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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

Donald Trump fancies himself a businessman — and has given himself a central role in determining the conduct and even the existence of major companies both domestic and foreign.

Why it matters: America has historically been a great place to operate a company under the rule of law, and not be beholden to political whim. Those days seem to be over — at least for companies in the communications industry.

Driving the news: The TikTok saga isn't over, but what we already know is that the future of this $60 billion company was directly threatened by President Trump and that Trump's unpredictable decision-making has already been key to its continued survival.

  • Trump has barely paid lip service to the idea that he's making his decision on national security grounds. Instead he talks about his friend Larry Ellison, the CEO of Oracle, which is looking to take a 12.5% stake in TikTok, or about a fund that may or may not teach children "the real history of our country."
  • Ellison's private conversations with Trump have been much more important than technical findings about the sanctity of American user data.

The big picture: TikTok is at heart a speech platform, which raises First Amendment issues for anybody seeking to ban it. Those issues are already front and center with respect to Trump's attempted ban of WeChat.

  • Trump attempted to get CNN president Jeff Zucker fired as a precondition for approving AT&T's acquisition of Time Warner, according to new reporting from the NYT's Ben Smith.
  • He has also banned private federal contractors from including discussions of systemic racism in their workplace training.

The bottom line: Companies have learned that if they act in ways that Trump approves of, they will have a much easier time than if they anger him.

  • TikTok users famously reserved thousands of tickets to a Trump rally and then didn't show up, embarrassing the president; CNN, similarly, has taken an anti-Trump stance. That put both companies in the presidential cross-hairs.

Go deeper

Off the Rails

Episode 3: Descent into madness ... Trump: "Sometimes you need a little crazy"

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photos: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Beginning on election night 2020 and continuing through his final days in office, Donald Trump unraveled and dragged America with him, to the point that his followers sacked the U.S. Capitol with two weeks left in his term. This Axios series takes you inside the collapse of a president.

Episode 3: The conspiracy goes too far. Trump's outside lawyers plot to seize voting machines and spin theories about communists, spies and computer software.

President Trump was sitting in the Oval Office one day in late November when a call came in from lawyer Sidney Powell. "Ugh, Sidney," he told the staff in the room before he picked up. "She's getting a little crazy, isn't she? She's really gotta tone it down. No one believes this stuff. It's just too much."

GOP plots payback for deplatforming Trump

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Capitol Hill conservatives are gaming out a multi-front war on the tech industry as retribution for deplatforming President Trump and others on the right, congressional sources tell Axios.

Why it matters: When you're in the minority, you figure out who you are as a party. With Republicans now looking up at the Democrats, they're searching for a unifying issue. This is one, at least for now.

Trump set to leave office with the lowest approval ratings of his presidency

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

President Trump is heading into his final days in office with the lowest approval ratings of his term, according to a set of new polls.

Why it matters: The polls indicate Trump has seen diminished support, even from his own party, in the wake of the deadly riot at the U.S. Capitol, with a majority of Americans favoring efforts in Congress to bar him from holding elected office again.