Saturday 22 October 2016

Melania's cribbed speech was careless, but Team Trump's lies tell us a lot more

Published 23/07/2016 | 02:30

By Ken Lee
By Ken Lee

When an explanation keeps changing, and then changing some more, you can bet your bottom dollar that lies are being peddled. What began as spin to explain away the naked plagiarism in Melania Trump's speech becomes now, after a trail of rebuttals and deflections, an inability by Team Trump to engage with the truth.

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There are implications about a Trump White House to be drawn from the Melania incident. If Donald Trump's staff are prepared to lie about this, presumably with his sanction, where else will they play fast and loose with the truth?

Some say it's all a frivolous distraction, and there are more important issues to focus on. But ham-fisted though the now parodied speech was, it has been instructive. The Melania incident and its aftermath shine a light on Team Trump's modus operandi.

How do the people surrounding the Republican candidate for the US presidency deal with problems? Why, they take Bart Simpson as their model. When caught red-handed, start lying. Say it didn't happen. If that won't fly, scapegoat - claim someone else did it.

Melania's copycat section of a televised and widely reported speech by Michelle Obama ticks the entertainment box, of course. The plagiarism is so blatant, despite repeated denials, it indicates stupidity and laziness - which hardly enhance the Trump campaign. Onlookers are laughing at the brazenness of the plagiarism, never mind the triviality of the defence, when the Trump campaign manager championed Melania through the medium of My Little Pony. He suggested the toy was programmed to use similar phrases, and therefore Melania was simply advancing common American values. Another senior aide said 93pc of the speech was different to Michelle's, as though that was the key element being overlooked amid the plagiarism kerfuffle.

After almost 48 hours of contradictions, a speechwriter has become the fall guy for the initial act of piracy. But Team Trump's unwillingness to tell the truth continues to overshadow the gaffe, and the buck must stop at Donald Trump. What happened in the first instance was a miscalculation, but a lack of integrity is evident at its core - that it occurred at all, how it was handled, and the ongoing failure to accept personal responsibility. There is a suspicion that the Trump minion who 'fessed up to helping Melania with the speech is being used as a stooge. At this stage, we'll never know what really took place behind closed doors or at the end of phone lines. But what we do know is not edifying.

Compared with other Trumpisms, notably his racism, plagiarism in his camp and covering it up afterwards are minor offences. That wall to keep out Mexicans, for example, or the plan for a database to track Muslims in the US - those are more troubling indicators of the kind of president Donald Trump might be. But the Melania incident is not inconsequential.

When she talked about working hard, keeping promises and treating people with respect, she was referencing worthwhile values. Who can disagree with any of what was said? But it was naïve and ill-judged to advance that message by repeating verbatim part of a speech by Michelle Obama at the 2008 Democratic Convention.

Speaking of core values, accountability for one's mistakes is something which society also prizes, but there is no evidence of that happening, even now. So what values are the couple passing on?

Team Trump is also left looking inept. Speech vetting is an elementary step. As American commentators are busy pointing out, running a country is infinitely more tricky than operating a presidential campaign, yet this most basic of precautions was omitted. Donald Trump is selling himself as a man who will act as the CEO of his country, someone with a knack for hiring the best people. But either he doesn't listen to the people he employs, or he isn't engaging the most talented.

In the process, he has exposed his wife to ridicule. If he wants her to be First Lady he needs to surround her with a strong team from whom she can learn, rather than leave her to her own devices.

While Melania is not standing for election, if he wins she will be First Lady - an influential public role. Naturally her words were going to be scrutinised on this significant public platform.

The initial offence was compounded by the dishonesty following it. Plagiarism was self-evident but there were two days of ducking and diving from Team Trump before they accepted it. Sort of.

Speechwriter Meredith McIver's mea culpa isn't convincing. It is professional death for speechwriters to plagiarise and they are well aware of it. If she had really been the initiator of such a whopping mistake she'd have been sacked. Political expediency would have required her head to roll. Instead, we are asked to believe that Trump told her magnanimously "people make innocent mistakes" and "we learn and grow from these experiences".

That's the most far-fetched element in this entire episode. After a massive humiliation for his wife, Mr 'You're Fired' metamorphoses into Mr 'Forgive and Forget'? Hardly likely.

"No harm was meant," said the speechwriter's carefully worded apologia. Harm was done, all the same. Not least because the statement was issued on Trump Organisation paper, so she appears to be working for the campaign while on the payroll of a private organisation, which violates campaign finance rules. More ineptitude, more Team Trump questions to answer.

Michelle Obama is an excellent role model for Melania and she's smart to recognise that, although not clever enough to realise that mistakes need to be acknowledged. She owes the First Lady a public apology. And just on the off-chance that contrition is in the air, Donald Trump owes Melania an apology too - because he has offered her up as material to every satirist in the US. This will be the gift that keeps giving on comedy shows.

But does his core voting base care? Probably not. It's the undecideds who tend to decide elections and all we can do is hope they remember the Melania incident - among a host of Trumpisms - when they cast their votes on November 8.

Irish Independent

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