COMMENTARY

Fervour for EVs? Care for Earth and the Environment? Or Merely a Preposterous and Petty Political Game by President Biden?

Some speculations on why and how Tesla wasn’t invited to the party.  

By Elena Vassilieva

“Ladies and gentlemen, this exhibit is not only a valuable piece of American heritage, it’s also the mistress and plaything of our president,” said the tour guide. Photo and words by © Elena Vassilieva.

– Hello, the White House?

– Yes. Who’s speaking?

– This is Cadi of GM! Is Mr. President in? Calling to ask why for Pete’s sake Tesla isn’t going to party with us?

– One moment, please.

– Hello! Hello! Sir, are you there? What do you have against Tesla?

– Cadi, I’m sorry, Mr. President is spaced out. I’ll let you draw your own conclusion. Goodby!

(From the telephone conversation.)

Last night, just before going to bed, I had read that Tesla was excluded from the meeting of the major American carmakers held at the White House under the topical umbrella of EV and environment on 5 August 2021. How so, I thought, that doesn’t make sense at all? Tesla is the largest manufacturer of EVs on this planet, besides, it’s an American brand, despite being a relatively young one, it’s reputable and very well-liked. I stayed up late in search of the clue, but learned very little, except that the Tesla’s CEO himself hadn’t had the foggiest idea there was going to be a gathering in Washington, D.C., and he genuinely seemed as much taken by surprise as everyone else. “Yeah, seems odd that Tesla wasn’t invited,” he responded on Twitter. You couldn’t mistake his perplexity for anything else here, even if you wanted to. However, it appeared that the environmental issues (the very reason for the meeting?) might have been of purely symbolic significance for the White House staff, or better to say, pro forma, unlike the political underpinnings, which might have been exactly the answer to this awkward and nonsensical riddle. After all, the problem of unions and unionisation at the automakers’ factories could have been discussed thoroughly with the Tesla representatives during the meeting, if that, of course, was indeed the issue and reason why Tesla was excluded from the list of the participants. In fact, it would have been a very good opportunity for the automobile giants to compare notes on both topics: how to be sustainable and local as for the production of EVs, and what it’s like to allow unions on their premises. Tesla has an impeccable record as a leading manufacturer of EVs, but Ford and GM, the iconic brands of the American automobile heritage, have a long experience with unions. And what had happened instead?

President Biden (on a whim?) decided he can go ahead and play a bad boy who is still at elementary school, say, first or second grade, not yet fully out of the lying stage where mischief is an irresistible lure. For the occasion, he transformed his staffers into a gang of reckless schoolkids, sort of the characters from that awful “Captain Underpants” series, while being very pleased with himself.

“La Boum!” He said.

“La Boum? Dancing, Mr. President, or what?” Someone asked him shyly, in utter surprise, as Captain, that is, President, wasn’t known by any means as an eloquent French speaker, let alone a Napoleon-like strategist.

“Party, my friend, party, and yes, dancing, too, afterwards!” The Captain was bursting with pride, like a peacock, then he lifted his forefinger, pointing at first at the one who dared to ask the question, then he got up, snapped his fingers, swung around, and said: “Let the honor students [Tesla, i.e.] break their heads guessing why they were left out from being invited to the party of the year. And may the true American car brands shine again, like in the far glorious past.”

The gang seemed to be playing a ‘smart’ game with the rules all too familiar to the members of their exclusive circle: “You all know the rules, my friends: a) Pretend you know more than you know; b) don’t feel belittled because of the hard facts under any circumstances, even if reality threatens to eliminate you as a political player in the long run, in the future, say, in 4 years; c) don’t be intimidated by the army of Musk’s fanboys and fangirls; d) don’t forget that Tesla has no PR-team, unlike everyone else, ha-ha, so there shouldn’t be much outburst or uproar at all; e) remember we are doing the right thing, friends, we are bulli…, shh, punishing the ones who excel at what they are doing, who are the best and who deliver the product all right, but who are uncompromising arrogant EV-tossers, I mean, we need to teach Tesla a lesson, they have to obey our rules of maneuvering and double standards, I mean high ethical standards of course.”

