But if Trump outdoes Obama in his mastery of social media to control the public agenda, he lacks his predecessor’s sense of an important fact about the new media. To borrow terms from the pioneering theorist Marshall McLuhan, communication tools in the smartphone age are “cool” rather than “hot.” New media aren’t intended to grab and hold our entire attention, as the ratings-obsessed Trump wishes to do. Winning candidates of the future are unlikely to be so needy, so obvious, so nakedly relentless in their efforts to command our national bandwidth. They will be, in a word, cooler.
Few public figures have mastered cool like Musk, who describes himself as “half Democrat, half Republican” — exactly what a future president should say. “I’m somewhere in the middle,” he explains.
With more than 21 million Twitter followers, Musk has sufficient reach to shape and control his public image much as Trump shapes his own. But Musk’s message, his brand, is all about hope and the future, while Trump appeals to fear and the past. Trump wants walls and tariffs — policy detritus of previous ages. Musk promotes sleek electric cars, solar-powered cities, superfast mass transit and grand fantasies of human settlements on Mars.
.. Optimism has always been the better long-range bet in America, a fact measurable in the relative fortunes of Musk and Trump, perhaps.
.. Both men are ballyhoo artists of the highest degree. They understand that if you want to move a huge crowd, you need to paint a big picture. Anyone who has followed Trump over the past 40 years knows that his projects, from luxury condos to bottled water, are never less than the Biggest, Best and Beautiful-est.