him true maverick status—a cocktail that worked for him in 2016. Not so much now.
Trump possessed that single-mindedness and blatant disregard for the status quo that gave him true maverick status—a cocktail that worked for him in 2016. Not so much now.
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Eventually, the power always goes to the maverick’s head.

Johnson’s fellow maverick, Donald Trump, once called Johnson “Britain Trump” (sic), a genius nickname that not only succeeded in describing the inflated self-opinion of the portly ex-prime minister but also the influence, real or imagined, that Trump himself had had on Johnson’s leadership style. 

Trump, too, possessed that single-mindedness and blatant disregard for the status quo that gave him true maverick status, emboldening his followers and setting him apart in the worlds of business and politics.

Once considered a musical maverick, Kanye West is now better known for his offensive comments, which got him canceled by Adidas.
Once considered a musical maverick, Kanye West is now better known for his offensive comments, which got him canceled by Adidas.
Bloomberg via Getty Images

And we all know how that ended. Two impeachments, the Capitol riot and his organization being found guilty this month of criminal tax fraud. Though he has announced his third run for president in 2024, his popularity has seriously flagged among the GOP faithful.

All too often, the mavericks become morons. Take Kanye West. After his pointless presidential campaign in 2020 and, more recently, changing his name to “Ye,” Kanye West seems to court controversy on an almost daily basis with opinions ranging from the bizarre to the offensive, most notably his public admiration of Hitler and his views on the Holocaust.

And there have been serious consequences.

Alex Jones, once seen by some as a media iconoclast, is now a disgrace, having been fined $1.5 billion for his callous and false comments about the Sandy Hook massacre.
Alex Jones, once seen by some as a media iconoclast, is now a disgrace, having been fined $1.5 billion for his callous and false comments about the Sandy Hook massacre.
AP

Just this week, a Jewish man was assaulted in Central Park. As the assailant carried out the attack, he yelled “Kanye 2024!” — a reference to the rapper’s next tilt at the presidency. 

Mercifully, though, most mavericks have a limited shelf life. Look at Alex Jones (fined $1.5 billion, then gone bankrupt) or Steve Bannon (sentenced to prison). Both of them are like sex on the beach — initially, new and interesting only to quickly become a nasty irritant.

And then there’s former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin, the original “maverick.”

Once a powerful advisor who helped get Trump elected to the White House, Steve Bannon was sentenced this year to four months in prison for contempt of Congress.
Once a powerful adviser who helped get Trump elected to the White House, Steve Bannon was sentenced this year to four months in prison for contempt of Congress.
Lev Radin/Sipa USA
Sarah Palin adopted the “maverick” moniker for herself when she ran alongside John McCain on the 2008 presidential ticket. This year she failed to get elected to Congress.
Sarah Palin adopted the “maverick” moniker for herself when she ran alongside John McCain on the 2008 presidential ticket. This year she failed to get elected to Congress.
Getty Images

She never stopped using the word to describe herself and running mate John McCain during their presidential campaign in 2008. And while it certainly struck a chord at the time, that label now appears to lack any purchasing power with the American public

Despite her national profile, the first-ever female governor of Alaska failed to win election to Congress this year, losing to a much lesser-known Democrat — suggesting her race, like Trump’s, may finally be run.

Mavericks might be entertaining, but in 2023, it would be nice to see clearer heads, stability and a return of sanity prevail.

To paraphrase Justin Timberlake, we need to bring boring back.

Gavin Newsham is a British writer, author and columnist.



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