Trump Administration Formally Bans TikTok, WeChat Apps from Online Stores in U.S.

“The U.S. Department of Commerce today announced that it will, as threatened, implement a ban on the TikTok and WeChat apps, thus censoring tools Americans use to communicate each other while blaming it all on China’s Communist rule.

As of Sunday, online mobile or app stores will not be able to distribute or update either WeChat or Tiktok. WeChat will further be banned from processing payments within the United States. This enacts President Donald Trump’s August executive orders, in which he claimed that the two apps threaten the United States due to their parent company’s ties to the Chinese government.”

Trump loves sanctioning foreign countries — but he’s terrible at it

“Change the Iranian regime’s behavior? Sanctions. Dismantle North Korea’s nuclear arsenal? Sanctions. Depose Venezuela’s dictator? You guessed it: Sanctions.

That indiscriminate wielding of America’s economic might — in a strategy his administration labels “maximum pressure” — is a trademark of Trump’s foreign policy. No president, in the minds of experts I spoke with, has relied so heavily on sanctions to solve intractable problems.

But at the same time, experts I spoke to said no president has failed so clearly to grasp the nature of financial warfare and how to deploy it effectively.

“I’ve never seen a president use sanctions as much or as clumsily,” said David Baldwin, an international economics expert at Princeton University. “He’s like a bull in a china shop.””

“Trump has little to show for his efforts. Iran’s leadership remains in power and is no closer to reaching a new diplomatic pact with the US over its nuclear program. North Korea’s nuclear and missile arsenals have grown in numbers and strength. And Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, still shows no sign of letting control of the country slip through his clenched fist.

That’s not to say Trump didn’t inflict economic harm on foreign countries, leaders, and individuals in his first term. US sanctions are directly responsible for deepening financial crises in all three nations, exacerbating woes caused by local mismanagement, corruption, and coronavirus outbreaks.

But that devastation has hurt millions of people in those countries much more than it has helped the Trump administration achieve its goals, making it easier for regimes to blame the US — and not themselves — for the pain.

The fundamental problem with Trump’s approach: He believes sanctions will get him what he wants, but he demands too much in return for their removal, or undermines them through weak enforcement and ever-shifting policies.”

“US sanctions can be very effective — and debilitating — but they work best when a president understands their limitations, how to make them stick, and when to coordinate them with other countries.

Otherwise, the nation those measures may end up isolating most is America”

Trump’s intelligence chief suspends in-person election security briefings

“The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) told Congress that it would no longer deliver in-person election security briefings, a move that’s angered lawmakers as Election Day approaches.

The change could make it more difficult for members of Congress to ask detailed questions about election security or press officials on their findings, a worrisome proposition for oversight in a year when foreign meddling has already been confirmed.”

“Ratcliffe explained to congressional leaders that the move is to prevent “unauthorized disclosures,” a.k.a. leaks, of sensitive information by members of Congress, which he suggested was taking place. (He didn’t explain why verbal briefings would be subject to leaks but written briefings would not.)”

“CNN, citing an ODNI official, reported that other intelligence entities that play a role in election security, including the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, will continue to brief lawmakers.”

“This change — with just two months until election day — comes after the National Counterintelligence and Security Center Director William Evanina confirmed in August that foreign actors were attempting to influence the 2020 election, calling out Russia, China, and Iran. The ODNI acknowledged that “Russia is using a range of measures to primarily denigrate former Vice President Biden,” but said China and Iran preferred Biden. Some Democrats had urged intelligence officials to release more information publicly so American voters could be on guard against election interference.”

“The ODNI’s decision to switch to mostly written briefings likely means intelligence officials will get to more tightly control what information is included in those reports. It’s not clear how thorough those briefings will be, and that may limit what details Congress and the public know about election security weeks before the election”

“By all accounts, Russia is at it again — and China and Iran, too, are contemplating strategies to undermine the 2020 election. That’s a national security threat to all Americans, but the public’s understanding of it is increasingly being shaped by partisan divisions. Foreign actors, like Russia, have tried to exploit these very divisions. And that ultimately makes it much easier for those interference activities to succeed in undermining American democracy.”

Trump, Self-Proclaimed Ender of Endless Wars, Is Reducing the U.S. Troop Presence in Iraq to Where It Was in 2015

“The Journal reports that the departure of some 1,700 troops from Iraq will occur over the next few months. Once gone, America’s military presence in that country will be where it was in 2015.

