Why Melania Trump's convention speech was truly 'incredible.'

Melania Trump and Michelle Obama make party convention speeches in file photos (Reuters Pictures).

As the evening wore on at Monday’s opening of the Republican National Convention, I worked on other problems and projects until I turned to my TV in the midst of ex-New York mayor Rudy Giuliani’s screaming and arm waving. His voice became more hysterical as he tore into President Obama and Hillary Clinton, the assigned targets of the evening.

I had never heard Melania Trump speak and I saw her dignified presence as a relief. My guess was that, besides revealing the “human side” of her husband, she was meant to symbolize another non-Hillary identity of the campaign. Her husband would later praise her with, “Her speech and demeanor were absolutely incredible,” never sensing that his last word would be literally more true than he imagined.


By midnight social media had spread the word that her text had been plagiarized, i.e., key passages were word-for-word from Michelle Obama’s address to the Democrats in 2008. The networks stayed up late to cover the story, re-broadcasting key passages: both praise the “integrity, compassion and intelligence” of their families, and say, “we treat people with respect...we pass our lessons to the next generation...we want our children to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is in the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Plagiarization is to present the work of another writer as your own by using the other’s words and not giving the credit to the original writer. It is a serious offense. If a student uses the results of another’s research in a term paper without crediting the real author, he will at least receive an F, the offense will be recorded in his file and another offense could lead to dismissal. A journalist who plagiarizes may be fired. An offending college president would have to apologize to the faculty. Offending historians live with spoiled reputations.

Mrs. Trump told a reporter earlier that she wrote her talk, “with some help.” New Jersey governor Chris Christie says it’s not plagiarism because only seven percent was stolen. So Monday night from midnight to 1:00 a.m., the TV pundits debated among themselves while the Trump campaign ducked the problem. But one thing was clear. The responsible person—the one who inserted Michelle Obama’s material into Mrs. Trump’s speech— should quit or be fired immediately.

So far no one has taken responsibility.* Why does this matter? Because it reveals how Donald Trump deals with a problem. He hides. So far, by his silence, he has allowed the responsibility to fall upon his wife, as if she herself had stolen Michelle Obama’s ideas and words. Throughout the campaign the most consistent criticism of Mr. Trump by respected journalists and critics is that he frequently lies. To some observers this reveals Mr. Trump's inability to talk about his character or anything private. Paul Manafort, the campaign’s chairman, tried to blame Hillary Clinton. The campaign’s co-chairman claimed a “person helping write it...plucked something in” and there was “an oversight,” and Melania “didn’t have anything to do with it.” Nevertheless both Mr. and Mrs. Trump knew those lines were there, and they were good lines, and they knew they didn’t write them.

According to today’s New York Times investigative report, Mrs. Trump herself, plus her personal advisers, totally revised the original draft by the assigned speechwriters. They obviously turned to other speeches by presidents’ wives. Whether Mrs. Trump herself or her consultant made the “Let’s use Michelle Obama” decision they do not say. To black Americans it is one more example of white people appropriating black accomplishments. So far, no one is being held responsible— which says a lot about this campaign.

Inevitably the problem has expanded. Mrs. Trump’s personal website claims she got her degree in design and architecture at the University in Slovenia. But a recent biography claims that she dropped out in one year. The people of the United States deserve to know who is talking to them; and until they are told, the smell of this controversy and the dishonesty it represents will foul the air. Mr. Trump’s praise that she is “incredible” seems so. It means “not to be believed."

UPDATE, JULY 20, 9:23 p.m.: Wednesday afternoon’s apology by Melania Trump’s friend and speech writer Meredith McIver both half answers the question of “who dunnit” but reveals all the more the shallowness and confusion inside the campaign. We learn that Mrs. Trump “has always liked” Michelle Obama, so much so that she read her favorite Obama passages to Ms. McIver on the phone. The assistant did the obvious thing. She added them to the text. If only she had also added, “As Michelle Obama said in 2008” we would have no plagiarism controversy today and one member of the Trump family would appear broadminded and congenial. 

Raymond A. Schroth, S.J., is America’s literary editor.

* After this blog was written a Trump aide came forward and claimed responsibility for taking remarks from Mrs. Obama's speech.  

