Monday, July 03, 2017

The long memory of the Internet -- Trump then and now

The Internet has a long memory -- check for yourself by googling "early Trump interviews" and filtering for videos.

In the early days of the Intenet, we naively expected its political impact to be rosy -- leading to informed, intelligent discussion and a flowering of democracy. Many of us held on to that vision as we watched the use of the Internet during the "Arab Spring," but our optimism has eroded steadily since that time. Terrorist recruiting, fake news and lying politicians have dominated recent discussion of the political impact of the Internet, but I have some good news -- the Internet has a long, albeit imperfect, memory.

This was driven home for me by a recent segment on John Oliver's TV show Last Week Tonight. After Donald Trump fired FBI Directory James Comey, he tweeted that he might have recordings of their three previous meetings. Oliver showed and commented on a Fox News interview of Trump after he admitted that he had not recorded the meetings.

Watching the interview, I was amazed by the incoherence of Trump's speech and his dull expression and tone. His wife, who was standing beside, him seemed frozen. I was so impressed by his incoherence that I searched for the clip online and downloaded and transcribed it.

Oliver introduced the interview segment by stating that:
You may remember back in May Trump suggested on Twitter that he may have tapes of his conversations with deposed FBI director James Comey. Well, on Thursday, Trump finally admitted that he had no such tapes and offered this rationale for his claim.

Here is the Transcript of Trump's explanation:

Trump: Well, if I didn't tape him you'd never know what's happening when you see that the Obama administration and perhaps longer than that was doing all of this unmasking and surveillance that you read all about it and I've been reading about it for the last couple of months about the seriousness of the and the horrible situation with surveillance all over the place and you've been hearing the word unmasking, a word you probably never heard before, so you never know what's out there, but I didn't tape and I don't have any tape and I didn't tape.

(Oliver jokes)

Trump continues:When he found out that uh I you know that there may be tapes out there, whether its government tapes or anything else and who knows, I think his story may have changed. I mean you'll have to take a look at that because then he has to tell what actually took place at the events and my story didn't change, my story was always a straight story. My story was always the truth, but you have to determine for yourself whether or not his story changed, but i did not take.

Interviewer: That was a smart way to make sure he stayed honest in his hearings.

Trump: Well, uh, it wasn't uh it wasn't very stupid I can tell you that.

(Oliver jokes)
You can see interview (2:47) along with Oliver's commentary here:

Trump's self-defeating incoherence led me to wonder if he might be mentally impaired, so I searched for other examples online and it turns out that Trump's speech patterns today are strikingly different than when he was younger. For example this survey article compares clips of Trump's earlier interview responses with those of today. Experts interviewed for the article agree that Trump's speech has deteriorated, but all qualified their observations by pointing out that one could not determine the cause without clinical examination -- it could be the onset of dementia, but it could also be explained by normal healthy aging, being tired, stress and pressure, or it might even be a strategic appeal to relatively uneducated voters. I'd throw in narcissism and obsession with Obama as well.

Regardless, the Internet has a long memory -- check for yourself by googling "early Trump interviews" and filtering for videos.

update 7/4/2017

An article in the Atlantic Monthly posits another possible reason for Trump's mental decline, citing research showing that power can lead to a leader's loss of mental capacity -- a phenomenon one researcher refers to as "hubris syndrome."

I experienced this personally when I spent a year and a half as a consultant to the CEO of a large corporation. I was in many meetings with the CEO and various managers and vendors. People jockeyed to sit next to him around a conference table and seldom disagreed with anything he said. It was a status symbol to refer to him by his first name. I had the strong impression that being in a status bubble all day for years had made him somewhat narcissistic and overconfident.

Similarly, Trump is the boss in business and a fan of his cheering, enthusiastic base at political rallies. Perhaps he cannot conceive of being wrong, resulting in flustered incoherence when he is criticized or asked a probing question. Few people would have a sufficiently strong character, sense of purpose or justice not to be affected by being surrounded by "yes people" for years.