I know it is long past it’s sell-by date, but I wanted to talk about Melania Trump’s plagiarism scandal. I’m not really interested in it from a political standpoint. It was amusing, of course. But that was just because it was yet another example of the total incompetence of the Trump campaign. I’m interested in it from an editorial standpoint. How do these things happen?
But I do think it is interesting that the Trump campaign shows itself to be incompetent again and again. Despite this, the American people watched the RNC, with one mistake after another. And their response was, “More of that!” Apparently, eight years of George W Bush was not enough. They are looking for another administration with the defining characteristic of incompetence. Disagree with Obama all you want, but at least admit that has been competent. Oh well. Whatever.
To me, the cause of Melania Trump’s plagiarism was pretty obvious. I know how it happened because I know how things get written. Imagine someone coming to you and asking that you write a speech for Donald Trump’s wife to give on the first night of the RNC. What you would do, if you were a professional writer, is find all the “wife” speeches from the last few decades. You would do that to give yourself some idea of what these speeches were like. Whether you were going to be conservative and do what was done before or radical and do something new, you would want to know what had been done before.
How an exact line gets into a speech is something I discussed before, Plagiarism and Publication Standards. It is a sign that the writer was a hack. I would certainly have read Michelle Obama’s speech. And I probably would have written down some notes. But I wouldn’t have copied parts of it unless my idea was to write something like, “And as Michelle Obama so eloquently put it…” Otherwise, you are probably planning to do a different kind of plagiarism.
One doesn’t have to copy another’s writing word-for-word to plagiarize. Consider my first paragraph above in all its banality. The following would be plagiarism, even if it is harder to catch:
I am late in addressing the subject, but it still seems worth while to discuss Melania Trump’s plagiarism scandal. I’ll leave the political aspects of it to others. Sure: it was funny — but not because of the plagiarism. It was funny because it was another example of the Trump campaign’s lack of professionalism. My interest today is in how such plagiarism happens.
The funny thing is that had Melania Trump’s speech plagiarized in that way, no one would have noticed or cared. It would have been just the another political speech that said nothing. One of the plagiarized bits was, “And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do…” Wow. It’s impressive only in how many cliches it managed to stuff into a single sentence.
America Wants Plagiarism
But had Michelle Obama said something interesting — something thoughtful — it would have been a controversy. Remember when Hillary Clinton got into trouble for saying she had better things to do than stay home and bake cookies? So that writer was smart to know what was said before. The people won’t stand for having their expectations challenged.
So when it comes to what is actually a much more serious form of plagiarism — the stealing of ideas — we aren’t against it. We do, in fact, demand it. I think we should embrace it. From now on, every spouse should just read the speech of Melania Trump. It was good enough. It said everything that needs to be said: nothing. And that’s what America wants.