In so many ways, the alleged plagiarism in Melania Trump’s RNC speech Monday night is the perfect encapsulation of the dissonance between the pro-Trump and anti-Trump forces currently at work in our political discourse. (Somehow, Right/Left and Republican/Democrat don’t feel entirely accurate.) The disregard required for passing off Michelle Obama’s words as Melania's, the low-esteem in which originality and creativity are held, and the dismissiveness about how serious plagiarism is (not to mention the brazenness with which they appear to have not thought or cared that they would get caught) all gels together into a kind of anti-intellectual “why should I give a crap?” sentiment that drives former composition teachers like myself up the wall.
But if there’s one dangerous question that we should never ask in this bus-station toilet of a nominating convention, it’s this: at least it can’t get any worse, right? Pardon me while I laugh/cry into my spiked coffee.
Early Tuesday morning, former dictator makeover guru and current Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort came up with his own unique take on the similarity between Trump and Obama’s speeches. “To think that she would be cribbing Michelle Obama’s words is crazy... This is, once again, an example of when a woman threatens Hillary Clinton, how she seeks out to demean her and take her down. It’s not going to work.”
If it weren’t so horrifyingly misogynistic, the nimbleness with which Manafort recasts this issue from a black mark on the campaign into “bitches be demeaning” is kind of hideously beautiful. It recalls Billy Crystal’s character from the 2001 film America’s Sweethearts, where he plays a promoter on a movie that’s tanking: “You're not here to love. You're here to promote. That's it. Period. You get word your mother died, hit by a bus or something? You go downstairs, shed a tear and say: ‘It’s a shame. She would've loved this movie.’”
But the misogyny is important here: not only does Manafort turn a discussion about respecting other people’s ideas and words into a catfight, but he also reduces Obama’s powerful speech to “common words and values, and she cares about her family and things like that.” It devalues not only Obama’s impressive oratory, but also the underlying idea that the story of the Obama family — and the importance of their principles — are somehow mundane.
Manafort has already doubled-down on his charge that Clinton is to blame for the dust-up over Trump’s speech, and other Donald Trump surrogates are flocking to defend her as well.
New Jersey Governor and jilted VP hopeful Chris Christie defended Trump while also pityingly patting her on the head. “These are not groundbreaking thoughts,” Christie said. “If we’re talking about seven percent of a speech that was really universally considered to be a good performance by Melania… I know her. There’s no way that Melania Trump was plagiarizing Michelle Obama’s speech.”
“I just don’t see it,” he said referring to the charges of plagiarism, which can only lead me to believe that he was, in fact, struck blind when he endorsed Donald Trump back in March and was caught on camera wordlessly screaming.
The myopia around the plagiarism in Trump’s speech hasn’t affected the whole Party: RNC Chairman Reince Priebus has said he’d “probably” fire whomever was responsible. Maybe it’s okay that even that seems unlikely to happen: a simple firing when we need a larger comprehensive conversation about plagiarism would be even more frustrating.