“But Mr. President, they are better than anyone else out there, in the field. They are popular. They are sustaining California, I know that first-hand. You can’t toss them like a coin in the air,” Kamala Harris argued sheepishly.

“Never mind, Kamala, forget about that for now. The rules are the rules,” disagreed the Captain and was ready to move on to the next point.

But inside the gang, there seemed to arise a small commotion, confusion, and disagreement nearly on every letter and issue discussed. “And what about me, Captain?” asked the secretary of transportation, fidgeting in his chair.

“What about you, Pete boy?”

“I, I, I mean suppose I’m being asked why we haven’t invited them? They aren’t invisible, you know. You can’t just ignore their presence on Earth, for Christ’s sake.” The transportation secretary tried to gain self-control and defend himself.

“Now, my boy, what did I just say: The rules! Repeat the rules, it’s under the letter b) Don’t let the facts fool or doubt yourself, don’t let the facts equivocate you! And why on earth are you talking about Earth? Who said anything about Earth?”

“Who? I thought you did, just minutes ago, Captain. Have you forgotten? ‘Isn’t it all about Earth and the environment? Let them assume that’s why we are having this grand party,’ you said.” Someone in the background reasoned.

“Who said that? Me? And which side are you on, anyway?” The annoyed Captain jumped from his chair and searched for the guilty one, then pointed his finger at her. “Don’t think, my friend, act, and don’t repeat what I said ages ago, I might have forgotten it or changed my mind ever since!”

“Shall I say then directly they don’t obey our rules? Or what?” Buttigieg interrupted the Captain again, still visibly preoccupied about what to say if journalists ask him about the party.

“You aren’t that stupid, Buttigieg, engage the gray stuff in your brain, and rehearse if you don’t want to lose your goddamn chair. And let me be clear: subject yourself to the rules and act! And let’s not talk about it anymore.” Solemnly concluded the Captain, in anticipation of having his favourite toy after these tedious preparations for the party.

“Act how? I’ll be the first one to be bombarded with all kind of questions,” ventured to ask the flame-haired woman who looked boisterous, but rather frustrated.

“Here we go again,” said the Captain impatiently. “Who is it?”

Someone, who sat closer to the Captain, whispered: “Jen Psaki! It’s Jen Psaki.”

“Is it you, Jen? Isn’t it your job to throw as much powder in the public eye as possible? Speaking of which, do you wear face powder? You are our PR-woman and you have no idea how to handle the powder, I mean the press? You must be kidding me. Wear your face powder! For best results, American brand, Estée Lauder.” The Captain was annoyed to no end, but on the other hand, seemed quite boosted with his own sudden energy of a 1st grader, and the idea to invite only the ‘good guys’ brought enormous satisfaction to him.

“So it’s all about the game, not Earth, then?” asked the woman matter-of-factly who had been criticised minutes before for stating that the party’s theme was Earth and care for it through the high production of EVs. It didn’t make much sense to her, but she didn’t want to be excluded from the mob of the Captain’s and agreed to play along, even if it went against the grain of her opinion, making Tesla an outsider for no good reason at all.   

On the day of the party, both the White House Press Secretary and the Secretary of Transportation, of course, were asked why Tesla wasn’t on the list of guests. How could they have not? Mr Buttigieg, to his credit, did rehearse his response diligently, but, nonetheless, was caught off guard in the first moment and said candidly: “I’m not sure.” For this tiny and very significant part of his reply he might have gotten reprimanded harshly by his boss. The rest of his message was well-rehearsed and probably taken from the depository of his political speeches, and one can hardly find any news in that piece. Reading between the lines would only corroborate what had happened during the preparations for the meeting, which I had the (dis)pleasure to describe above.

Thus, Pete Buttigieg said on CNBC: “I’m not sure, but what I know is you’re seeing so many leaders in industry. You’ve got newer companies and you’ve got legacy companies that are both saying we’ve gotta move in this direction. The industry structure obviously is complex, and partly what’s exciting is to see some of the oldest and more traditional names in U.S. auto manufacturers and some of the newest companies on the scene all acting in terms of the very core of their business to go electric.”

