We may never understand why Donald Trump has decided to force the sale of TikTok’s US assets. More troublingly, his remarks on the matter, and its seemingly arbitrary deadline, indicate he may not fully grasp the concepts of cause and effect, or of linear time.
“I’m not extending deadlines, no. It’s September 15th,” President Trump yelled to reporters from the tarmac yesterday, despite already providing one via executive order. Intriguingly, this date is not one stipulated by government documents, which could be September 20th or November 12th depending on which you prefer; it’s just one he plucked out of thin air. The shouted decree is consistent with Trump fashioning himself as kind of a mafioso godfather presiding over this deal, stating from the start that the US should get a cut. It’s also consistent with Trump being the sort of guy who described a basic cognitive function test as, at times, “very hard.”
That said, TikTok’s death day is any one’s guess, entirely because the president insists on making an already baffling demand into a moving target. Let’s take a look at the timeline of various deadlines a $100+ billion company has been given to divest a portion of a social network with an estimated 800 million users.
“We’ll see what happens,” Trump told reporters yesterday, “it’ll either be closed up or they’ll sell it. So we’ll either close up TikTok in this country for security reasons or it’ll be sold.” What he means by “close up” is unclear, but the first executive order, signed August 6th, gave TikTok owner ByteDance 45 days to divest from its American assets. This deadline, in writing, on letterhead, would be a hard deadline of September 20th.
The executive order, though, was only an officiation of Trump’s previous threats to force a sale of TikTok verbally. On August 3rd, he’d told reporters that TikTok would have to sell to a “big,” “very American” company by September 15th, apparently the result of some successful negotiating by Microsoft, which confirmed the September 15th date on its blog. This is, by unspoken but nationally-agreed-upon corporate office law, a verbal deadline. A soft deadline. Nonetheless TikTok employees, according to Business Insider, have designated the 15th “D-Day.”
Surprise! On August 14th, Trump signed another order forcing ByteDance to divest from its US assets within “no later than 90 days.” This was reasonably interpreted by the media as an “extension” of the “deadline” to November 12th. A deadline extension typically means that we all know that we’ll blow the first deadline, but we’re all committed enough to this project to drag it out.
On August 24th, TikTok (the company) and TikTok (the collection of employees comprising the company therein) filed separate lawsuits against the Trump Administration, both arguing that it violated due process with the hasty executive order, with the employees arguing that the administration was additionally depriving them of their paychecks. TikTok would have preferred, it says, a “constructive dialogue.” There seems to be one taking place, but largely between Trump and Trump on the subject of “what day is today, exactly?”
By yesterday, it seemed that people familiar with the matter have quietly agreed on September 20th, Bloomberg reported, with rumors that ByteDance wouldn’t be able to meet that deadline. Hours later, Bloomberg reported that Trump wouldn’t budge on his September 15th deadline, which again, is a date that appears nowhere in either executive order.
So when is the “TikTok deadline”? What is the “TikTok deadline”? Are these the ravings of a man whose scrambled attention span has been quantified by a leading national health expert as a “minus number”? What month is it, in Trump’s opinion? What do we take our cues from when almost nothing this president declares is legally enforceable but seems to happen regardless?
We’ve reached out to the White House to see if the president knows when 45 days from August 6th is, and if he’s aware of the current date. We will update if we hear back.