On Day Three of the Melania Trump plagiarism story, her assistant puts out a new statement explaining what really happened:
This admission — we now know the phrases were, in fact, lifted directly from Michelle Obama’s speech — cuts against some of the other explanations we’ve heard thus far, such as Trump senior adviser Paul Manafort’s previous suggestion that there was “no cribbing” from Ms. Obama’s effort, and an RNC official’s suggestion that such language was so common that it resembled language in “Twilight Sparkle from My Little Pony.”
We now know that the lines were indeed cribbed, and the overlap was not accidental. This is true, even if the exact language itself was not intended for inclusion in the final version of Ms. Trump’s speech.
What’s more, if we accept this new statement at face value, the most charitable version of events is that Ms. Trump read aloud lines from Ms. Obama’s speech to her assistant, and then, once they were included in the final text (inadvertently, if you wish), didn’t recognize them. (Or is it possible she didn’t read the speech before delivering it?) If so, Ms. Trump forgot them after singling them out admiringly as a model for the biggest speech of her life. Maybe that happened. Surely there was a lot on her mind before the speech.
But even if that did happen, this statement still carries with it an important concession. This is why this whole story matters beyond the plagiarism gotcha that has captivated everybody.
The big news here is that Melania Trump has admitted to liking and being inspired by Michelle Obama. As I noted yesterday, the part of Ms. Obama’s speech that Ms. Trump appropriated was explicitly about our shared values and aspirations as Americans. Ms. Obama — and, emulating her, Ms. Trump — extolled the value of hard work, and the idea that as Americans, there are theoretically no limits on our ambitions and our ability to realize them, provided we are willing to put in the persistence, effort and imagination needed to do so. Ms. Obama — and, emulating her, Ms. Trump — both gave voice to the idea that these shared American values require us to respect one another, and that they will pass them down to their children to keep the American experiment going.
But even more to the point, the speech that Ms. Trump admired and emulated featured Ms. Obama talking about how she and her husband Barack live by these American values. “Barack and I were raised with so many of these same values,” Ms. Obama’s speech says. “Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values.” Ms. Trump, then, was inspired by the Obamas’ American experience.
Of course, Donald Trump, the world’s most famous birther, does not recognize that Barack Obama legitimately lives by these American values. In Trump’s telling, Barack Obama is a fraud and an imposter who does not actually deserve what he has attained via hard work and legitimately earned upward mobility. To Trump, the Obama family did not legitimately earn its current status. Whether Trump actually believes this or is merely saying it as part of a scam to connect with Republican voters is immaterial. Early on, Trump actively calculated that birtherism could serve as a useful point of entry into the ideological netherworld of GOP primary voters that could set him on the road to realizing his presidential ambitions. Trump campaigned openly on birtherism in 2012, commanding enormous amounts of media attention by loudly demanding that Obama show his papers. Trump was unrepentant about all this as recently as last month.
And as the Republican standard bearer for president, Trump has continued to make insinuations that can only be described as birtheresque. In June, Trump suggested after the Orlando shooting — which claimed 49 lives — that Obama has “something else in mind” and that “there’s something going on” with his failure to adequately confront terrorism, meaning his response to the threat to American lives is vaguely suspect. This is the same old game, in which Trump insinuates that Obama harbors secret ill will towards America.
But Ms. Trump sees the Obamas and their American experience as an inspiration — one similar to her own family’s American experience. This statement confirms it. Maybe she should mention this to her husband.