What Trump’s TikTok Flip-Flop Tells America

When the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly last Wednesday to pass a bill that would require TikTok to divest its Chinese ownership or face an American ban, it provided a glimmer of hope in a dreary political time. This is exactly what a nation should do when it’s getting serious about the national security threat posed by the People’s Republic of China.

It makes no strategic sense for America to permit one of its chief foreign adversaries to exercise control over an app that both vacuums up the personal information of its more than 150 million American users and gives that adversary the opportunity to shape and mold the information those users receive.

Indeed, in one of the more astonishing public relations blunders in modern memory, TikTok made its critics’ case for them when it urged users to contact Congress to save the app. The resulting flood of angry calls demonstrated exactly how TikTok can trigger a public response and gave the lie to the idea that the app did not have clear (and essentially instantaneous) political influence.

Moreover, the vote demonstrated that it’s still possible to forge something approaching a foreign policy consensus on at least some issues. When a threat becomes big enough — and obvious enough — the American government can still act.

Or can it? The bill is now slowing down in the Senate, and there is real doubt whether it will pass. The app, after all, is phenomenally popular, and Congress is not often in the business of restricting popular things.

But there’s another reason to question the bill’s prospects. And it not only threatens this particular piece of legislation, but also is yet another indication of the high stakes of the 2024 election: Donald Trump has abruptly flip-flopped from supporting the TikTok ban to opposing it — and that flip-flop is more important than most people realize.

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