5 Lessons On Plagiarism From Team Trump

by Rachel Withers


It’s amazing how people still seem to think they can brazenly plagiarize others’ work and get away with it. But what’s even more amazing is that they actually do keep getting away with it.

Over the last six months, there have been a number of instances of poorly-concealed copying by this unqualified, unprofessional, unethical team. But much like most Trump controversies, these shameless crimes are quickly pushed off the front page by other controversies, before we can properly admonish them.

It’s a horrible example to be setting for those still in school or college — because hey, if the President, First Lady, and nominee for Secretary of Education of the United States can do it, why shouldn’t you?

So, kids, if you are thinking of plagiarizing something, here are a few quick lessons from Donald Trump’s team as to how to do it right.

Lesson 1: If you’re going to plagiarize, change more than a few words. And don’t be the nominee for Secretary of Education.

Ah Betsy.

Betsy, Betsy, Betsy.

Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of Education, appears to have plagiarized some of her written answers to the questions posed by the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

Betsy Devos.tifBetsy Devos at her confirmation hearing (via Wikipedia Commons)

As the Washington Post points out, DeVos’ wording (on a question about bullying of LGBT students) bears remarkable similarities to those of Vanita Gupta, head of Obama’s Civil Rights Division at the Justice Department, in a May 2016 press release.

Spot the difference:

“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment where they can learn, thrive, and grow.”
“Every child deserves to attend school in a safe, supportive environment that allows them to thrive and grow.”

(not that it matters, but the latter belongs to Gupta).

Surely —- I hear you ask — DeVos must have used this quote, which is only marginally different, to express agreement with/acknowledge Gupta? Wait — I hear you remember — of course she didn’t.

Her friends in the White House are calling these criticisms “character assassination.” Maybe you should try that if you get caught plagiarizing your next school assignment?

Committee Democrats are saying that other parts of her answers also appeared to be copied and pasted. Their calls to push the committee vote back failed (she passed), but they are vowing to investigate the plagiarism further before the full senate vote. Two Republican senators have now said they will vote against her in the full vote, so it’s not looking good for Betsy. That said, that might not be because of the plagiarism. That might because she said we should allow guns in schools due to bears, and because hundreds of thousands of people have signed petitions, worn red, and made calls against her.

Lesson 2: If you’re going to plagiarize, plagiarize someone successful, I guess?

In keeping with this administration’s low standards of originality, “Make America Great Again” was not exactly the most innovative of slogans.

When Ronald Reagan ran for President in 1980, his campaign slogan was “Let’s make America great again.”

Lets Make America Great Again Reagan3Via Wikipedia Commons

I Agree To See, a collection of political ads from past and present, writes that the slogan was about “using the Nation’s economic woes to stir a sense of patriotism among the electorate.” Sound familiar? Trump, like Reagan, brilliantly capitalized on people’s financial insecurities, while being the candidate whose “trickle down” economic policies were least likely to help them.

Trump, for his part, claims he did not know about Reagan’s use of the slogan (despite the fact he was 34 in 1980) and also pointed out in the Washington Post that he “did not trademark it.”

Reagan was a pretty good choice to steal from. For one, he’s dead. For another, he won two of the largest electoral college margins in history, the 5th and 9th biggest. Trump’s “landslide” is 46th. Out of 58. He also lost the popular vote. By 2.8 million votes.

So yeah. Steal from the really, really popular dead guy.


Lesson 3: Don’t plagiarize your more popular predecessor.

People will notice. People will make fun of you. People will laugh.

Melania Trump learned this the hard way, when people noticed the similarities between her 2016 Republican Convention Aspiring First Lady SpeechTM and Michelle Obama’s 2008 Democratic Convention Aspiring First Lady SpeechTM.

I mean, “work hard and you can achieve anything” is a pretty standard message. But Melania. Girl. Change a few more of the words.

Screen Shot 2017 02 01 at 4.05.34 pmThe bolded parts are word-for-word. The rest are not, but are essentially the same.

The message she stole don’t even apply in her context. She and her husband hadn’t just overcome racial barriers through hard work to secure a historic nomination. And her husband was certainly not all about treating people with respect.

Look, steal her values. Steal her backstory. But if you’re going to steal your predecessor’s words, Melania, you better make damn sure she’s not more popular than you. No one is ever gonna let this one go.

Screen Shot 2017 02 01 at 4.25.00 pmVia Twitter/@tinacos


Lesson 4: If a large part of your career is built on plagiarism, don’t open yourself up to national scrutiny.

When Trump selected conservative columnist Monica Crowley for a high-profile communications role at the National Security Council, people began digging into her past.

They quickly discovered she had plagiarized large parts of her 2012 book, What The (Bleep) Just Happened?. CNN found and reported on “upwards of 50 examples of plagiarism from numerous sources, including the copying with minor changes of news articles, other columnists, think tanks, and Wikipedia” with no notes or bibliography.

Much like DeVos, Trump’s team accused reports of her plagiarism as being a “politically motivated attack,” because they don’t seem to understand that plagiarism is an objective misdeed. Ironically, Crowley’s plagiarized book was itself a “politically motivated attack” on Obama. Politico then exposed the fact that large parts of her PhD dissertation were also plagiarized. Readers also found “striking similarities” in her 1999 Wall Street Journal column to another outlet’s article, which the paper quickly apologized for. But her career continued. Because plagiarism isn’t a career-ruiner if you’re a conservative commentator!

Trump stood by her as these instances mounted, but Crowley — “after much reflection” — decided to forgo White House post, which would have involved her overseeing certain speeches that would definitely not have been plagiarized.

Screen Shot 2017 02 01 at 6.16.49 pmImage via Twitter/@MonicaCrowley

Honestly, if you are sitting on a house of cards of plagiarism, maybe, um, don’t go for high profile roles in the Trump Administration. Them journalists. They’ll get you.


Lesson 5: Don’t plagiarize the bad guy.

We should all be pretty annoyed that parts of Donald Trump’s inauguration speech– a speech few people ever get to deliver– appears to have been plagiarized. But we should be downright disturbed that he (and Bannon, it’s believed) chose to plagiarize a Batman villain.

Jezebel was first to notice that passages of Trump’s speech were eerily similar to Bane’s in The Dark Knight Rises.

Trump/Bane: “But we are transferring power from Washington D.C. and giving it back to you… the people. For too long a small group in our nation’s capital has reaped the rewards of government while the people have borne the cost.”

Bane/Trump: “We take Gotham from the corrupt! The rich! The oppressors of generations who have kept you down with myths of opportunity, and we give it back to you… the people.”

Listen to the intonation of “you… the people” in each.

We can’t say for sure that Trump (and/or Bannon) plagiarized these lines from The Dark Knight Rises. But Bane is known to be an alt-right hero, “an oft-cited character within the white nationalist community,” according to Quartz. Much like Trump.

This shouldn’t be okay with anyone. Bane is the bad guy. Anyone with basic film literacy and a sound moral compass gets this. Children understand this. What subconscious point are they trying to make here?

Why couldn’t he have just plagiarized the Mean Girls speech? I would have been fine with that.

Just don’t channel a supervillain.


Top image via I Agree To See

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