Donald Trump Quoted A Nigerian Poem On St. Patrick's Day Because He Thought It Was Irish
Another day, another needless flub. It's like a never-ending cycle, an ebb and flow to this new administration ― according to the Washington Post, President Trump has made 257 false or misleading statements in a mere 57 days in office, and has only twice made it a full 24 hours without voicing one. Some of them are hugely damaging and consequential, like his unsupported (and unraveled) claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the election. And some are just plain embarrassing, like when Trump quoted a Nigerian poem on St. Patrick's Day, falsely believing its author was Irish.
Trump was speaking at a St. Patrick's Day event welcoming Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny to the United States when he invoked what he called a "good" Irish proverb that he'd heard for "many, many years," and loved. Despite claiming this was a saying he was personally familiar with and admired, Trump wasn't reciting the allegedly Irish proverb from memory, but rather reading it somewhat haltingly off of a page in front of him. It's a pretty perfunctory gesture of goodwill to extend to a foreign head of state, sure, but at least he put in the effort, right? Here's how it sounded, and what he said.
As we stand together with our Irish friends, I'm reminded of that proverb, and this is a good one, this is one I like, I've heard it for many, many years and I love it: "Always remember to forget the friends that proved untrue, but never forget to remember those that have stuck by you." We know that, politically speaking, a lot of us know that, we know it well. It's a great phrase.
But here's the thing: As many Irish social media users noted after Trump dropped this line, and as became apparent when people started digging, it really doesn't seem like this is an Irish proverb at all. To the contrary, as CNN details, it seems as though it's actually a brief excerpt taken from a poem written by a Nigerian bank manager, Albasheer Adam Alhassan, back when he was a college student.
Bustle has reached out to the White House for comment, and as of yet it has not replied. Alhassan told CNN he was bowled over when he heard his line had somehow made its way into the president's mouth, albeit falsely attributed to the Irish people:
My sister just brought the news to me. I didn't want to believe what she said initially. I posted those things when I was back in school, over 10 years ago. I never thought it would get to this level. Maybe I shouldn't have been a banker, maybe I should have been a poet all my life!
This, of course, raises a pretty simple question: How on Earth did the Trump team come to believe what they had on their hands was a genuine Irish proverb? That's the basic assumption you have to operate from, unless you assume somebody deliberately wanted to embarrass the president.
Luckily, there seems to be a pretty simple answer. Like so many quotations that float around the internet with improper sourcing, at some point that fragment of Alhassan's poem began circulating under the false notion that it was an Irish proverb. It's worth noting that it's impossible to know for certain whether Alhassan was the poem's originator, too — as NBC News notes, similar passages have been discovered dating back to 1936, although none have been credited as Irish in origin.
While the credibility of that claim would probably be thrown into doubt by a rigorous fact-checking effort ― an important task given the high-profile nature of how it was to be used, especially given the prevalence of fake quotes on the internet ― it's not hard to see how this would happen if somebody didn't do their due diligence. After all, if you simply type "Irish proverb" into Google, the top result links to a list of quotes which includes the one Trump read aloud.
So, there you have it. By all outside appearances, this looks like a case of a lazy Google job that made it all the way into the president's St. Patrick's Day remarks. Again, this isn't the most consequential error or misstatement to come out of the administration so far. Still, as an indication of the administration's rigor and due diligence, it's hard to feel even the slightest bit reassured by any of this.