After months of wrangling over the future of TikTok, last weekend president Donald Trump signalled that a deal to allow the viral video app to keep operating in the US was closer than ever. A tie-up to hand Oracle and Walmart a stake in a new “TikTok Global” business was in the process of being finalised. Under the proposed agreement, Trump said, Oracle could receive oversight of TikTok’s US data, the company could be based in America and security would be “100 per cent”. It was a deal which had received Trump’s blessing.
There was, however, one surprising addition to the deal. At a rally in North Carolina on Saturday (US time), Trump said he had asked the companies to “do me a favour”. He had asked them if they could “put up $US5 billion ($7.1 billion) into a fund for education, so we can educate people as to the real history of our country – the real history, not the fake history… That’s their contribution that I’ve been asking for”.
So far, much appears still up in the air. In recent days, Oracle and TikTok’s Chinese owner ByteDance have issued conflicting statements over how the deal would be structured, with the latter claiming it would retain majority ownership of the new TikTok Global business, while Oracle stated it would be buying into a new mainly US-owned company.
In an editorial on Monday, Beijing-backed newspaper Global Times said China was unlikely to approve the agreement that appeared to be on the table, saying the terms showed “Washington’s bullying style and hooligan logic”. What’s more, detail on how the new education fund would fit into the deal has been scarce. On the one hand, ByteDance said it had no knowledge of the fund prior to Trump’s comments over the weekend.
On the other, Oracle suggested that the new TikTok Global company would “create an educational initiative to develop and deliver an AI-driven online video curriculum to teach children from inner cities to the suburbs a variety of courses, from basic reading and math to science, history and computer engineering”.
Right now, it’s a “bit of a head-scratcher”, admits Wedbush analyst Dan Ives. “The ink’s still not dry on the deal, so there’ll be a lot of back and forth in this game of high-stakes poker to try to get a tranche cut out for an education fund, but I think it still remains to be seen how it plays out. There’s a lot of noise with this deal, and a lot of parties, boards and governments are involved, all trying to claim victory.”
Trump’s move could be seen in this vein. Experts have said the slated deal with Oracle and Walmart marks a significant step-down from the initial plans to force a full sale of TikTok by ByteDance. The concession to have the firms required to pay into a US government fund, reportedly added in at the last minute, could go some way in assuaging criticism.
Yet, this may not be the only thing at play here. A “patriotic education fund” is not an idea that Trump pulled out of thin air at the rally. Last week, he announced a new initiative, titled the “1776 Commission”, which would involve setting up a “national commission to support patriotic education”.
The scheme was seen as a counter to The New York Times Magazine’s “1619 Project” which started as a special issue and has since been developed into a curriculum to place slavery at the centre of US history. Although in America, the federal government cannot dictate the curriculum taught in local schools, Trump’s new commission would “encourage our educators to teach our children about the miracle of American history and make plans to honour the 250th anniversary of our founding”, he said, and teach the youth to “love America”.
He warned that, for too long, “the Left has warped, distorted and defiled the American story”. Schools adopting the 1619 Project curriculum would “not be funded”, Trump tweeted.
Among educators, these proposals have prompted some concern. Last Thursday, the National Council for the Social Studies issued a statement in which it said it “resoundingly rejects any effort by the federal government to silence a social studies curriculum that explicitly addresses the centrality of slavery in the historical narrative of the United States”. Meanwhile, Grace Leatherman, the executive director of the National Council for History Education, said it was “so important not to overlook the parts of our history that are hard”. Trump’s claim that he is now introducing private companies into the equation, and urging them to bankroll this “patriotic” curriculum scheme, is “surprising”, she says.
“We’re very pro-funding for social studies and history education, but let’s just say this would be unprecedented.”
Trump may already be allocating cash from the TikTok deal to his education project but it is not over the line. This week, both sides appeared at loggerheads. His blessing may have moved it a step closer but what is clear is this is not yet a done deal.
Source: Thanks smh.com