I’m not going to lie. I love Michelle Obama. I think she is the classiest first lady ever. Her intellect, passion, poise and strength are always on display. She is a person of substance.
So when I heard Melania Trump plagiarize from Michelle Obama’s 2008 convention speech, I was angry. It seemed just another indignity heaped on this classy woman. I mean, the right has vilified her for years, and now the third wife of their fascist candidate lifts a portion of her speech?
(There is a particular irony that the portion she plagiarized had to do with the values instilled in her by her parents “That your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise.)”
Melania claims to have written the speech with as little help as possible. This would be laughable except it’s the Trump campaign.
It’s easy to write the jokes about Melania. They practically write themselves. But I try not to—I do not want to be the kind of woman who tears down other women. So I am trying to come to a different understanding of Melania.
When not engaging in the art of commentary, I have the great honor of teaching at the college level. In the beginning of my teaching career, an international student from Poland turned in a paper that seemed eerily familiar. Upon closer reading, I realized that she had plagiarized from the very book I had assigned for the course.
I found myself frustrated. Why was this student so unethical as to believe that it is ok to steal another person’s work? Why did she think so little of me that she thought I would not recognize the work I had assigned?
It seems that my student was so nervous about writing that she modeled her work after those I had assigned. Careless, she copied portions and at least in some instances, seemed unaware she had done so.
It’s possible that something similar happened with Melania Trump. Perhaps she watched the speeches of previous candidates’ wives for inspiration. I can see her trying on the role of first lady and picking the very best model to emulate.
Perhaps Michelle Obama’s story did resonate with Melania and she did not even realize she was stealing not only Michelle Obama’s words, but also her life story (talk about appropriation!).
It is also possible that Melania Trump is as craven and unethical as her husband.
Still- the incident highlights the way that it’s amateur hour over at the RNC. If Melania Trump did write her speech, why did no one vet it? Where are the professionals over at the RNC to make sure that the candidate’s wife, a non-native English speaker and a woman with no political experience, doesn’t embarrass herself, the candidate, or the party? If she didn’t write her speech, who the hell are these speech writers?
But I guess this is not news either. If the professionals were in charge, Donald Trump would not be the nominee. Reince Preibus can say that Trump is good for the party, but when your speakers include stars from Happy Days and Duck Dynasty, you have clearly given up.
Republicans have spent the better part of 9 years vilifying Barack and Michelle Obama. The surprise here is not that the Trump show has no class- but that in desperately trying to belong, Melania Trump looked to Michelle Obama as a model.
Maybe it’s not a surprise. Michelle Obama has epitomized class and grace under fire. If I were Melania, I might think that’s a good model for the coming months.
Why is Melania a problem to be fixed? Damn I’m sick of the trash. I am not a Trumpette but this is no way to treat a lady. My word is my bond is as American as a handshake. Our First Lady may have coined the speech but it should be every American’s mantra. It was a short effective very heart felt speech. What words would you have used?
Thanks for the comment. I am sorry the tone offended you. The title is actually a reference to the song “How do you solve a problem like Maria?” from The Sound of Music. I actually think in my piece I am trying not to trash Melania. As a professor, if a student handed in a paper that had two paragraphs (it is not just the phrase “my word is my bond”) that were taken from someone else’s work, I would give them a failing grade for plagiarism. As a professor, I do think it matters. I also in the piece offer an insight into how this might have happened- and suggest that it was not intentional (as I have had happen with foreign students). Still, I believe a) she should have used her own words and talked from the heart about her own unique experiences (and not those of Michelle Obama) and that b) someone in the campaign should have been paying attention to this and recognized it before sending her on stage to be exposed in this way. I also think it’s important that she plagiarized from a woman who the right has vilified for years. Plagiarism matters as it is fundamentally dishonest. If we as a culture excuse it, we risk excusing all sorts of dishonesty. And I am afraid that that kind of playing fast and loose with the truth characterizes much of what is going on in Cleveland this week. Still, I appreciate you engaging in discussion.
-Rachel, Politics in Pink