Melania's Real Message

And I was hoping Scott Baio would provide the fireworks...

The furor of Melania Trump’s speech is, as it always is in politics, less about the crime and more about the Trump camp’s response. As of mid-afternoon, it appears Trump is acting true to type, flipping the bird to the test proctors tut-tutting across the cable blabosphere. No heads will roll, no forgiveness will be sought. It’s business as usual―a bitter brew of defiance, insolence and paranoia. 

Welcome to Cleveland.

I have little doubt many Americans share Trump’s dismissal of this controversy. They will buy New Jersey Governor Chris Christie’s patently incorrect definition of plagiarism as intentional theft. It’s not, and Christie―whose grim defense across the morning shows made fetching Trump’s lunch from McDonald’s seem like a dream gig―ought to know that.

When Melania approached the podium, no one expected her speech was going to change a vote. If a vice presidential selection means so little in this political climate, an anodyne speech from a spouse is even less consequential. 

What makes this different, and admittedly riveting, is the venue, and the real-time drama that the convention provides. As reporters fish the barrel that is the Q arena, the unfolding narrative is the clearest, closest window on to the Trump decision machinery and its cast of characters―Paul Manafort and his Paulie Walnuts mien, the wounded glamour of Melania, Christie’s compromised credibility.

And while it may sound sanctimonious, it’s also a chance to see how a Trump presidency would operate―is it nimble, vengeful, suspicious or merciless, etc. So far, the optics aren’t good.

It’s hard to imagine anyone looking at a side-by-side comparison of Melania’s speech and Michelle Obama’s 2008 address to the Democratic National Committee and see only “striking similarites.” It’s a lift, plain and simple. It would get anyone else fired, failed or expelled. Everyone knows that. To pretend otherwise is to prevail upon the public’s sense of scale and proportion, not rationality. The latter is dangerous and insulting. In fact, one of the great ironies here is that Trump, never one to give mercy, is asking for precisely that for his aggrieved wife.

Does the public care? My hunch is Trump waited until late morning in an effort to take the public’s temperature, and I’m guessing he found that Melania’s overall performance―poised, charming and steady―outshined the controversy. 

What makes all of this dispiriting is the wobbly nature of facts in this case. No one, for example, seems willing to believe Melania wrote her speech, even though that’s what she told Matt Lauer on “Today.” The almost casual dismissal of her claim as completely bogus was disorienting, particularly since the transgression she’s accused of is rooted in supposedly immutable ideas of trust and honor. What’s truth here? And does anyone have any idea how to handle it?

I’d be a liar if I said the engulfing drama of the past 12 hours didn’t eclipse my qualms about plagiarism, theft and the primacy of one’s ideas. But it would be a mistake not to take a moment to consider what it was that Melania lifted from Michelle’s speech. It was about morals, values and lessons tought to one’s children, “...That you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.”

Maybe she should steal things more often. And pass the loot to her husband.