Once upon a time, the phrase “billionaire shows his whole ass on social media” was just a metaphor. Now, judging by the direction Jeff Bezos is going, it may soon be a headline. “Thank you, I’ve been working hard on my ass,” the Amazon founder told a user with 37 followers, who had asked for an invite to Bezos’ mega-yacht so he could “see that fine piece of ass in person.” This enlightening Q&A could be found in the most 2022 location possible: the replies of the founder of Dogecoin.
You don’t have to follow Bezos closely to see what’s going on here. The world’s second-richest individual seems to be aping the low-rent Twitter antics of the world’s richest, Elon Musk. Bezos’ copycat attempts are cringe, as the kids say, but his timing is weird too. The ass tweet came the same day Musk pledged his vote to the all-in-on-authoritarianism GOP – alienating a good chunk of his climate-conscious Tesla customer base with a few keyboard strokes.
“Political attacks on me will escalate dramatically in the coming months,” Musk predicted. This created a path to blame anything bad that happens to Musk for the rest of the year, from the collapse of his “on-hold” Twitter takeover to any further SEC investigations to the ongoing tanking of Tesla stock (currently down 30 percent since January 2022), on some shadowy left-wing cabal. On Wednesday alone, Musk lost $12 billion; investors seem to prefer CEOs who don’t fire off bizarre statements about a “woke mind virus” destroying civilization.
With every tweet, Musk was sounding more like another aggrieved business showman from recent history – one who rode his own right-wing populist train to a terrifying destination, while going bankrupt several times along the way. And Bezos, who spent half the week lashing out at public spending, praising obstructionist senator Joe Manchin before praising his own ass, now seems hell bent on following Musk into the abyss.
Rich Guy Brain
The world’s richest individuals both going full Trump in the same week, all while Musk vows to restore Trump’s Twitter account should his takeover actually happen, probably won’t take us anywhere good. But it does allow us to come up with a grand unified theory of Rich Guy Brain, and why it shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near Twitter, for the sake of the brains’ own reputations.
We are watching two of the most stunning self-immolations in history, live and in real time. Congratulations, gents, you continue to play yourselves.
As I noted in my review of an exhaustive history of Amazon, studies suggest the wealthier you get, the more likely you are to act like a greedy, unethical jerk. Bezos observers have been shaking their heads at how much of an asshole the guy has become in recent years, particularly since divorcing his wife Mackenzie: the onetime nerdy book lover became a mega-yacht owner with a midlife crisis who likes to dress like Pitbull.
Musk has been on his own long decline into dickishness, as this book showed. The soft-spoken Burning Man attendee with an earnest desire to fight climate change became, over the course of a decade of stunning wealth growth, a tin-eared Texas mogul who actually wants to boost oil production.
We’re all sadly used to Musk’s Twitter shenanigans now. For many he crossed the line in 2018, the year he called a British cave diver “pedo guy” for refusing the help of Musk’s half-baked submarine idea for the rescue of schoolchildren in Thailand. But at the same time, with the help of then-girlfriend Grimes, he was dropping musical tributes to Harambe and describing himself as some kind of socialist – no doubt sitting back and enjoying the fun as we all tried to parse what that meant.
The problem with ‘Muskism’
There’s little of that playful mutability in evidence these days. Indeed, newly proud Republican Musk seems to be spending most of his time trying to delight the army of trolls and Trump fans that hang on his every tweet, coming up with ever more shocking ways to “try to own the libs,” as Musk described his own Twitter bid. It’s odd, not to mention self-destructive, that Musk is paying more attention to the trolls than his own shareholders, who are spooked and urging an emergency stock buyback.
Ironically, Musk began the process of buying Twitter by pointing out that nearly all the most-followed accounts on the service are tweeting less as time goes on. There’s a reason for that, as celeb reps told the Washington Post: no matter what you tweet, you risk making yourself a target for a social media pile-on. Not only would Musk’s lax approach to content moderation make the problem worse, he’s Exhibit A for what happens when you treat the Twitter bullies as your own personal fan base.
