Melania And Donald Trump Are The Worst Kinds Of Plagiarizers

One of the disturbing things about the press coverage of Melania's copycat speech is the unwillingness of the media to use the word "plagiarism." The New York Times, at least initially, referred to "striking similarities." Politico likewise eschewed the P-word. But they and others should have used it.

I can say that because I'm an expert when it comes to plagiarism. I've been teaching English in college for 44 years, and I've heard it all. The majority of students don't plagiarize, but there are small percentages that do. And when these students are caught, they tend to offer pretty much the same excuses as the Trumps and their proxies. They can't understand why professors care about what seems to them a simple expediency toward a better grade.

But plagiarism isn't a minor peccadillo, because when you copy verbatim or through paraphrase the words and ideas of others, you are engaged in theft. No more can you walk into a jewelry shop and pinch some gold earrings and then claim that you were just borrowing them than can you assert that stealing words is just borrowing or being inspired. For many of us who write for a living, our words are precious things that we own. Take my words, and you take my livelihood.

When Melania said "I wrote it myself" she invoked a tried and true ploy among plagiarizing students. I've had many say that to me directly, even as I provided the text from which they took the words. In one instance two students handed in the identical paper. When I brought them together, each one claimed that they had written it themselves, despite the obvious logical paradox.

When Trump's campaign decided to blame the speechwriters, they tried another chestnut from the plagiarizer's handbook. I have had students who have sincerely explained to me that they were forced to use a roommates' paper. I once had a student at Columbia University who began his paper saying he was inspired to write this paper by Professor X at Wesleyan. It turned out that Professor X had died two decades ago, and that the paper was actually the student's father's paper written when he had gone to Wesleyan.

When Chris Christie asserted he wouldn't say that the speech was plagiarized because "93 per cent of the speech is completely different," he also cited chapter and verse of the plagiarizer's bible. I've had so many students ask me to prorate the paper's grade because "most of the paper" wasn't stolen. This is like if you paid a bill with one-quarter stolen money and three-quarters your own, you weren't guilty because a preponderance of the money was legit.

And when Trump manager Paul Mannafort and RNC Chair Reince Priebus tried to claim that this wasn't plagiarism but just "common words and values" or "common types of themes" they evoked the last refuge of plagiarizing apologists who claim that they just happen to hit upon phrases and ideas that just happen to have been previously articulated by Kant or Hegel. Pure coincidence really!

One wonders how could anyone be stupid enough to insert Michelle Obama's words into Melania's speech? Could they have been lured by the siren call of paraphrase? Many students believe that if they change one or two words in a plagiarized sentence, the sentence magically becomes theirs. When Melania's evil twin sister changed Michelle's words about the "reach of your dreams" into "the strength of your dreams" or Michelle's "your word is your bond and you do what you say you're going to do" into "your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise" did she think she had alchemically changed gold into baser metals and made it her own?

When I see these excuses, I know that Melania and Donald, and their aiders and abettors, probably made up that small minority of students who actually did plagiarize in college. These are the students who don't really care about learning but simply want the grade. They see writing a paper as a boring experience that they can place out of by buying or bullying their way to someone else's work. Are those leadership qualities or slacker values?

I once had a student who, like the Trumps, belligerently attacked me for singling him out for plagiarizing. Like the Trumps whose first recourse was to blame Hillary for instigating the scrutiny they came under, this student denied any culpability. When I found the exact source of his plagiarism, the student relented. But he demanded that he get a decent grade "because I typed the paper myself."

Melania can't even claim that excuse.