I’ve just had a very disturbing experience. I was viewing some clips about the current US political scene – mostly focused on the upcoming presidential election between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump (pace third party candidates). Reading some of the comments I found myself becoming annoyed at the wilful ignorance and selective bias of many of the pro-Trump contributors. I remembered a clip I’d seen a while back in which a much younger Trump was ridiculing Republican voters and saying if he ever wanted to be president it would be easy to manipulate them into supporting because they were so stupid. I thought it would be the perfect response to some of the more egregiously pro-Trump posts to just put up a link to the interview.
This is Trump in 1988 on being asked about a presidential run:
This was the interview I remembered – the cocky brat lounging insolently with his expensive suit and elaborate coiffure. I didn’t remember Oprah (I vaguely had the idea it had something to do with People or Rolling Stone), but the backdrop, the lighting, the body-language fitted perfectly with my recollection. All I had to do was Google “trump republicans stupid” to be directed to the relevant clip, right?
Yes! The words fitted perfectly with what I remembered and they were exactly the way Trump expresses himself. That’s what he said and that’s just how I remembered it. You can see from the backdrop that it’s clearly the same interview. The only thing left was to find the relevant video on Youtube.
The problem is there isn’t any such video. There most likely never was. I made the whole thing up in my head and I believed it as surely as I believe most things I remember. The quote is a meme that I probably saw either on my internet trawls or in a Facebook post somewhere. At some point, editing software in my brain must have spliced it seamlessly with the Oprah interview. If ‘d half-remembered the People connection that must have come from the meme, and that Fox News was hardly a player in 1998 must have just slipped past me – he surely meant “right wing mainstream media” and that’s what I ‘heard’.
But I’m a smart person with excellent recall so I felt sure if I kept on digging I’d be proven right in what I remembered. But the opposite happened – everywhere I looked the signs pointed to it being a fake quote.
And yet …. here are some quotes from a Reddit forum:
- “I know I saw it too, because I remember the intonation of his voice when he was saying it, and I thought, how in the world can people watch this and feel he’s worth a vote? “
- “I forwarded the video to a friend on 6/11. It has been edited since then; the quote removed. Weird”
- “I absolutely without an inkling of doubt saw the video!! I thought to myself I can’t wait till it’s plastered everywhere on tv. I had a conversation with my Uber driver 2wks ago, discussing all things insane about Trump. When I mentioned the video she responded with, “you saw that video?” “
- “i remember this too. i saw the video and shared it on FB.”
- “Yes ! I saw the same video and when I went to search for it this morning to prove for a friend- it’s GONE! Wth! How is this even legal????”
- “I was talking to my husband about this, we were both sure we had seen this video and were wondering why the memes all say People Magazine”
- “I saw the video too. My ex-wife (who I get along well with) forwarded me the link. I watched it and thought, ‘wow, what a gaff, this is going to haunt him in this race.’ “
Of course, a conspiracy has now been born that involves mysterious powers deleting something that actually happened across the whole internet, no less. Like most conspiracies it would only require one person on the entire planet to have made a copy of the Youtube clip or have the original interview on an old VHS tape gathering dust in the attic for the whole house of cards to come tumbling down. It’s an invidious choice – either you have to accept that recorded facts witnessed by millions of people can be ‘deleted’ from history or that hundreds or even thousands of unrelated people can independently misremember what would appear to be the very same thing. As a rational person I have to accept the latter, even though it goes against my own powerful recollection.
Memory is a fickle, subjective thing. If it’s not supported by present reality we have to ultimately reject it, even if it won’t go down without a fight – the alternative is a step on the road to madness.