My colleague Howard Portnoy has already written the definitive post on why it’s ridiculous to take the “plagiarism” cue and babble on about it. So I’ll cut to the chase here.
Seriously. You can’t talk about working hard, treating people right, and having your word be your bond, without being guilty of plagiarism? What’s next? Shouts of “Plagiarism!” at speakers who round out their addresses with “…and may God bless the United States of America”?
Maybe it’s arguable that the phrasing and sequence of the references in Melania Trump’s speech were too much like Michelle Obama’s for comfort, and they should have been rearranged. But after giving the matter thought, I think that’s silly. There are only so many ways you can make those points.
Anyone over the age of about 20 should know (a) that the exact same points have been made many, many, many times before, in so many words, by millions of people long since dead, and (b) any boilerplate points of that kind probably have been so made, even if you aren’t old enough to remember it. Neither Michelle Obama nor her speechwriter has a copyright on those points.
The whole thing is idiotic. It’s mind-blowing that we’re giving any time to discussing it. Get back to me when Melania launches into “we cannot dedicate, we cannot consecrate, we cannot hallow this ground,” without proper attribution.
That brings me to David Brooks and his latest column on Trump. Brooks is worried about how Trump communicates.
Trump’s verbal style has always been distinct. He doesn’t really speak in sentences or paragraphs. His speeches are punctuated by five- or six-word jabs that are sort of strung together by connections that can only be understood through chaos theory: “They want the wall … I dominated with the evangelicals … I won in a landslide … We can’t be the stupid people anymore.”
Occasionally Trump will attempt a sentence longer than eight words, but no matter what subject he starts the sentence with, by the end he has been pulled over to the subject of himself. Here’s an example from the Mike Pence announcement speech: “So one of the primary reasons I chose Mike was I looked at Indiana, and I won Indiana big.” There’s sort of a gravitational narcissistic pull that takes command whenever he attempts to utter a compound thought.
It’s like these people have specially fitted hearing filters. Look (as Ted Cruz would say), I’ve written before too about the peculiarities of Trump’s communication style. He’s a tactical communicator, always working to steamroll the moment and dominate it. It’s part of his aggressive negotiating posture – which, in public, he always seems to be in. He’s always talking to elicit a response and shape an outcome, in a very immediate sense. He’s good at it. In a business environment, he gets a lot done that way.
And no, I’m not saying that’s going to make Trump effective as a president. But here’s the deal. You can sit around and fret over whether the arc of his syntax is bent by narcissism. You can let that be the only thing that gets through to you. Or you can move beyond reactionary mode and think about why other people – people who aren’t you – hear something different when they hear Trump.
Brooks’s column came out the day after we heard from Sabine Durden at the convention. She’s the mother of a 30-year-old son who was killed by a drunk driver – an illegal who had multiple DUIs on his record, and whom the authorities had done nothing useful about.
Sabine Durden herself is a legal immigrant. She’s the opposite of a “nativist” who just doesn’t like immigrants or immigration. She’s typical of the millions of Americans who see very clearly how turning a blind eye to the illegal use of our borders is destroying the rule of law in this country. And she has paid the ultimate price for that destruction.
It doesn’t matter that a U.S. citizen could have killed Dominic Durden in a drunk driving incident. What matters is that a U.S. citizen with that many DUIs would have been dealt with more severely, instead of falling through the cracks of the grand-bargain wink-nudge on illegals in which both of our major political parties are complicit.
Note that Dominic Durden’s killer had almost all of his sentence suspended. He served only 35 days in jail, and was back out on the streets. As with so many other incidents, Durden’s killer was processed heedlessly by the same system that on average would come down much harder on a legal American – as we would want it to.
It’s the failure of the rule of law, stupid. It’s the consequences of that, being borne like a lash on their backs by the American people.
Here is what Sabine Durden wrote to Donald Trump, about what she heard in his words and tone (emphasis in original quote):
“I wanted to end this pain and die. I couldn’t take it anymore,” Sabine Durden’s letter to Donald Trump, said. “As I was planning on how and when I was going to join my beloved son, I heard you, Mr. Trump, on TV mentioning the horror and tremendous cost of illegal alien crime, I perked up and listened to you.” …
“[You are] the only one and only person to ever talk about this huge problem. I remember being in my living room, screaming, clapping my hands, and crying tears of joy. Finally someone had the guts to tell it like it is. You did in five minutes what I have been trying to do for years since my son’s death,” Durden continued.
Now, David Brooks or any other old-consensus conservative can say all he wants that Trump didn’t really mean it, when he spoke of the “tremendous cost of illegal alien crime.” But that’s not the [insert your expletive of choice] point.
The point is, old-consensus conservatives are just like progressive leftists on this matter. They’re busier sympathizing with the illegals than acknowledging the price the American people are having to pay. They’re busy defaming the American people, suspecting them of “racism,” “populism,” and “nativism” for noticing the number of illegals involved in gangs and violent crimes, or for finding it unacceptable that – WARNING – WARNING – WARNING: ESSENTIAL PREMISE HERE — the American people have to obey our laws, even the little ones, and are punished for failing to, but illegals don’t and aren’t. That’s the tiebreaker. That right there.
Americans have always found a way to absorb immigrants who were admitted legally – and who were expected to assimilate (not “integrate”), becoming American and adopting the most important American ideals and cultural norms. I don’t hesitate to say we are the richer for it.
But that’s not the proposition of illegal migration. Illegal migration is different precisely because it puts citizens unequally on the hook, and lets illegals unequally off it.
And it is shameful of the old-consensus right to refuse to acknowledge that that’s wrong. It’s shameful to ignore the cry of Sabine Durden.
It’s doubly shameful to turn a deaf ear to her, and focus pointlessly on how Donald Trump talks.
Barking on cue about Melania Trump and plagiarism is a sign of senile dementia. But taking offense at Donald Trump’s tone and syntax, while not giving the anguish of Sabine Durden the time of day, is a sign of moral failure.
The very point of government itself is to ward against her anguish and make it less likely, through laws equally and judiciously applied. And there’s only one guy who sounds to a large number of Americans like he sees that clearly.
Ponder that, my old running dogs. That’s where the hearing of the old-consensus right needs a tune-up, and badly. If it can’t “get” that, the old-consensus right doesn’t deserve to survive.