Donald Trump is playing some sort of game with the lifeline of TikTok. In August, the president signed an executive order that will effectively ban the video-making social media platform unless it is sold to an American company by Sept. 20, a deadline that looms just days away.
Yet pushes by American companies have, so far, been unsuccessful. A joint bid from Microsoft and Walmart failed to win the day, and now Oracle, a database company, seems to be leading the pack.
So what sort of political game is Trump playing, and why did he get himself into this mess?
This is a complicated issue. The roots of national security, intellectual property, constitutional responsibility and national identity run deep throughout this conversation, and they intersect at a confusing juncture.
Here’s the basics: TikTok, owned by a Chinese company, is said to pose a national security risk for its collection of the personal data of Americans. It also poses a risk in its questionable content control — including allegations of censorship that led to a trend of Trojan-Horse-esq posts.
Despite the politicization of the issue today, this wasn’t always partisan. A POLITICO article from Novemeber, 2019, called “The Trouble With TikTok,” reads: “Just as any article about Facebook would be incomplete if it ignored Facebook’s history of apologies for admitted privacy violations, any article about TikTok that omits its record of censorship and illegal behavior is irresponsible.”
But America also enjoys the First Amendment, and banning a social media platform — despite all of its risks — could be seen as violating the free speech of Americans.
Regardless of the side Trump should be on — which, to this writer, is unclear — it is easier to tackle the question of politics. Why is Trump attempting to ban TikTok? What is the political calculus behind his pursuit?
For one, it can’t hurt him. Sixty-nine percent of US TikTok users are
But it can also deliver Trump an easy political win a month and a half before the election. As messy as it may be now, consider the aftermath of the two potential outcomes.
If TikTok is successfully sold to an American company — likely to be Oracle — Trump will have created thousands, if not tens of thousands, of American jobs and contributed millions to the American economy.
If that isn’t persuasive enough as an electoral argument, Trump can also boast of keeping Americans safe from foreign influence and maintaining — at least temporarily — America’s position as the only global internet superpower.
On the other side of the coin, if the sale of TikTok is not successful, the calculus gets more complicated for Trump. Again, however, those upset about the loss of TikTok weren’t going to vote for Trump anyways.
He can also gain ground among older voters with the same arguments made if the sale went through: Trump single-handedly protected America’s global influence and the privacy of its citizens.
For Trump, the gamble of threatening to ban TikTok has no political downside at a time when he needs a easy political win. It is an entirely different argument over whether it is the right step to take, all things considered, but that conversation is far more academic and relatively unintelligible to the average voter.
In threatening to banning TikTok — whether it happens or not — Trump has delivered a much-needed win at a time when he couldn’t need it more.
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