Let’s go back in time for a moment. Michelle Obama, circa 2008 at the Democratic National Convention.
At such a pivotal time in the then-almost First Lady’s life, Mrs. Obama delivered a speech on August 25, 2008, at Denver, Colorado. (Wow. That’s the exact date when my fiancé and I started dating. Weird.) This speech, filled with more passion and vigor than many of my at-the-time high school classmates, aimed to inspire a plethora of demographics: blacks, women, mothers, an amalgam of all three, and many more. However, it also aimed to unify America in electing Barack Obama president of the United States. Her words, burning with the flame of a thousand suns — if that’s not a cliché line — have reverberated across the country.
“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.” (You can read the transcript here, or watch the video below).
Mahatma Gandhi, preeminent leader of the Indian independence movement back in the 19th century, is usually attributed to the words, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” Michelle Obama took those words, modernized and breathed new life to them, claiming that Barack Obama could be the change we wish to see in the world. In a time of depression, despair, and demoralization, Michelle Obama hoped to instill faith in American society that we can rebuild, we can reclaim, we can revitalize. And — in some weird, perturbing way — Barack Obama would be our savior (whether you think he was or not is subjective).
Now, let’s fast forward some eight years. Melania Trump, circa 2016 at the Republican National Convention.
At an incredibly pivotal time in the (hopefully not) First Lady’s life, Mrs. Trump delivered a speech on July 18, 2016, at Cleveland, Ohio. Much like the current First Lady’s speech back in 2008, Mrs. Trump’s speech, filled with more passion and vigor than many of my current friends, acquaintances, and coworkers, aimed to inspire a plethora of demographics. However, it also aimed to unify America in (hopefully not) electing Donald Trump president of the United States. Her words, burning with the flame of a thousand suns — if that’s not a cliché line — have quickly reverberated across the country.
“That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son, and we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.” (You can read the transcript here, or watch the video below).
Wait, I already wrote that, didn’t I? This is some serious case of deja vu.
Yes, Melania Trump pilfered lines from Michelle Obama’s 2008 speech. Writers of all backgrounds — journalists, authors, speechwriters, screenwriters, professors — are calling for her head (even Twitter is throwing shade at Mr. Trump’s wife. I mean, in true “Millennial” fashion, there’s a listicle about the speech). What’s perplexing is the denial by House Trump. Top Trump advisor Paul Manafort recently denied the blatant plagiarism, claiming the allegations are “just really absurd.” Conversely, a statement from House Trump seem to contradict the denial, stating that “some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking.” So, it does seem that certain parts of Michelle’s life have influenced Melania’s life. There’s nothing wrong with inspiration; however, to claim inspiration as your own is wrong.
What’s more telling is the myriad people — writers, politicians, media outlets, etc. — that have come to Mrs. Trump’s defense. The Sacramento Bee wrote an editorial on whether or not the plagiarism matters in a culture outside of academia. And it seems no one will be fired because of this scandal either. Here’s my worry: if Donald Trump becomes president of the United States, would plagiarism become acceptable in schools? Would it become acceptable in the workplace? Would it become acceptable in everyday society? If I were to plagiarize Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa or Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night and call it my own, would that be acceptable? No, of course it wouldn’t be, whether I were in school or not. So why does Melania Trump get a pass? You know something, I have a Bachelor’s degree in English. As an English major, a majority of my college years were spent BS-ing papers. Even then, when it was two in the morning and I was fed up writing one of the many papers I had for a class in the morning, I still never plagiarized. It’s a copout. There’s no value in unoriginal thoughts. Is that who we want as a First Lady, someone who can’t inspire a country with her own thoughts?
The human psyche is shaped by outside influences: the person we become is a product of our surroundings. If House Trump deems plagiarism acceptable, future generations will regard this intolerable concept as acceptable, pick it up as their own, practice it, hone it. Soon enough, individual thoughts will no longer exist; House Trump will usher in an era of Orwellian nightmare. Welcome to 1984, where Doublespeak and Doublethink will become norms in society.
If you’re at all enthralled by the Republican National Convention (RNC), the Los Angeles Times is offering live updates here (in fact, several media outlets are doing live updates for the event). And keep your eyes peeled next week when the Democratic National Convention (DNC) gets underway. (I imagine copious media outlets will be doing live updates for that as well.)
As for you, Melania Trump, it seems you have received an F. You’ve failed. You’ll have to repeat the course next semester.
[Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images]