Under Trump, America’s troop commitment to our various foreign wars has oscillated; first surging then tapering off.

PolitiFact notes that when Trump came into office there were around 8,500 troops in Afghanistan. The president increased our military presence up to 14,000 personnel but has since drawn it back down to where it was at the beginning of Trump’s term. That number is supposed to fall to 4,000 in November.

Under Trump, the Defense Department has stopped publishing troop numbers in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria, making it difficult to get an accurate count of how much military personnel is in those countries. The Washington Post reported in July that the number of U.S. troops stationed abroad has slightly increased under Trump.

Outside of troop levels, Trump has amped up the drone war and vetoed a resolution to end U.S. participation in the war in Yemen. He has also escalated tensions with Iran by tearing up the 2015 nuclear deal signed under the Obama administration, reapplying sanctions, and deploying additional aircraft and ships to the region in response to alleged Iranian drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities.

In January, the Trump administration assassinated Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, provoking an Iranian missile counterattack on U.S. military bases in the country.”

Trump used the RNC to gaslight America on Covid-19

“If you believed the Republican National Convention, you’d think President Donald Trump has taken unprecedented action to defeat the Covid-19 pandemic. He bragged about the US doing more testing than any other country, the approval of new treatments, support for Americans hit hard by the economic downturn, and his work to expedite a vaccine.

“To save as many lives as possible, we are focusing on the science, the facts, and the data,” Trump said. “We are aggressively sheltering those at highest risk — especially the elderly — while allowing lower-risk Americans to safely return to work and school.”

Experts, and the data, tell a very different story — one in which Trump has let Covid-19 win.”

“A pandemic was always likely to be a challenge for the US, given the country’s large size, fragmented federalist system, and libertarian streak. The public health system was already underfunded and underprepared for a major disease outbreak before Trump.

Yet many other developed countries dealt with these kinds of problems too. Public health systems are notoriously underfunded worldwide. Australia, Canada, and Germany, among others, also have federalist systems of government, individualistic societies, or both.

Instead, experts said, it’s Trump’s leadership, or lack thereof, that really sets the US apart. Before Covid-19, Trump and his administration undermined preparedness — eliminating a White House office set up by the previous administration to combat pandemics, making cuts across other key parts of the federal government, and proposing further cuts.

Once the coronavirus arrived, Trump downplayed the threat, suggesting it would soon disappear “like a miracle.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) took weeks to fix botched tests, and the administration actively abdicated control of issues to local, state, and private actors.”

“A few other developed countries — including Belgium, France, and Italy — were caught off-guard by the Covid-19 pandemic and were hit hard early, suffering massive early outbreaks with enormous death tolls. But after those outbreaks, these countries and those around them generally took Covid-19 seriously: implementing lengthy and strict lockdowns, widespread testing and contact tracing, masking mandates, and consistent public messaging about the virus.

The US did not, even after an outbreak spiraled out of control in New York. It was this failure to act even after a major epidemic, and a continued failure to implement stronger measures as other large outbreaks occurred, that makes the US unique.”

“During the 2014 Ebola outbreak, President Barack Obama’s administration realized that the US wasn’t prepared for a pandemic. Jeremy Konyndyk, who served in the Obama administration’s Ebola response, said he “came away from that experience just completely horrified at how unready we would be for something more dangerous than Ebola,” which has a high fatality rate but did not spread easily in the US and other developed nations.

The Obama administration responded by setting up the White House National Security Council’s Directorate for Global Health Security and Biodefense, which was meant to coordinate the many agencies, from the CDC to the Department of Health and Human Services to the Pentagon, involved in contagion response.

But when John Bolton became Trump’s national security adviser in 2018, he moved to disband the office. In April 2018, Bolton fired Tom Bossert, then the homeland security adviser, who, the Washington Post reported, “had called for a comprehensive biodefense strategy against pandemics and biological attacks.” Then in May, Bolton let go the head of pandemic response, Rear Adm. Timothy Ziemer, and dismantled his global health security team. Bolton claimed that the cuts were needed to streamline the National Security Council, and the team was never replaced.

In the months before the coronavirus arrived, the Trump administration also cut a public health position meant to detect outbreaks in China and another program, called Predict, that tracked emerging pathogens around the globe, including coronaviruses. And Trump has repeatedly called for further cuts to the CDC and National Institutes of Health, both on the front lines of the federal response to disease outbreaks; the administration stood by the proposed cuts after the pandemic began, though Congress has largely rejected the proposals.

