I’m writing this on a Tuesday morning, which means that by the time it goes to press, it will be Wednesday, a day and a half removed from the clown car pile-up that was the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention.
Internet publishing provides a number of boons — immediacy being the primary one — but sometimes that opportunity for immediacy is a detriment. I write one column a week, for example, so it’s likely that, as you’re reading this article about Melania Trump, something even more ridiculous will have happened at the Gathering of the Juggalos convention.
So, Melania Trump apparently had a trig final and a theater movement piece due the same day as her speech, so she — or whatever poor schmuck is being forced to write her speeches at gunpoint — lifted whole paragraphs of Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention speech nearly verbatim, even the parts that talked about her feelings for her husband.
Now look, I have no doubt that Melania loves Donald very much; he sealed her fate and secured her soul in the blood ritual, and the remnants of her humanity have long since ceased clawing in the darkness. I’m also not surprised that, in the wake of the internet’s glee-filled Molly-party in the hours after that speech, the Trump campaign released a statement blindly defending Melania. The crux of their argument, though, was the real kicker:
“Well, there is no cribbing of Michelle Obama’s speech,” Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort said. “These were common words and values, and she cares about her family.” (The Atlantic)
Fair enough, but also bullsh*t. Just because you’re expressing similar feelings as someone else, that doesn’t mean that you will, independently of knowing about that someone else, use almost exactly the same wording, structure and phrasing. The odds of that are stupidly astronomical. You have a better chance of getting struck by lightning while being digested inside a shark’s stomach. An extinct shark’s stomach.
I’ll give you an example. And because I’m a pretentious hack, I’ll use poetry. Take poems by Yusef Komunyakaa and Brian Turner. They both served in wartime — Komunyakaa in Vietnam, Turner in the Iraq War — which they both use a great deal in their work, to devastating emotional impact and effect.
Here is a key passage from Komunyakaa’s poem, “Facing It” from the collection Dien cai Dau:
Names shimmer on a woman’s blouse
but when she walks away
the names stay on the wall. (19-21)
He’s lost his right arm
inside the stone. In the black mirror
a woman’s trying to erase names.
No, she’s brushing a boy’s hair. (28-31)
Now here’s a passage from Turner’s poem “Curfew” from his breakthrough collection Here, Bullet:
There were no bombs, no panic in the streets.
Sgt. Gutierrez didn’t comfort an injured man
who cupped pieces of his friend’s brain
in his hands; instead, today,
white birds rose from the Tigris. (10-14)
Both Komunyakaa’s poem and Turner’s poem juxtapose the horrors of war with images that blur the line between serenity and violence; they both are measured, nearly matter-of-fact in their observation. They are involved, yet detached. And they are absolutely, unequivocally, completely different.
Now, no one will ever accuse anyone involved with the Trump campaign of being poetic, but that’s beside the point. If you told Paul Gaugin and Pablo Picasso “paint that tree,” you’d never know, based on what they would produce, that it was the same tree. Or even a tree to begin with. For that matter, if you took two speechwriters worth a spit, and told them to crank out a feel-good speech for a candidate’s spouse to deliver with the purpose of humanizing the candidate, they would churn out completely different speeches. They may have similar beats, similar sentiments, but they would be different.
None of this, of course, is surprising anymore. The only question left is this: on the final night of the convention, when Trump takes the stage, will he rip off Mussolini or Martin Luther King?