That Melania Trump’s speech Monday night at the Republican National Convention contained material plagiarized from Michelle Obama’s speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention is not the most significant issue in the world. But it genuinely is one of the most important things that happened at the Republican National Convention so far.
The bigotry is, yes, bad. But people know all about it. To Trump supporters, the fact that he says and does offensive stuff is what’s appealing about him. Most white people think antiwhite discrimination has become a bigger problem than bias against blacks, and Trump’s pitch is that he’ll shatter the bonds of political correctness that are oppressing America. Harping on the fact that this is what Trump is doing — that his campaign is about fear of the other, not "economic anxiety" — is true and important, but it simply reiterates the point that campaigns are in part clashes of incommensurable values.
Plagiarism offers a window into a different aspect of Trump, one that isn’t integral to his appeal. Trump is a phony. And a lazy one at that. He refuses to put in the work, and if he becomes president the consequences are likely to be disastrous and unpredictable.
Just ask his wife who stood up on a nationally broadcast primetime telecast to vouch for his integrity and decency, and turns out to have been set up for humiliation because Trump couldn’t be bothered to build the kind of professional presidential campaign that would equip Melania Trump with a decent speech.
Trump is a flim-flam man
Once upon a time, Donald Trump was a real estate developer. Then he launched an airline, launched some casinos, turns out to have mismanaged his interest rate risk, and ended up losing nearly all of it.
He emerged from bankruptcy insufficiently creditworthy to get the kind of bank loans he would need to keep doing major real estate projects. But one of the quirks of his old failed businesses was his habit of slapping the name TRUMP on everything, so he had a much stronger brand nationally and globally than other objectively more successful New York real estate guys.
So he started licensing the brand hither and yon.
Steaks, wine, water, a fake university — even the food at the Trump Café is bad. Alongside the Trump University scam he had a second scam called the Trump Institute where the lessons were plagiarized. He also runs golf courses and they seem to be a scam too. He opened his first Scottish course amid great fanfare and many broken promises.
According to Alex Salmond who was first minister of Scotland at the time the development was under way, Trump "didn’t deliver on his commitments to Scotland," and if he were elected president "he wouldn’t deliver on his commitments to America either."
Trump is laughing at his supporters
Politics is mostly about group identity, not policy or ideology.
Support for Trump is driven in part by resentment over political and social changes that have enhanced the position of nonwhites in America, and in part by a not-entirely-false sense that the hardworking people of middle America are being laughed at by cosseted elites in major coastal cities.
But Trump is one of the laughing elites, not one of the hard-pressed heartlanders.
Trump was born and raised as a spoiled rich kid in New York City. He was sent to a prep school where tuition now tops out at $36,000 and his dream was to move from the expensive-but-obscure neighborhood of Jamaica Estates in Queens to the famously expensive neighborhood of the Upper East Side in Manhattan. He didn’t move to a mansion in the suburbs of Nashville. He didn’t develop suburban tract housing in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. His son-in-law Jared Kushner certainly didn’t need a college degree to go make a living, but his father bought him a spot at Harvard for $2.5 million ("His GPA did not warrant it," an official at Kushner’s prep school told Dan Golden, "his SAT scores did not warrant it.") so he could be fancy.
Trump sells schlocky books and schlocky suits but he doesn’t read books and he certainly doesn’t wear Trump Suits or Trump Shirts. He’s said to favor the Italian fashion house Brioni whose suits sell for the mid-thousand and whose shirts run to almost $600.
He capped an hours-long presentation about the greatness of America and the evils of immigrants and foreigners by having his much-younger Slovenian third wife explain that Donald "will never, ever, let you down."
Of course the speech was plagiarized.
Trump won’t do the work
My colleague Ezra Klein was a bit shocked by Trump’s performance on 60 Minutes alongside his new running mate Mike Pence.
"Trump is getting obvious questions, and he’s not even pretending to have answers," Klein wrote. "It’s like he’s not even trying. There are days when I wonder if Donald Trump really wants to be president, and this is one of them."
I think it’s clear enough that Trump really does want to be president — for the cool plane, if nothing else.
But if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the course of this campaign it’s that he’s not willing to put in the time and work to make it happen. He hasn’t courted party elders, he hasn’t hashed out a policy agenda, he hasn’t built a minimally competent digital operation, and he can’t even work out his convention schedule on a reasonable timeline.
He hasn’t built the kind of professional campaign staff that could save his wife from the humiliation of making her primetime national television debut delivering a plagiarized speech.
His wife. The one who promised us he’d never let us down.
Because at the end of the day, Trump is lazy. He was too lazy to diligently rebuild his credit and his real estate empire, too lazy to get into the food business in a way that would enhance his brand rather than run it down, too lazy to develop menswear that meets his own standards, too lazy to develop a real curriculum for Trump University, and too lazy to run a real presidential campaign.
Not lazy in the sense of spending all afternoon napping — he’s clearly happy to keep up a frenetic pace of activity — but too lazy to pay attention to the boring details like "Is this a good suit?" "Is this educational program an actionable fraud?" "Does this policy idea make any sense?" or "Am I about to humiliate my wife on national television?"
To people who find Trump’s topline message unappealing — most likely the majority of Vox readers — this kind of thing may not matter. But to the millions of Americans who do like the "divisive" aspects of Trumpism and are hoping he’ll be their champion, it’s precisely these smaller things that ought to make the difference. Is Trump on the level? Is he really out there giving it his all? Is he motivated by the same sense of duty as the war heroes he trotted out Monday night, or is he just out there having fun? Is he going to handle your interests as sloppily as he handled Melania's?