The cable outlets caught up belatedly to the unexpected, and unexpectedly huge, news out of the first night of the Republican National Convention, that several lines of Melania Trump’s speech were plagiarized from the speech Michelle Obama gave on her husband’s behalf in 2008. But when they did, they delivered. CNN presented the development like so:
Whether Melania knew she was reading plagiarized text or not (and I think it’s quite likely she did not) it’s just devastating to see a campaign premised on the imagined notion of Obama incompetence get caught stealing from Obama’s own operation.
But the power of the images is actually much deeper. They don’t just negate something central to Trump’s appeal. They amplify one (actually more than one) of the main knocks on Trump himself: That he’s sloppy, erratic, in so many ways the opposite of the virtues he claims to embody. And, let’s not gloss over it, this is a depiction of a campaign—a campaign that nurtures white grievance and resentment—trying to profit off the work of a black woman, from an African American family that Trump and his supporters regularly belittle. The fact that the plagiarized text in question was about the value of hard work just makes matters worse. A mortifying, calamitous, self-immolating moment.