I know a man who plans to burn an effigy of Elon Musk on his bonfire on November 5. Musk will be on a cardboard rocket and it will be hilarious, apparently, to watch him being engulfed by flames, because he’s ridiculous, he and his weird ideas about Mars. The idea that Musk is laughable is one of the few topics on which the progressive left and the old hawkish left agree. Musk isn’t a serious person, they say, and because he’s not serious, he’s dangerous. He shouldn’t be allowed to own Twitter, let alone...

I know a man who plans to burn an effigy of Elon Musk on his bonfire on November 5. Musk will be on a cardboard rocket and it will be hilarious, apparently, to watch him being engulfed by flames, because he’s ridiculous, he and his weird ideas about Mars. The idea that Musk is laughable is one of the few topics on which the progressive left and the old hawkish left agree. Musk isn’t a serious person, they say, and because he’s not serious, he’s dangerous. He shouldn’t be allowed to own Twitter, let alone space rockets.

There was cautious, grudging approval when Musk donated terminals for his Starlink satellites to Ukraine, followed by great alarm when he speculated about the possibility of a peace deal with Vladimir Putin. Seize his satellites, nationalize Starlink, said the Atlantic’s David Frum.

Is Elon Musk a less serious person than David Frum? It’s not clear to me that he is. Why is it less sensible to speculate about a way to end the war than it is to trudge on towards some nuclear catastrophe? It’s not as if we can or would want to go to war with Russia. And yes, Musk’s a child on Twitter, but then Twitter’s a playground. What’s the point of being in a bouncy castle if you don’t bounce? Musk goads his enemies and posts memes and daft emojis. Jimmy Kimmel calls him “a piece of shit.” Frum wants to take his toys away. So it goes. Everyone’s a teen on Twitter and anyone who seems adult is just acting that way in the hope of applause. I’m not sure my marriage would survive if I read my own husband’s tweets.

Outside the Twittersphere, how is Musk a joke? He survived a brutal childhood in South Africa, escaped to the US and then made a fortune co-founding what became PayPal. It’s often said, dismissively, that Tesla relies on handouts, as if we’d all be car magnates if only we knew where to apply for subsidies. But of the ten largest publicly traded companies, Tesla Inc. is the one that’s grown most in the past decade. Revenue has increased more than 250-fold, sales have surged, shares boomed and the workforce quintupled since 2016. “Unlike its peers,” wrote Matthew Winkler of Bloomberg, “Tesla persevered through the dislocations caused by the first pandemic and then the war in Ukraine by spending years focused on shoring up its supply chain.” Bitch about Elon’s management style all you like, but it’s working.

It’s amazing how many people think Musk’s talk of humans living on Mars is another sign of his derangement. I have every sympathy with anyone who prefers not to think about the enormity of death and space. As Spinal Tap’s David St. Hubbins put it, in conversation with my hero Nigel Tufnel, it’s “a little too much perspective.”

But the people most affronted by Musk’s talk of Mars are often the very same people who are most anxious about the environment and most certain that we humans aren’t long for this planet. If we’re actually facing extinction, shouldn’t we at least give Mars a shot? Or try to harness solar power or mine asteroids? No dice. It’s as if they think it’s in bad taste somehow to try to solve the problem.

What they really mind about, though, isn’t the planet so much as Twitter, which Musk has just bought for $44 billion, and which most politicians consider their real home planet. The overreaction to Musk becoming the compère has been astonishing. Newspapers worldwide reported an instant rise in racism. Racist trolls are exulting in Elon Musk’s takeover of Twitter, said Variety. “Scary AF,” agreed NBA star LeBron James, “so many damn unfit people saying hate speech is free speech.” A sizable proportion of progressives seem to think that the moment the deal with Musk was signed, some barnacled gate that once kept the scaly bigots at bay creaked open and populist orcs began to lope and drool about, ripping the gauzy wings from rainbow folk. “Not hanging around for whatever Elon has planned. Bye,” declared a blue-tick TV producer called Shonda Rhimes (1.9 million followers), whose Twitter account remains active.

But Musk hasn’t let the orcs back in. As Twitter’s head of safety, Yoel Roth, reported, what may have looked like a rise in racist tweets was in fact an organized attempt by a small number of accounts designed specifically to make it look as if Musk had unleashed the trolls. He hasn’t changed any of the rules about Twitter content moderation, or let any banned tweeter back into the fold, including the great orange tweeter-in-chief. “If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me whether Trump was coming back on this platform, Twitter would be minting money!” he wrote.

What Musk has done is suggest that he might let anyone buy a coveted “blue tick” (“Power to the people!”) and he has also floated the idea of an official debating chamber, an online gladiatorial ring where people with opposing ideas can clash in public. This is an idea I can get behind. It could be the saving of civilization, a way of persuading the kids that truth matters, and that the best and only way to test opinions and ideas is to have them challenged.

I don’t hold a candle for Elon Musk. He’s not my kind of guy. I don’t go for gamers or stoners and I could never fancy a grown man who goes to Burning Man. I find most of his tweets impenetrable and I’m wary of the way his various wives and girlfriends all seem to dye their hair blonde two years into the relationship. But Musk is his own man, not in anyone’s gang: he’s half Republican, half Democrat, he has said. And he’s clear-eyed about himself, which sets him above almost all the serious people. “If you list my sins, I sound like the worst person on Earth,” he said in a recent interview. ‘But if you put those against the things I’ve done right, it makes much more sense.”

This article was originally published in The Spectator’s UK magazine. Subscribe to the World edition here.