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Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Melania Trump's Plagiarism in Academic and Historical Perspective

Putting Melania Trump's plagiarism and the Trump campaign's response to it in perspective - as a professor, who, like most professors, has on occasion dealt with plagiarism, and who also has studied what happens when dictators get caught up in lies -

- What Melania did was actually worse than a student who plagiarizes. Students usually are taking more than one course, get caught up in final exams, are just becoming adults, etc. Under that kind of pressure, plagiarism is wrong and must be called out, but it happens. Trump's campaign had months to prepare for yesterday's speech by Melania - the fact that she so blatantly plagiarized shows Trump's continuing disdain for both truth and democracy.

 - The denial by Chris Christie and Paul Manafort of plagiarism is the same as Trump denying a tweet contained an anti-semitic Jewish star.  Trump's approach is just double down and deny the truth when caught in a wrongdoing. This is right out of the Goebbels-Hitler propaganda playbook. Why does this work?  As Erich Fromm pointed out in Escape from Freedom, some people don't want the responsibility of thinking for themselves - they want their leaders to do it for them, and are happy to accept as truth whatever their leaders say.   This, alas, is one of the foundations of fascism.

 -Trump has already gone after the press. We'll soon see him go after academics, because professors are the in-the-trench experts on plagiarism. Attacks on the press and academics are another hallmark of leaders who don't like democracy (Erdogan in Turkey has arrested both journalists and professors).

The Trump campaign has thus far shown an astonishing resilience, often picking up rather than losing support after getting caught up in an outrageous lie.  Plagiarism, and then denying it, is part of the same pattern.   Will it have a similar effect on Trump's success?  The very future of our democracy may reside in the answer to that question.

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