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J Cosgrove
2 years 6 months ago
I am glad that Fr. Schroth is criticizing President Obama because of plagiarism http://bit.ly/2ah9FAO http://bit.ly/2auVdBJ http://politi.co/2a9B2LJ And then there is Michelle Obama borrowing in her speech 8 years ago from Saul Alinsky http://bit.ly/2ahg9zE And let's not forget Joe Biden and his bouts with plagiarism http://cnn.it/29O0SC5 Hurrah for Fr. Schroth for finally seeing the light.
Douglas Fang
2 years 6 months ago
It’s not about simple plagiarism, it’s about laziness, sloppiness, and dishonesty of Trump’s campaign. http://www.bloomberg.com/view/articles/2016-07-19/melania-trump-s-plagiarism-confirms-your-fears They even came up with a “My Little Pony defense” ... LOL https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/compost/wp/2016/07/19/the-my-little-pony-defense/ Until finally the truth came out, this was indeed plagiarism. You can see how lazy and sloppy his staffer is… http://www.marketwatch.com/story/melania-trump-speechwriter-takes-blame-for-plagiarism-2016-07-20 But the real shocker is that Melania Trump, wife of world’s most famous birther, admires the Obamas’ American values!!! https://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/plum-line/wp/2016/07/20/shocker-melania-trump-wife-of-worlds-most-famous-birther-admires-the-obamas-american-values/?tid=pm_opinions_pop_b No wonder why Mitt Romney called Trump a “con man“, “a fake”, and “a phony”. http://www.politico.com/story/2016/03/full-transcript-mitt-romneys-remarks-on-donald-trump-and-the-2016-race-220176 I see no need for further comment...
J Cosgrove
2 years 6 months ago
For those interested here are the excerpts of the two speeches side by side. It is a small part of each speech. http://on.wsj.com/29UB9wy The reaction is amazing http://bit.ly/29MDsQW
William Rydberg
2 years 6 months ago
This doesn't look good! Are the Editors still working with the post-modern philosophy? Summed up as anything goes, no edits, no judgements.. Let's just say that the thought of a Senior Jesuit Father going after a potentially unelected possible First-Lady was inconcievable 10 years ago. America Magazine and the Jesuit Order seem to be diving to sad new lows. Has the New York Provincial ever heard of Public Scandal? This makes Catholicism look really bad. I wish that somebody in the American Jesuit Community had the intestinal fortitude to go direct to the Father General on this one. I have high hopes for the upcoming General Congregation. Pray for America's Jesuit Catholic Magazine... Just my opinion... in Christ,
Tom Maher
2 years 6 months ago
Oh please. What pretentious nonsense for media people such as Father Schroth and America Magazine to get down on all fours to smear Trump's wife Melania Trump over the media's ridiculously petty judgements of plagiarism that lack any significance so as to somehow stop Trump. The moralizing words of Father Schroth that "plagiarism is very serious" are very heavy-handed and reveals an unreasonable expectations of perfection from a person who is not a practiced orator and a person who is merely introducing herself to the public. Yet Father Schroth along with the BBC, MSNBC , CNN and other media have repeated the harshest versions of the imagined plagiarism as one of the greatest ethical problems of all times, full of all kinds of implications. This is complete nonsense and shows Father Schroth's and the media outlets extreme partisan biases against the Trump nomination for President. Clearly Trump is succeeding better than anyone would have expected and this latest spectacular Trump success of the actual convention unchallenged nomination is causing a fresh wave of alarm in the media. Another important mile stone has been past by Trump on his way to being elected President. This is causing panic among the media elites such as Father Schroth who would clearly prefer Hillary Clinton as President. The voting public however as in the past has repeatedly ignored the media's biased and baseless criticisms. The truth is Trump continues to gain in the polls. Trump continues unstopped to have an excellent chance of being elected President this November.
Tim O'Leary
2 years 6 months ago
Just for fun, I did a search on this site for references to plagiarized, plagiary & plagiarism. I see that Fr. Schroth has long been concerned about it in academia (articles in 2011 & 2012, see especially the Plagiarism Plague http://americamagazine.org/issue/5140/article/plagiarism-plague). I found only 2 two articles relating plagiarism and politics (excluding the combox). One refers to an attack on Hillary Clinton in 2008 for her charge of plagiarism against President Obama (of Deval Patrick http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/19/us/politics/19campaign.html?_r=0). It was about as egregious as Melania’s, in terms of word number and similarity. And Obama admitted later that he got it from Deval Patrick and should have credited him. However, Fr. Schroth never weighed in then and the America article was essentially a defense of Obama and an attack on Hillary for bringing it up. Moreover, there are hundreds of articles on Joe Biden over many years, and not one complains of his plagiarism, which was probably the most egregious in modern American politics (it torpedoed his campaign). Here is a short history of political plagiary charges from the UK Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/jul/19/short-history-political-pla And, don't forget JFK's whole cloth plagiarism of Ted Sorensen in Profiles in Courage :) So, I think we can say there is clearly a double standard in America and perhaps also of Fr. Schroth. Plagiarism of political allies is ignored at best or out rightly defended, but scorned in political opponents. As to the charge that Melania’s plagiarism was somehow evidence of racial insensitivity (Fr. Schroth: “To black Americans it is one more example of white people appropriating black accomplishments.”), that’s got to be one of the most ludicrous things I’ve seen published on this site. Finally, Michelle Obama may have been guilty of the same charge – taking the following from a 1992 Book by an African author Rob Marsh (“Business Success in South Africa”): “...is based upon the application of certain basic truths: that integrity is all important, that your word is your bond, that if you owe a person money you pay him back, that you work hard, enjoy what you do and show a loyalty to those with whom you work and do business. He instilled in me simple, clear cut values and a will to succeed.” Here is Michelle: “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; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them….And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” (I credit this site for this finding http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2016-07-19/did-michelle-obama-also-borrow-her-2008-speech). Someone should ask Michelle if she read Marsh's book. Or, maybe, we should focus on more substantial issues.
J Cosgrove
2 years 6 months ago
Tim, I find it ironic that one of the copied excerpts is "your word is your bond." Maybe Michelle should talk to Barack about this concept. Of course Melania should talk to Donald about this too.


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