Donald Trump Jr. Thinks Obama Plagiarized Him, Because He's Confused About What Plagiarism Means

During the Republican National Convention, it was revealed that several lines from Melania Trump’s speech were lifted from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention. Now, perhaps unsurprisingly, Donald Trump Jr. has accused President Obama of plagiarism, because both Trump Jr. and Obama used the line “that’s not the America I know” in their respective convention speeches. It’s a laughable claim, but all right, let’s debunk it anyway.

Here’s what Trump Jr. said in Cleveland:

There's so much work to do. We will not accept the current state of our country because it's too hard to change. That's not the America I know. We're going to unleash the creative spirit and energy of all Americans. We're going to make our schools the best in the world for every single American of every single ethnicity and background.

And here’s what Obama said in Philadelphia:

What we heard in Cleveland last week wasn't particularly Republican, and it sure wasn't conservative. What we heard was a deeply pessimistic vision of a country where we turn against each other and turn away from the rest of the world. There were no serious solutions to pressing problems, just the fanning of resentment and blame and anger and hate. And that is not the America I know.

To answer his question literally, the outrage is non-existent, because there is no legitimate reason for anybody to be outraged. The sentiment being expressed in the two speeches is, of course, completely different. Moreover, the only commonality between Obama and Trump Jr.’s speeches is the line “that’s not the America I know,” and that phrase was around long before the younger Trump took the stage in Cleveland.

For example, President George W. Bush used that line in 2002:

In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect. Women who cover their heads in this country must feel comfortable going outside their homes. Moms who wear cover must be not intimidated in America. That's not the America I know. That's not the America I value.

Earlier this year, Hillary Clinton said the same thing during a speech attacking Donald Trump’s foreign policy chops:

[M]aking Donald Trump our commander-in-chief would be a historic would fuel an ugly narrative about who we are – that we’re fearful, not confident; that we want to let others determine our future for us, instead of shaping our own destiny. That’s not the America I know and love.

And, why, it looks like Obama himself used the line before Trump Jr., during a speech in 2010:

Instead of setting our sights higher, [Republicans are] asking us to settle for a status quo of stagnant growth, eroding competitiveness, and a shrinking middle class. Cleveland, that is not the America I know. That is not the America we believe in.
Alex Wong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

And so on. This is an instance where the phrase in question really is too generic to qualify as an original thought, and certainly too generic to be susceptible to plagiarism. Compare that to Melania Trump’s speech, which appropriated an entire paragraph and several themes and concepts from Michelle’s speech in 2008.

Plagiarism in political speeches is — let’s be honest — not exactly the most pressing issue facing the country right now. Still, it should be called out when it happens, as the willingness to plagiarize does say something about a politician's character. That said, Trump Jr.’s complaints are without merit, amount to nothing more than a vapid attention grab, and should be seen as exactly that.