The Trump administration pushed for the cuts despite multiple, clear warnings that the US was not prepared for a pandemic. A 2019 ranking of countries’ disaster preparedness from the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and Nuclear Threat Initiative had the US at the top of the list, but still warned that “no country is fully prepared for epidemics or pandemics.”

A federal simulation prior to the Covid-19 pandemic also predicted problems the US eventually faced, from a collapse in coordination and communication to shortages in personal protective equipment for health care workers.”

“South Korea, which has been widely praised for its response to coronavirus, tested more than 66,000 people within a week of the first community transmission within its borders. By comparison, the US took roughly three weeks to complete that many tests — in a country with more than six times the population.

Asked about testing problems in March, Trump responded, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” In June, Trump claimed that “testing is a double-edged sword,” adding that “when you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people — you’re going to find more cases. So I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please.’”

The testing shortfall was a problem few thought possible in the wealthiest, most powerful nation on earth. “We all kind of knew if a biological event hit during this administration, it wasn’t going to be good,” Saskia Popescu, an infectious disease epidemiologist, told me. “But I don’t think anyone ever anticipated it could be this bad.””

“The most aggressive steps Trump took to halt the virus — travel restrictions on China and Europe imposed in February and March, respectively — were likely too limited and too late. And to the extent these measures bought time, it wasn’t properly used.

The federal government is the only entity that can solve many of the problems the country is facing. If testing supply shortfalls in Maine are slowing down testing in Arizona or Florida, the federal government has the resources and the legal jurisdiction to quickly act. Local or state offices looking for advice on how to react to a national crisis will typically turn to the federal government for guidance.

But the inaction, contradictions, and counterproductive messaging created a vacuum in federal leadership.”

“After the initial wave of coronavirus cases began to subside in April, the White House stopped its daily press briefings on the topic. By June, Trump’s tweets and public appearances focused on Black Lives Matter protests and the 2020 election — part of what Politico reporter Dan Diamond described, based on discussions with administration officials, as an “apparent eagerness to change the subject.”

Then another wave of coronavirus infections hit beginning in June, peaking with more than 70,000 daily new cases, a new high, and more than 1,000 daily deaths.

America’s response to the initial rise of infections was slow and inadequate. But other developed countries also struggled with the sudden arrival of a disease brand new to humans. The second surge, experts said, was when the scope of Trump’s failure became more apparent.

By pushing states to open prematurely, failing to set up national infrastructure for testing and tracing, and downplaying masks, Trump put many states under enormous pressure to reopen before the virus was under control nationwide. Many quickly did — and over time suffered the consequences.”

“One explanation for the shortfalls in the US response is Trump’s obsession with getting America, particularly the economy, back to normal in the short term, seemingly before Election Day this November. It’s why he’s called on governors to “LIBERATE” states. It’s why he’s repeatedly said that “the Cure can’t be worse than the problem itself.” It’s one reason, perhaps, he resisted embracing even very minor lifestyle changes such as wearing a mask.

The reality is that life will only get closer to normal once the virus is suppressed. That’s what’s working for other countries that are more earnestly reopening, from Taiwan to Germany. It’s what a preliminary study on the 1918 flu found, as US cities that emerged economically stronger back then took more aggressive action that hindered economies in the short term but better kept infections and deaths down overall.

“Dead people don’t shop,” Jade Pagkas-Bather, an infectious diseases expert and doctor at the University of Chicago, told me. “They can’t stimulate economies.””

Trump was supposed to change the GOP. But the GOP changed him.

“Trump is not enthusiastic about implementing popular policies, or really thinking or engaging on policy at all. Even when his administration has implemented policy, he has seemed confused, checked out, or even at odds with his own administration’s positions or actions — including on a massive tax cut package, agency-level deregulation, installation of judges, and the response to Covid-19.

Trump, it turns out, is extremely enthusiastic about Trump and other people who are enthusiastic about him, regardless of whether they are hardline conservatives or conspiracy theorists, rather than Republicans in line with his populist rhetoric. He is extremely enthusiastic about attacking those who are not enthusiastic about Trump. The result is that Trump functions as an opposition leader, defining himself and the Republican Party not by a set of policies but by their opposition to those who oppose Trump. Meaning, most importantly, the left.”

