Fears that Donald Trump would snub cleantech poster boy Elon Musk in a gathering of tech luminaries to meet the President-elect this week appear to have been allayed, with the Wall Street Journal reporting that the Tesla/SolarCity CEO has been invited.
However, it is not yet clear whether Musk will accept the invite, with recode (which first broke the news that Musk had been invited) writing that he has a series of work commitments that could keep him away.
As one of the few entrepreneurs capable of meeting Trump’s blustery rhetoric on creating manufacturing jobs in the U.S. – the Tesla Gigafactory in Buffalo could employ up to 6,500 people by 2020 – Musk certainly meets the President-elect’s criteria. But Musk’s slick operations in the cleantech industry put him at odds with Trump’s avowed distrust of climate change, and the subsidies that Musk’s companies have benefited from (such as federal clean energy tax credits) could be viewed as part of the "swamp" that Trump has pledged to drain.
That said, Musk’s ventures in U.S. industry have created more than 35,000 jobs and given thousands and thousands of U.S. homeowners the chance to become energy independent. Further, Musk’s PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel now works for Trump, and it was he who extended the invites last week to such figureheads including Apple CEO Tim Cook, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Google CEO Larry Page, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos.
Musk and Thiel remain good friends, making it even more likely that he will move things around in his diary to fit Trump in. The Tesla/SolarCity CEO has been critical of Trump following his combustible campaign, but the opportunity to have the President-elect’s ear during this critical phase of power could prove too tempting for Musk.
From solar power and electric vehicles to future transportation rules around self-driving cars, Musk’s expertise and strength of character could be just the tonic to convince The Donald that the old way of doing things needs to change, and that the U.S. cannot reverse the progress it has made on tackling climate change in recent years.
On the other hand, by staying away Musk could be sending a powerful message to The Donald; a message that clean energy will thrive despite, rather than because of, government’s interest or disinterest in the industry.