The Democrats’ Green-Eyed Monster

My mother always had a simple explanation for what often seemed like a complicated problem.  For example, when she’d discuss the animosity that many non-Americans held for the beloved country to which she had emigrated as an infant, she ‘d explain it away in one word:  Jealousy.

I thought of this when all the hoopla erupted over the so-called “plagiarism” in the speech Melania Trump so eloquently delivered at the GOP convention Before those groundless  post-speech charges, Melania had been  widely praised for her poise, charm and good sense. She’s an accomplished businesswoman, a linguist, philanthropist, loving wife and mother.

But now, because there seem to have been some elements in common between her speech and the one delivered by the wife of another presidential  nominee,  Barack Obama,  at the Democrat convention eight long years ago,  Mrs. Trump’s  credibility, her sincerity,  and even her usefulness to her husband’s campaign  are being called into question. 

Why am I not surprised?  As one talking head admitted some days ago, Melania Trump is “almost breathtakingly beautiful.”  My only question for him is why he used the term “almost.”  She’s a stunner, a knockout, a statuesque goddess.   Perhaps the feeling is that such qualities are no longer in fashion among serious women.   Tell that to the buyers and stockholders invested in Victoria’s Secret.  Or to the ambitious liberal Hollywood bombshells, who spend thousands on their clothing and grooming to  make a jaw-dropping impression on the red carpet.   You might even say it of Hillary Clinton, who forked over $12,000 on a pinkish tweed Armani creation that is being facetiously compared --in  a cartoon gone viral --  to a Hoover vacuum bag. 

The compelling nature of Melania’s convention speech was perhaps best reflected in one of the delegates caught on camera leaning blissfully forward on his elbows, and  looking lost in the rapture of what this beautiful woman was saying about devotion to family and dedication to country.  The star-struck voyeur didn’t clap once during her presentation.  But there he was on camera, still staring at the podium in a euphoric trance.

Plagiarism in political palaver is nothing new.  Among the most serious offenders was Joe Biden, who did it so blatantly during his first run for the presidency that he was forced to withdraw from the race. And Doris Kearns Goodwin, whose direct appropriation of a considerable swath of another author’s words was as obvious as the nose on her face.  

The definition of “plagiarism” is “the practice of taking someone else’s work, ideas or language and passing it off as one’s own.”  To rise (or fall) to this definition,  the  appropriated material must somehow be considered unique.

Humans communicate all the time in a variety of ways and on many of the same general subjects, a practice that results in plenty of duplication of ideas and verbiage.  Every time I think I have an unusual thought, for example, I hear it expressed on some news outlet not long afterwards.    I guess that’s the origination of the expression “great minds think alike.”

 Could I sue the user for plagiarism if he basically expresses the same opinions I do by using some of the same common terms?  Can I call him to account it if turns out that he has an identical perspective on a general issue, though I enunciated it first?  Certainly not!  On the other hand, can I consider bringing charges if he lifts my thoughts word for word from some public pronouncement I made years earlier?  Possibly.

An example:  Winston Churchill is famous for the many unusual turns of phrase in his speeches.  He is also, incidentally, often given credit for quotes that he never  actually made.  For instance, he is wrongly reputed to have said, “Courage is what it takes to stand up and speak; courage is also what it takes to sit down and listen.” 

Let us assume that when Donald Trump stands to speak before the GOP Convention this today, he  shouts, “I would say to this assembly as I said to those who have joined this government  ‘I have  nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat.’”  These are the direct words spoken by Churchill in May of 1940, when he received a commission from His Majesty to form a new administration. 

If, say, The Donald – or his speechwriter – were foolish enough to try to pawn these famous words off on the conventioneers as his own, he would be booed for his obvious plagiarism.  But these terms are unique and they have also become historically associated with somebody else.   If Churchill had said, instead, “I have nothing to offer but determination, long hours, and a good work ethic,” the sentiment would have been too prosaic and too unoriginal to be considered plagiarism if  lifted by a future speaker.   

I have listened to the words used by Michelle and Melania. Both speak of the values instilled in them by their parents, of their honesty and respect for the truth.  Is the expression of such generally beneficial attributes unique to Michelle Obama?  If Melania intimates that she has faith in her husband because he is a good man, does this mean she has plagiarized from a woman who has said the same?  I submit that a couple of the phrases are similar, but there is nothing either intrinsically  distinctive about what Michelle said eight years ago to call Melania a plagiarist. 

Still, some Republicans have become fearful of all criticism of the Trumps.  And more than some Democrats are gleeful to provide it.  Instead of viewing the isolated similarities in phrasing for what they are -- mountains out of molehills  -- the issue has been allowed to loom out of proportion, even to the point of demanding that the speech writer be fired.  We don’t even know if he (or she) intentionally borrowed ideas from Michelle’s speech.    No wonder Donald J. Trump has trouble creating jobs! 

I can well imagine the First Lady fuming over the fact that some other political wife dared to state publically that she shares the same feelings  and dreams as she,  herself, did when she contemplated becoming the wife of our president.    The strange thing is that neither speech -- Michelle’s or Melania’s -- was likely written in its entirety by either woman. So where’s the beef?   Both may have suggested certain themes, but the verbiage was in all likelihood supplied by a hired professional.  President Lincoln may have scratched out his memorable speeches on the backs of stained napkins or whatever, but that’s not much in vogue anymore. (Except maybe for Newt Gingrich!)   

If we look beyond the few words these speeches had in common, we see a common theme:  the attempt of the Clinton machine and its media enablers to discredit the Trump entourage in whatever way possible.  The green-eyed monster, Jealousy, has reared its head.  And what it sees is a distinct  threat from a very glamorous, gracious,  and accomplished woman.