Damn — she almost made it! The world was waiting for her, and then — an hour after most of the media had decided that they liked Melania Knauss’s speech for making her husband look more human — the truth came out. It was not Melania’s speech, but rather the speech of the unbeatable, spontaneous, smart, charming Michelle Obama, the real first lady of the United States. One only has to watch Michelle’s most recent video performance for Mother Jones to get a sense of the difference between the two women. This hip-hop video that the first lady starred in surfaced just two days after Melania’s plagiarism. It gives an implicit but fierce critique of the wannabe first lady — Donald Trump’s 46-year-old third wife — who copied the most inspiring part of the speech that Michelle Obama gave in 2008 when she introduced her husband, Barack Obama, at the Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colorado.
While the criticism and ridicule of Melania are so devastating that they have probably silenced Melania for the rest of her husband’s campaign, this story is also significant.
First, for the way that it evolved. As we know, two famous ghost writers — Matthew Scully and John McConnell — were hired by the Trump campaign to write the speech Melania was to deliver during the Republican National Convention. According to the New York Times’ reconstruction of events, the two writers submitted a draft in June, eagerly awaiting confirmation that never arrived. According to the Times, once the speech got “[inside] Trump Tower, it turned out, Ms. Trump had decided she was uncomfortable with the text, and began tearing it apart, leaving a small fraction of the original.
“Her quiet plan to wrest the speech away and make it her own set in motion the most embarrassing moment of the convention: word-for-word repetition of phrases and borrowed themes from Michelle Obama’s speech at the Democratic convention eight years ago.”
To me, this proves that Ms. Trump is a determined, strong-willed woman. One can imagine that the refusal of the proposed first version of the speech must have caused some feathers to fly in the golden Trump Tower. So much so that Ms. Trump was only included on the list of the speakers at the RNC at the very last moment. Melania did not appear at the photo op after her husband announced his choice of vice president, Mike Pence. The whole family was present — except Melania.
It almost seemed as though she had to fight her way to get onto the convention stage. And she managed to do this with words borrowed from Michelle Obama? This whole story is incredible, and it is full of loose ends. How is it possible that no one on Trump’s campaign team discovered the plagiarism before Melania read it onstage?
The morning after the scandal erupted — creating serious doubts about the abilities of Trump’s team — the presidential candidate tried to minimize the whole thing by saying that his wife’s speech was excellent, and that they had spent a wonderful night together. Really? If it was Melania’s fault, as we were told later, then how has the man who likes to fire people not ditched his wife yet? Or at least fired somebody who was responsible for his wife’s speech. And for God’s sake — after a litany of obvious lies, counter-attacks and impossible excuses for the discovered plagiary, couldn’t they come up with a better story than the one of a mistake made by Melania’s speech writer, who apparently took responsibility for this insane performance? Is it possible that Melania loved Michelle so much that she remembered her speech from eight years ago? Michelle had given her speech when Melania’s son, Barron, was only a year and a half — when, according to her interviews, Melania devoted all her time her son’s upbringing. And if Melania memorized Michelle’s words from eight years ago, as speechwriter Meredith McIver has said, how come she needed to read them from teleprompter? And since the language used by the current first lady was not exactly simple, how could Melania — known for her use of very simple English — remember them?
This is not to say that the present explanation — or better, this cover-up operation — is the product of Melania’s own mind. I still hope that Ms. Trump will one day say something of her own — that she is capable, though she has no doubt been repressed by her father, and now by her husband. And perhaps it would be better for her to make that statement in Slovenian when she decides to do it. Or in whichever of the five languages that she speaks — however she does it, we are ready.
Although she did not complete her degree from the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia, she still obtained most of her education in the immediate aftermath of the fall of communism in Eastern Europe. The post-communist educational system at that time was a place where the line between original work and plagiarism was often hard to discern and the issue of intellectual ownership was never discussed.
Scholars who study plagiarism associate it with the dominant mode of learning. Learning via rote memorization, rather than the critical questioning of ideas, is more likely to lead people to appropriate others’ intellectual work. If memorization is how academic performance is judged, students will do better when they merely replicate what they have learned.
Using a generalization in attempt to prove that it was Melania who plagiarized the speech — claiming that an act or a gesture by an individual is indicative of the culture of an entire area that comprises of different cultures, languages, and moral and religious traditions — is a sign of ignorance.
Having said that, some journalists did use copy-paste methods of writing articles before the rise of the internet. But that was not because they were taught to do this in school — never. Not in my part of the world, at least.
I got to know a bit about Melania Trump — born Melanija Knavs — while following her footsteps in Slovenia. Being discreet and guarding her privacy was Melanija’s style from the beginning. Even in Slovenia, a place that was was known for its introverted and reserved people, Melanija was considered a closed-off character — dull and wooden, as someone described her recently.
That does not mean that she did not have a plan or an agenda. I’ve written about this before: she had her plan, and perhaps she thought that being reserved made her somehow more desirable. I am reminded of the story about when she first met Donald Trump and refused to give him her phone number — maybe that was part of her strategy. Her school record confirms that she deliberately chose a career as a model, rather than becoming a designer or an architect. She decided against more intellectual studies in favor of making better use of her perfect body — an asset that is needed in the world of fashion. These were her own personal decisions, and those who would look down on those choices are out of line.
Things changed when she became public figure last year — the American public wanted to know who this woman was, standing next to Donald Trump. Why is she silent? What does she want? At this point,
Melania Trump should have changed her strategy. Whether Melania liked it or not, as her husband’s success grew, so did America’s need to know more about her. I am not a political strategist, but I do think that Melania Trump could be an asset — if only the plagiarism hadn’t happened; if only she would try harder to get her voice out there. The nation — that is, America, not her own Slovenia — was ready for it. Before Cleveland, as the days inched closer to opening night of the Republican National Convention, interest in Melania grew exponentially. America hoped that she would contribute, that she would get herself a role in this campaign, and that, as many say, she would be able to humanize Trump. Just a few hours before she walked onstage, even Politico dedicated a long piece to her, wagering on her capacities. What is left, though, is the ashes of a burned story of potential that will only be used by the other side to discredit the Trumps.
Also published on Medium.