“Even before the pandemic, there was comparatively little Republican voter support for cutting federal spending on health care and education. Before “Infrastructure Week” became a long-running joke, it was a Trump campaign promise, one with high levels of support from Republican voters. And that hasn’t changed — according to Fox News polling conducted earlier this month, 57 percent of Americans want more assistance from the federal government, not less.
Teles told me, “The problem is that the Republican Party’s actual voters — as well as those they aspire to attract — have shifted in a working-class direction. And those voters need government to actually do things for them. They need something like a coherent program for driving economic growth, they need new systems of social insurance, and they need a functioning public health system that would allow them to go to work. All of that requires a kind of planning and implementation capacity, and a relationship between a large base of technical expertise and networks of officials across government to drive change, that does not exist.”

RNC internal documents obtained by the Washington Examiner and released this week show that the GOP is well aware of its voters’ discontent. As detailed by writer Joseph Simonson, voters who switched from Obama to Trump in the Rust Belt “favor stronger social safety nets and hawkishness on trade, rather than typical GOP orthodoxies such as lower tax rates and an easier regulatory environment for businesses. That is not to say these voters oppose those things, but the rhetorical obsession from GOP donors and members of the party do little to excite one-time Trump voters.””

CNN fact-checked Trump’s RNC speech on air. It took 3 minutes.

“It’s quite the list, but this level of lying and misleading isn’t new to Trump. According to the Washington Post, Trump has now made more than 20,000 public false or misleading claims since he assumed office.

As my colleague Matt Yglesias has argued, there’s something more to this than just lying — it’s bullshitting. Here’s Princeton University philosophy professor Harry Frankfurt, explaining the concept:

“For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.”

It’s not just that Trump is lying. It’s that Trump doesn’t seem to care at all for the truth. What he says is only meant to make him look good.”

Why this former Republican says the party must be burned to the ground

“Well, I would’ve said back in the Dark Ages, like four years ago, that 90 percent of the party would agree on some core principles. We could differ on issues here and there, but we all mostly believed in the importance of character, in personal responsibility, in free trade, in being tough on Russia, in fiscal sanity and legal immigration.

What gets me is not just that the party has drifted away from all of those things, because sometimes parties do that. It’s that we’re actively against all these things now. I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like that in modern politics and I really don’t think we’ve seen anything like it in American politics. Just a complete moral and policy collapse of a party.”

“this stuff goes all the way back to the “Southern Strategy” in the Nixon White House. Race is the original sin of the Republican Party and, again, you can see how this stretches back to 1964. There was obviously a racist element to the party before. I mean, now we view William Buckley as this lost erudite voice, but we forget that Buckley started out as a stone-cold racist defending segregation. His second book was defending McCarthyism. He later recanted and wrote eloquent stuff about why he was wrong. But that element was always there.

I never thought the party was perfect. I freely admit that I was a campaign guy. I admit it, it’s just the truth. I never worked in government. I never really thought a lot about it. I was always in the business of electing candidates and thought of my role like a defense lawyer. In retrospect, I wish had thought about it more.”

“I would look at Newt Gingrich as part of the dark side, but I don’t think that was true of George Bush. I really don’t. I think that he felt very passionately about expanding the party. He felt very passionately about the party appealing more to Hispanics. He really cared about education.

If you go back and you read his acceptance speech in 2000, it reads like a document from a lost civilization. It really is about humility and service and helping others. And I don’t think that was phony. I think Bush is incapable of phoniness. I think what you see is what you get with him. And that’s I think what he believed, and I think he believed he could take the party in that direction.”

“I look back at 2016 and see that a lot of people were wrong about Trump. It’s very hard to find anybody who was more wrong than me. I didn’t think he’d win the primary, I didn’t think he’d win the general. And I realized in retrospect it’s because I didn’t want to believe that. I didn’t want to believe this party that I’ve worked in would nominate this guy who’s talking about having sex with his daughter in public. I didn’t think the party would do that. I was an idiot, but I didn’t. And Trump made all of this impossible to ignore.

So then there was the stage that a lot of people went through, and I went through for a while I guess, saying this isn’t really the Republican Party. But I don’t see how you can sustain that. It’s like trying to pretend that the Confederacy wasn’t about slavery. The party has abandoned any positive aspirations or values it might have had.”