Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

We always assumed technology and the naked transparency of social media would feed people’s taste for freedom and thirst for democracy.

The big picture: Right now, that assumption looks flawed: Technology might actually solidify the standing of despots and provide them with a new way to exert their power. 

Ian Bremmer — political scientist, president and founder of Eurasia Group, and author of "Us vs. Them: The Failure of Globalism" — recently unpacked this issue in a letter to clients, and he was kind enough to give me permission to share it.

  • The backdrop: Through the Cold War and beyond, "the presumption was that the power of information — people with ideas — were ticking time bombs inside authoritarian regimes": That's why the Iron Curtain fell and the Soviet Union collapsed, why Tiananmen Square and the Arab Spring happened.
  • But as Bremmer was rethinking that, the tipping point came in Syria: The Russian government "provided a few hundred programmers to work with the [Syrian] military, with the intention of surveilling citizen communications through text monitoring and social media and identifying exactly who was a threat to the regime." Today, President Bashar Assad has all but won the war.
  • Why it matters: If "the world's most powerful authoritarian states can effectively marshal technologies that give them control over their people ... that's a much more geopolitically significant trade to keep favored despots in power than arms sales or even colonialism."

Bremmer says changing technology makes him think differently about political stability in China:

  • Advances "in facial recognition technology and big data possessed by [Chinese] authorities has dramatically reduced public demonstrations."
  • When everyone is registered in a public database and the Chinese government "can immediately determine who is an enemy of the people, you get fewer self-proclaimed enemies pretty quickly."

Be smart: Bremmer's takeaway isn't that authoritarianism wins. But more growing economies "will end up economically and politically (and eventually, militarily) aligning" with China — strengthening America's biggest rival.

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Updated 15 mins ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

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  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 4 p.m. ET: 4,918,927 — Total deaths: 160,737 — Total recoveries: 1,598,624 — Total tests: 59,652,675Map.
  3. Politics: White House recommends Trump issue executive orders on coronavirus aid.
  4. Education: Cuomo says all New York schools can reopen for in-person learning.
  5. Public health: Surgeon general urges flu shots to prevent "double whammy" with coronavirus — Massachusetts pauses reopening after uptick in coronavirus cases
  6. World: Africa records over 1 million coronavirus cases — Gates Foundation puts $150 million behind coronavirus vaccine production.

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President Trump. Photo: Jim Watsonn/AFP via Getty Images

President Trump tweeted on Friday that his administration is "going a different way" with coronavirus aid after negotiations with congressional Democrats stalled again, suggesting he will use an executive order to address stimulus spending.

What he's saying: "Pelosi and Schumer only interested in Bailout Money for poorly run Democrat cities and states. Nothing to do with China Virus! Want one trillion dollars. No interest. We are going a different way!" Trump tweeted.

Trump's swift, sweeping China offensive

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

President Trump's rhetoric on China has tended to run hotter than his actions — until now.

Why it matters: Even at the height of Trump's trade war, his administration never hit China as hard, as fast, and on as many fronts as it is right now.