If Mr Buttigieg is talking here about EVs in particular, then how many leaders are there in the industry in America? And who is the leader of the leaders then? How many newer companies are as successful as Tesla? How many of the legacy companies are as successful as Tesla? Mr Buttigieg, I would gladly grade your work with F. Anyone who had done at least a minimal research on the topic would disagree tremendously with every single sentence, except the first one, in that paragraph of yours above. Your statement, as airy as a bubble, completely lacks a factual support, which almost makes one suspect that the tedious preparations for the party had been conducted, God knows where, anyway, not on this planet. Very few would doubt indeed that the auto industry is complex, but why make it even more complex by excluding the leading company in the industry, the very American young company, that fact would definitely baffle many. Why politicise it even more than it already is?

Jen Psaki, the White House Press Secretary, was less candid than the Transportation Secretary, but as much confused as he, as to how to explain the absurdity of this political move: “Well, we, of course, welcome the efforts of all automakers who recognize the potential of an electric vehicle future and support efforts that will help reach the President’s goal. And certainly, Tesla is one of those companies. Today, it’s the three largest employers of the United Auto Workers and the UAW president who will stand with President Biden as he announces this ambitious new target, but I would not expect this is the last time we talk about clean cars, the move toward electric vehicles, and we look forward to having a range of partners in that effort.”

How odd that the President would set a goal, encouraging the economic activity of certain companies and discouraging the other, the company that is streets ahead of any other American carmaker and way above the level of simply ‘recognising the potential of an EV future and supporting efforts.’ The fact that Tesla is the leading EV manufacturer makes one wonder whether Ms Psaki would have looked much better if she told the truth right away and upfront, instead, she boldly implied that the political motive is behind the exclusion of Tesla from the gathering. Moreover, when asked during the press briefing about it, she flirtatiously stated: “I’ll let you draw your own conclusion.” Hmm, what kind of answer is this? Oh, I see, that was the move of throwing powder in the eye of the public. Now it’s clear. And mea culpa, I forgot that it’s La Boum à la President Biden, who tweeted with the energy and in a show-off manner of a 1st grader: “The future of the auto industry is electric – and made in America.” Now, Mr Biden, where are the majority of the EVs being made right now? On the Moon or Mars perhaps? Not yet. And by which company are they made? By the very one you had so brazenly and shamelessly excluded to invite to your party.

Everyone has his preferences for any product, let alone for the product one ‘marries’ for life, and Biden’s product is clearly the one made by the legacy carmakers, but who gives him as the President of the United States the right to exclude the young and successful American company? I hope this is not a strategy of “taking care” of the branch of the tree Biden is sitting on right now? It’s never a good idea to play against your own self, anyway, even a 1st grader knows it. What goes around comes around. No doubt that many would agree with the Tesla’s CEO who rightly perceived this absurd action as a sabotage (Note: another French word!). One also wishes the legacy carmakers stood up for their fellow Tesla, instead of just placating their pride, inflated by the unfairness of the President. See, for instance, Jim Fairley’s message, CEO of Ford Motor Company, tweeted on 5 August 2021: “Today is an important day in the fight against climate change and @Ford is proud to be part of it.” One also truly hopes the environment and Earth are the main incentives for their action. But isn’t Tesla Motors exactly the company that is ahead of anyone else in this regard? Besides, no matter, Democratic or Republican, isn’t it the President’s job to ensure that things are done without favouritism and discrimination, but with tact and reason instead? Or perhaps it’s not the age of reason for some? Or it might be a case of self-trapping in delusion of grandeur. Time will tell, of course.

Voila all the pieces of the puzzle of La Boum à la President Biden have been put together now. – Le voilà bien loti !

P.S. The most embarrassing thing in the whole story for me personally is that President Biden got votes of my personal circle, and I encouraged them to vote for him. He wasn’t my first choice, however, I hoped Mr Bloomberg would be at the wheel, as I respect him on many levels, including his attention to the planet, but, alas, he came too late to the party.

(Written on 6 August 2021, in the Sky Control Room on Cape Cod.)

Copyright © 2021 by Elena Vassilieva. All Rights Reserved.

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