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Why Elon Musk says it would be 'wrong' for him to leave the White House advisory council

The Tesla CEO once again defended his decision to participate in President Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum in a pair of tweets Saturday. 

Tesla CEO Elon Musk, right, sits beside Senior Counselor to the President Steve Bannon as President Donald Trump hosts a strategy and policy forum with chief executives of major US companies at the White House on February 3, 2017.
Kevin Lamarque/Reuters | Caption

Tesla CEO Elon Musk again defended his decision to remain on President Trump's business advisory council on Saturday, tweeting that to do otherwise would be "wrong." 

In responding to critics who have urged him to disengage with the White House, Mr. Musk noted the influence he was able to have on a Strategic and Policy Forum hosted by the president on Friday. 

"At my request, the agenda for yesterday's White House meeting went from not mentioning the travel ban to having it be first and foremost," the billionaire wrote in a tweet. 

"In addition, I again raised climate," he continued in another. "I believe this is doing good, so will remain on council & keep at it. Doing otherwise would be wrong." 

Amid ongoing protests over a controversial travel ban for seven majority-Muslim countries, opponents of the executive order have called on Musk and other executives to cut ties with the president's administration. Last week, Uber CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down from his position on the advisory council after facing mounting pressure from critics on social media, writing in a memo to employees: "Joining the group was not meant to be an endorsement of the president or his agenda but unfortunately it has been misinterpreted to be exactly that." 

But Musk has stood by his decision to stay on the council, maintaining that he believes he can have a greater effect on policy by engaging with the Trump administration. The controversy comes as business leaders, politicians, and citizens around the country grapple with how to unite a polarized nation, fractured further by the election of President Trump. Some opponents of Mr. Trump argue that to engage with Trump and his administration is to implicitly support and normalize the president's controversial rhetoric and policies. Others, like Musk, say that the best way to affect change is through cooperation and dialogue. 

"Advisory councils simply provide advice and attending does not mean that I agree with actions by the Administration," the Tesla head wrote in a statement published on Twitter last Thursday. "I understand the perspective of those who object to my attending this meeting, but I believe at this time that engaging on critical issues will on balance serve the greater good." 

Since Trump issued a series of controversial executive orders days after taking office, members of Trump's Strategic and Policy Forum, which also includes the heads of Blackstone Group LP,  General Motors Co., BlackRock Inc., IBM, and Walt Disney Co., have faced unprecedented backlash from the public, experts say. 

"CEOs like Tesla’s Elon Musk who serve on Trump’s advisory councils have to make a choice. They either need to stand up for morality and human dignity or side with Trump’s racist, misogynistic and xenophobic hate," write the authors of a petition calling on executives to follow Kalanick's lead and disengage with the president. The petition had nearly 77,000 signatures as of Sunday afternoon. "Business leaders who serve on Trump’s advisory councils don’t get to pick and choose which policy positions they are endorsing with their brands. They are legitimizing and normalizing Trump’s entire agenda." 

Whether other CEOs, Musk included, will agree to the demands of Trump opponents is yet to be seen. Kalanick's decision to resign came after at least 200,000 people deleted the Uber app from their phones, some in response to a #DeleteUber hashtag circulating around the internet. (The number of new users reportedly exceeded deletions, however, Bloomberg Technology reports.) 

"What’s striking is the kind of tumult and chaos that we’re observing in the aftermath of these executive orders," William Howell, an American politics professor at the University of Chicago, told Bloomberg. "I can’t think of a single clear historical analog for this kind of behavior and certainly not two weeks into a presidency."