When you see one of Elon Musk’s Cybertrucks on the street, what you’re really looking at is the hideously designed hearse of the American regulatory state. 

As a matter of public and driver safety, the Cybertruck is an unmitigated disaster. Since the first trucks shipped in November 2023, they have been plagued by complaints and defects. Musk brags about the strength of the truck body, but the stiff and unyielding structure only ensures any accident will be far worse for not having the kind of collapsible frame as every other car on the road. 

The death trap design has been the subject of one disastrous news item after another. The cover of the Cybertruck’s acceleration pedal had a defect that caused it to slip off and get stuck, prompting a recall. In his running account of his problems with the vehicle, Rolling Stone writer Miles Klee describes how the truck’s door gashed open a user’s leg and part of the rear fender went flying off for no apparent reason

The extra thick windshield, meanwhile, creates an infotainment environment free from all distraction — including the sounds of the screaming pedestrians you’re plowing through at the farmer’s market while you watch “Shark Tank” on the oversized screen. Not that the driver is any safer: The windshield guarantees that in the event of an accident, the truck’s passengers will be pulped in the vehicle interior.

All of which begs the question: How are these vehicles street legal in the U.S.? 

“Musk has sought out business opportunities in crucial areas where, after decades of privatization, the state has receded.”

The short answer is a laissez-faire American regulatory state. The longer answer involves Musk’s close relationships with the national security state and tech worlds, and how those relationships complicate the regulatory picture. Ronan Farrow reported in August 2023 that Musk’s combative attitude with Pentagon officials during a dispute over Starlink was met with deference by the same military establishment that provides him with many lucrative contracts. The man who owns more satellites than anyone, and who is single-handedly running spaceflight for the country, probably isn’t someone you want to piss off. What’s a few potentially severed digits and dead children?

As Farrow wrote, “Musk has sought out business opportunities in crucial areas where, after decades of privatization, the state has receded.” This has put him in the enviable position where there is “little precedent” for “the degree of dependency that the U.S. now has on Musk in a variety of fields, from the future of energy and transportation to the exploration of space. SpaceX is currently the sole means by which NASA transports crew from U.S. soil into space, a situation that will persist for at least another year. The government’s plan to move the auto industry toward electric cars requires increasing access to charging stations along America’s highways.”

For all the mockery the Cybertruck is rightfully receiving — on top of everything else, they are unbelievably ugly, like a child’s crude drawing of a truck that even a doting parent would be hard pressed to praise — it is one of many recent signs of national political rot. Another is the weight loss drug Ozempic, whose long-term side effects were not thoroughly researched and documented before the product was greenlit for the market, enriching Novo Nordisk shareholders. Factories across the country spew toxic waste into the air and water, causing cancer and other diseases, largely without consequence — so much so that when they actually face responsibility for their actions, it gets a Hollywood treatment. State legislatures are passing laws that allow employers to skirt and manipulate child labor laws. Massive corporations and small businesses alike sell us products that can maim or hurt us. 

How many injuries, or worse, will Elon Musk’s newest toy cause before it gets its own movie starring Mark Ruffalo? Given the sorry condition of the American regulatory state, these death traps will only disappear from the road when people stop buying them. Which is entirely possible. “At this point,” Rolling Stone’s Klee wrote in April, “the race is on to identify the one part of the vehicle that isn’t defective.”

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