Our story begins in May 2020, when the pandemic was getting worse, vaccines were still months away, and Musk announced his plan to reopen Tesla's factory in Fremont, California despite local restrictions that kept most businesses shuttered at the time.
"If anyone is arrested," he tweeted then, in reference to local officials, "I ask that it only be me."
A fight ensued between Tesla and California. Depending on the day, we might have called it "spirited," or sometimes "acrimonious" or even "nasty."
But in retrospect, even after Tesla filed suit against Alameda County and Musk mused about the idea of relocating Tesla out of California, it was a state legislator named Lorena Gonzalez whose three-word tweet took the whole thing to the next level.
Heck, maybe two or three levels. What her tweet lacked in diplomacy it made up for in brevity. She tweeted, simply: "F*** Elon Musk." (I added two of the three asterisks, by the way.)
A day later, Musk replied: "Message received."
Frankly, that was it for a while, as far as the world was concerned.
Gonzalez tweeted afterward that Tesla was a California-subsidized company that "always disregarded worker safety & well-being, has engaged in union busting & bullies public servants."
While Gonzalez is high-profile in terms of California state politics, and there are other issues from which people might know her, I'm going to surmise that the vast majority of people reading this article right now will never have heard of her before the current kerfuffle.
Eventually Tesla withdrew its lawsuit. The status quo ante seemed restored. But then, two things happened this week.
- First, on Thursday, Musk announced at Tesla's annual shareholder meeting that he's moving Tesla's headquarters from California to Austin, Texas. Musk blamed it on a lack of space to expand the Fremont factory, and the high cost of living that made it hard for employees to buy houses, or sometimes to recruit from far away.
- Second, on Friday, a blog that covers Tesla dug up the Gonzalez tweet from 2020 along with Musk's response, and posited that it amounted to an additional motivation for Musk to pull up stakes and relocate to Texas.
The blog tweeted its story, Tesla Moved its HQ to Texas Following Explicit Offer from California Assemblywoman, and Musk replied -- on Twitter, of course -- with a single word: "Exactly."
Now, we can parse this in at least three ways.
- The first would be to suggest that from Musk's point of view, the Gonzalez tweet is a metaphor for California at its perceived worst: over-regulated, anti-business (again, Musk's view), and a place that doesn't appreciate the degree to which a company like Tesla benefits the state, as opposed to the other way around.
- Second, we might suggest that Gonzalez is small potatoes and that her mean, profane tweet is unlikely to have played any real role. But, imagine if you were Musk, and you were planning to scale back Tesla's work in California. You might think it's strategic or karmic (or frankly, you might not give it that much thought at all) to suggest that Gonzalez was to blame. (Good luck with your next election, Musk might add sardonically.)
- Finally, the third way is the most interesting and the most ironic: Imagine if we take Musk at his apparent word, and accept that a profane, three-word tweet from a fairly obscure lawmaker really was the final straw that prompted him to abandon California (in terms of the HQ; the factory itself isn't going anywhere) for Texas.
Sometimes things really are straightforward. I've had some healthy skepticism about the degree to which the comparative tax burden between California and Texas on its own has led to Musk's preference for one state over other.
I mean, if this were my main concern, the choice would be pretty obvious. I say this despite (a) the fact that I love California, and (b) I personally would not and do not choose where I live based primarily on the tax burden. To my mind, life is too short for that.
And if I did, would I live in New Jersey?
But let's accept for purposes of the rest of this article that an ill-advised, angry, or mean tweet truly switched Musk from "wandering eye mode" to "heck with that, we're out of here."
Can you imagine anything more ironic?
Musk, who has so many Twitter followers that he would be one of the most popular and successful influencers on social media if he chose to devote himself to it, and whose tweets have been known to land him in hot water on more than one occasion--leaving the state at least in part, over a tweet?
If so, I think the message from California is clear for Texas legislators: Delete your social media accounts.
Or at least tweet with restraint. May I suggest restricting your posts to feel-good stories about puppies and rainbows?
And if that's too difficult to navigate, how about this: Look at your proposed tweet. Does it include any words that you feel compelled to "bleep" out, by using asterisks instead of vowels?
If so, maybe think twice about whether you really need to share it. There are still 48 other states besides California and Texas.