Common Words: How does Trump’s Plagiarism Happen

Last night, as you know, Melania Trump plagiarized Michelle Obama. Here’s a link.

How does this actually happen? I’m assuming no speechwriter conspiracy. I’m also assuming Trump didn’t write it herself, despite earlier claims, because the campaign has since talked about her “team of writers.”

When my students end up plagiarizing, it’s usually not due to attempting to sneak something by me, but through a combination of ineptitude and panic. The deadlines are approaching, they aren’t sure what to write, so they skim the internet for ideas. They start grabbing a sentence here, a sentence there, and then they change some verbs around to make it “original.” When it shows up in their final essay, it rings out to the professional grade as not having been written by a student.

Why wouldn’t Melania Trump, or really any writer, begin the process by reading the speeches of previous potential First Ladies introducing their husbands? If she came to me to write a speech, it’s what I’d do! You gotta get to know the genre first.

But then as a writer, you need to put that aside and create a draft wholly independent from the source material, because you’re aware of how easy it is to plagiarize. And you check and re-check.

Today, like a student called into my office, the Trump campaign will spin this as unintentional, using “common words,” claiming it’s sexism, and otherwise try to move past it.

Honestly, the plagiarism doesn’t matter. What does matter is the additional evidence of the utter ineptitude of the Trump team.

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