'Rules for Trump, and Rules for Everyone Else'

Editor’s Note: This article previously appeared in a different format as part of The Atlantic’s Notes section, retired in 2021.

A reader, Robert Henry Eller, reflects on the past 48 hours of cock-ups in Cleveland:

The art of the spiel ain’t what it was, if indeed it was ever anything else, outside the guild of craftsmen. Plagiarizing is, as Fallows asserts, something you don’t do. But before the past year, so was reckless lying, or name calling, or most things Trump has been doing.

I’ve noticed there a meme out now, growing in popularity, which asserts that Trump is deliberately being controversial, because the media will pick up controversy and run with it, giving Trump more free media time. For example, following this meme, Melania’s plagiarism resulted in her speech being watched and listened to by orders of magnitude more people than if there had been no controversy.

After the Jane Mayer article, I don’t buy this, because I don’t think Trump is capable of such deliberation. But that doesn’t mean whatever he’s doing, from whatever motivation or accident, isn’t effective. In fact, corporate news profitability focus means Trump doesn’t have to be intentional at all. Intention might even be counter-productive.

By the way, the legs under the Melania plagiarism story are not what she did, but who she stole from. (I hope the Clinton campaign understands how to cash in on this.) Had Melania stole from someone inside her reservation, the story might have crawled, but then died sooner.

Likewise, I don’t think Junior’s plagiarism will play too long. Frankly, I think a large part of the public believes that this is exactly how speeches get “written,” and in a growing number of cases, I suspect they’re on to something. Likewise, particularly among the converted, no one is looking for new ideas, or originality. New ideas and originality may in fact confuse them. And in fact, what Junior lifted, or had lifted for him, was metaphorical fog to begin with.

There are many reasons not to plagiarize—not only ethical and political consequence, but also the exercise and strengthening of the writers mind and communication skills. But we’re playing by two sets of rules here, and I wish I knew how and why that happened. Hillary has an email “scandal” and it doesn’t go away. Conde Rice and Colin Powell, not to mention Karl Rove and company, transgress email protocols—and zip. We’ll be hearing about Benghazi for the rest of our lives, but W.’s embassy and consulate tragedies? Crickets.

Rules for Trump, and rules for everyone else.