Donald Trump has spent over a year mainlining white supremacy and courting its adherents, vilifying entire religions and nations, openly promising to violate laws and to suspend Constitutional protections with respect to his political enemies and, at every turn, showing that he is utterly unprepared on any issue of substance. What’s more, he’s expressed pride in those things, citing them as strengths of his campaign, not disqualifying weaknesses.
While there has been no shortage of criticism of the man, all of those things have been normalized to some extent and presented by the media as a legitimate set of politics and values in our two-party system, given more or less equal time, treatment and footing as any other political campaign might receive. At no time has anyone of serious stature, be it a news anchor, a network president, an editor of a major daily or, for the most part, political leaders in a position to do so and without a compromising political bias, stood up and said “this is wrong, he and his campaign are evil and the normal conventions of discussing him are not applicable.” Instead, he’s been described as “controversial!” and “provocative!” and “his opponents counter that …”
Last night his wife gave a speech that was clearly plagiarized. I understand that is wrong and that it speaks to the ineptness and brazen mendacity of the Trump campaign, as does the disingenuous defensiveness his campaign is showing this morning as it mounts a damage control operation. But it is both troubling and sad to me that it is this – plagiarism – and not the shocking violation of morality and human decency Trump has exhibited for over a year, that has the pundits freaking out today. Freaking out so much that it has totally eclipsed the fact that Steve King, a sitting Congressman, gave an openly racist speech on the stage at a national political convention yesterday. A speech made “acceptable” by Trump’s rhetoric and his utter lack of values. Another bit of shocking ugliness that is now normalized because, according to the media, that sort of thing is something that is felt by a lot of voters so, hey, who are we to judge?
But plagiarism is something that shocks people in the media. That’s something that upsets them and which offends them on a personal level because it affects their daily activities. That’s moving the needle of outrage in ways Trump’s marginalization and outright attack on religious, ethnic and racial minorities and his disdain for the very tenets of civil society and the rule of law does not. Because, for the most part, those things don’t affect the class of folks who become influential members of the media. Those things affect other people.
I hope this plagiarism thing derails Trump’s campaign in a permanent fashion and that it inspires influential voices to stop speaking about it as if it’s merely any other sort of political campaign. But I’m saddened that this hasn’t happened long before now.