Convention Monday: Faced With Fascism, Racism, and White Supremacy, GOP Critics Beat Up on a Girl




There's a difference between a supermodel and a spokesmodel.

There’s a difference between a supermodel and a spokesmodel.

One of my themes of this campaign season is that most politically engaged Democrats seem to have no idea how those other than politically engaged Democrats see the world, and that this is the second-biggest threat to our party retaining the Presidency.  (The biggest threat is that Hillary, for whose success I root while I set my focus on how to influence her not to lurch DLC-ward, is not likable and trustworthy enough; this is the derivative threat that pretty much everyone except for politically engaged Democrats can see it.)  So I’m going to keep hammering on this drum in my far-more-limited-than-in-previous-political-cycles spare time.

A bunch of things happened yesterday in and around the convention:

Rep. Steve King, the male equivalent of Michele Bachmann, opined as part of an MSNBC panel that most of the significant contributions to the creation and maintenance of civilization have been made by white people.  (King thus becomes the anti-Mahatma Gandhi, the anti-colonialist leader who, when asked what he thought of “Western Civilization,” supposedly said that he thought that it would be a good idea.)  So: the glorious technological, scientific, and mathematical achievements of India, China, and the Indus River Valley peoples; the development of cities in the Fertile Crescent and modern commerce in the Silk Road; the development of vaccinations in Africa; the towering civilizations of South and Meso-America; the development of a modern democratic confederation among the Iroquois peoples that predated and, through Benjamin Franklin, inspired our own first European-derived version — fuhgeddaboudit.

That’s one thing we could be talking about today.

Or there’s Rudy Giuliani using his primetime convention speech to promote his own preferred coal-dark version of what I now guess it’s safe for us to call “fascism”.

We could be talking about that today.

Or there’s the cynicism of trotting out people (largely people of color) to complain about how their loved ones were killed by unauthorized residents of the U.S. (what they call illegal immigrants), without once checking to see whether the incidence of such attacks was more common among that population than any other.  Honestly, this is base bigotry: it’s like complaining about heart-wrenching individual  incidents of damage inflicted by evangelical Protestants without asking whether they are more likely to do these things than anyone else.  (Well, there is one difference there, I guess: we’d notice that bit of bigotry if we encountered it.)

That would be good for us to talk about today.

But instead, the story that is in the popular media is that Melania Trump plagiarized several paragraphs of her convention speech from Michelle Obama’s tart and well-practiced 2008 address to the 2008 Democratic Convention.  “Melania, how could you?”

I haven’t seen any polling and I haven’t paid much attention to everyday voter discussion, but this seems like something likely to blow up in Democrats’ faces — especially when combined with calling the well-tanned Slovene “Melanoma” and referencing her skimpy lingerie photos.  We’re creating sympathy for Donald Trump by publicly beating up his wife.  If he hasn’t already started defending her with the fire of an outraged husband, he probably will — and people are gonna lap it up.

OK, if haven’t yet seen the video, and the comparison to eloquent lawyer Michelle, take a look.

Done? Great. Let’s stipulate a few things from the beginning:

(1) Plagiarism is bad.

(2) Large portions of the speech, as featured here, were plagiarized. Perhaps no less bad, they were clumsily plagiarized — as if she did not get the significance of the specific word choice and grammar Michelle Obama employed.

(3) Her claim that she wrote the speech herself “with as little help as possible” would be an eye-roller — were at not for the fact that “as little help as possible” could still be a whole lot of help if her need for it was sufficiently great.

But let’s also stipulate a few more things:

(4) She’s not a journalist.

(5) She’s not a student.

(6) She’s not an academic or professional researcher of any kind.

And then a few last things:

(7) Unlike Michelle Obama, she didn’t ask to be “running” for First Lady.

(8) Unlike Michelle Obama, she has had no reason to think that her professional training would make her particularly good at it.

(9) She was courted married for her “trophy wife” youth and looks and probably (given what we may expect from Trump) agreeableness and submissiveness, but not for her quick intelligence and speaking ability (in English, at least.)

(10) She was on a stage larger and leaving a more permanent record that all but a few of us will ever face — and, however poised she could be at hiding it, was probably terrified.

Most public discussion I’ve heard on the news — and your mileage may vary here — has been explicitly or implicitly focused on points 1, 2, and 3.  It would have taken little time to note the mitigating effects of points 4, 5, and 6 — which call into question how serious the plagiarism of a nervous First Lady speaking at a convention really is.  (Is she not going to pass her First Lady exam and get her First Lady diploma?)   But I’m guessing that most low-information, politically non-engaged, and more typical voters were focused on points 7, 8, 9, and 10 — ones that elicit empathy for Melania.

Yes, someone like Ivanka Trump is more suited to the role of First Lady than her 11-1/2 year older stepmother — and, for that matter, for suited to be a Presidential nominee than her father — but few of us are are in Ivanka Trump’s intellectual league.  Lots of us are in Melania Trump’s intellectual league — and making fun of her intellect (that’s what this is, if you don’t immediately get it) backfires.  There are sly ways to bring it up — by focusing on the apparent lack of monitoring and review of her “speechwriting” process, or the even worse possibility that Donald himself set her up to fail “beautifully” so that he could play the role of outraged husband — but they all require an enormous and plainly and prominently expressed amount of empathy for her.

It was sad that she was put in this position, but to some extent also unavoidable.  It was sad that whoever gave her the model of Michelle Obama’s speech — maybe with the instructions “paraphrase this”? — didn’t continue monitoring the situation to ensure that this didn’t happen.  (Or maybe she really did find it on the Internet or something, in which case it’s very sad that someone who read it didn’t recognize it and have the diligence and presence of mind to Google it.  It was sad, but it was something else as well — it was not that big of a deal.

She wasn’t Joe Biden running for President herself; she was the equivalent of a silent movie star suddenly asked to speak in a “talkie” — and she didn’t sound too good.  This is the kind of “gaffe” that, for relatively disengaged voters unlike most of those likely to read this, likely makes them wonder whether all of the other Trump gaffes that they keep hearing about are similarly empty.

The smart move if asked for comment on this would be to say “I think that it’s unfortunate that the party’s or campaign’s staff let her go out there unprepared, but it’s not that big of a deal.  I’d rather talk about the fascism, racism, and white supremacy on display yesterday.”  But to know to do that, one has to be able to perceive the world outside of one’s own bubble — and to perceive that they don’t necessarily like the petty and mean things that may matter most, and seem most significant, to educated and informed partisans.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)