You can get high on your own sycophantic supply. And when you’re rich, to paraphrase the other guy who went down this dark path, they let you do anything.
How to blow up a $44 billion deal
Doing it for the warped love of his fellow keyboard jockeys: This is as good a reason as any to explain why Musk concocted his bizarrely overleveraged $44 billion Twitter bid, taking credulous bankers with him for the ride. Investors don’t seem to believe the sale will go through, or should. They’re not buying Twitter stock, even though it’s below $40 a share (Musk’s deal would pay $54.20 a share). The only time Tesla stock popped was when Musk claimed the deal was on hold.
The Twitter arena also explains why Musk is acting like someone who desperately wants out while saving face. The billionaire put the deal on hold while claiming he’d suddenly discovered that more than 5% of Twitter accounts are spam bots. “It is important to be clear that Musk is lying,” an article on Bloomberg baldly stated. “He has produced no evidence at all.” When Twitter’s CEO wrote a thread patiently explaining the company’s spam bot methodology, Musk replied with a poop emoji.
Grand plans, lies that distract from their completion, a childlike contempt for expertise, sheer narcissism: This would all be troublingly Trump-like, even if Musk wasn’t also tacking rightwards at alarming speed. When video of the white supremacist Buffalo shooter’s livestream proliferated across social media, showing a crying need for the content moderation Musk has disparaged, he was silent. Then Project Veritas, an outfit that has long pushed deceptively-edited and doxxing videos, released an interview with a Twitter engineer claiming his colleagues were “commies.” Musk clutched his pearls.
You might expect Jeff Bezos, Musk’s rival in space and on the world’s richest people list, would prefer to sound like the voice of reason by comparison. After all, Bezos has had more than his share of battles with Trump and the former president’s blackmailing allies at the National Enquirer. But Bezos also seems to have concluded right-wing populism is the way to go. The Amazon founder picked a fight with the Biden administration by insisting that its stimulus spending was responsible for high inflation – a claim even the anti-spending former Treasury secretary Larry Summers rated “mostly wrong.”
When Team Biden responded by pointing out that Amazon needs to pay its fair share in corporate taxes, Bezos mocked it as a distraction: “look, a squirrel!” This too was out of the Trump playbook: Accuse the other side of that which you are guilty. Fighting the government over inflation is one way for Bezos to distract from his own increasingly untaxed mega-wealth, plus the rising tide of unionization that Amazon is doing its best to block.
It’s possible the guy is simply jealous of the libertarian fanboy army Musk has gathered under the banner of his Twitter account – and either no one in his inner circle has the guts to tell him why he shouldn’t be, or they’re actively egging him on.
Tweet may have been deleted
One good argument that wiser heads might consider using: The Streisand effect. Every time he tweets something dumb or controversial, Bezos risks making it look to millions of us like a better and better idea to tax the rich, for real. Just for his cringe tweet to the founder of Dogecoin – “Seen you refer to yourself as a sh*tposter but maybe you’re mostly just a wiseposter” – Bezos should be sentenced to funding universal healthcare in the U.S. for the rest of his extremely privileged life. Remind me why any individual should ever need more than $999 million?
Maybe, one would hope for the sake of the planet and the economy, Musk and Bezos have not fallen victim to Rich Guy Brain. Their increased dickishness and rightward drift could be a cover, an attempt to get out ahead of what could well be a good year for the GOP in Congress. Perhaps they think that by adopting these postures and getting Republicans to love them, they could be moderating influences on a party that seems determined to roll back civil rights and put its thumbs on the scales of democracy. Perhaps they think this is worth turning off the same customers who made them the wealthiest individuals in the world in the first place.
Whatever the temptation to show their whole asses on social media, billionaires everywhere would do well to follow the advice that has been a meme on Twitter since its earliest days: never tweet.