What Jay Z Could Teach Melania Trump

Imagine reading this post while listening to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice, Ice Baby” (1) in the background. Or better yet, in case you want to ponder this post’s words with more time, put in Robin Thicke’s last album (2).

Four score and seven minutes ago (3), I watched a video of Melania Trump’s speech last night at the opening night of the Republican National Convention held in Cleveland, Ohio which is in Cuyahoga (4) County, the most staunch democratic party stronghold in Ohio.

Allow me to frame my watching the video. It has to do with the claims for plagiarism in Mrs. Trump’s speech. And as an English teacher and AP instructor, I would have to write a “D-1” (a discipline referral) for this particular instance. Why? Because it is flat-out plagiarism.

Look at the transcripts of Mrs. Trump’s speech aligned with what Michelle Obama said at the 2008 Democratic National Convention when her husband was to become the nominee. (The excerpt was taken from CNN.com (http://www.cnn.com/2016/07/19/politics/melania-trump-michelle-obama-speech/index.html). I don’t want to be accused of plagiarizing myself.

Here is Melania Trump, on Monday:

“From a young age, my parents impressed on me the values that you work hard for what you want in life, that your word is your bond and you do what you say and keep your promise, that you treat people with respect. They taught and showed me values and morals in their daily lives. That is a lesson that I continue to pass along to our son,” Trump said.

And we need to pass those lessons on to the many generations to follow. Because we want our children in this nation to know that the only limit to your achievements is the strength of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

And here is Michelle Obama, on August 25, 2008:

“And Barack and I were raised with so many of the same values: that you work hard for what you want in life; that your word is your bond and you do what you say you’re going to do; that you treat people with dignity and respect, even if you don’t know them, and even if you don’t agree with them.

And Barack and I set out to build lives guided by these values, and to pass them on to the next generation. Because we want our children — and all children in this nation — to know that the only limit to the height of your achievements is the reach of your dreams and your willingness to work for them.”

Of course, the Trump campaign tried to dissolve the accusations and the controversy by citing the similarities of the message that Mrs. Trump was conveying as a mother who has worked hard to become who she is. Trump’s campaign presented Melania as someone who came to this country as an immigrant, looked at America, told it to tear down its walls (5) of any xenophobia, made something of herself, and prospered because she thought that America was a place where the huddled masses yearning to breathe free and the wretched refuse of its teeming shore could come (6).

Yet, it is not the blatant use of the First Lady’s words that really boggles me. It is the arena in which it was done, the context of the delivery, and the surrounding drama of the RNC.

On a day where speakers were attacking the present administration over security issues like terrorism, Benghazi, and schisms between law enforcement and citizens, the eyes and ears of America were very focused on Mrs. Trump’s speech. Even those who do not want Trump as president in any way shape or form (like many at the RNC) wish to see and hear what original ideas that Trump may have for “Making America Great Again (7).”

People want to see what makes Trump someone who is different, someone who can create a brave, new world (8), someone who can help us be free and show that America is free from the mighty mountains of New York to the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania and from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado to the curvaceous slopes of California (9).

But in many ways Mrs. Trump failed because the words she used were not even original.

And that speaks volumes and may make this a day that lives in infamy (10) rather than one that lives in victory.

One of the lessons that I try and impart to my students deals with plagiarism and originality. I tell them that you must give credit to those whose words and ideas you use. If you do not, then it is plagiarism. Just ask Vanilla Ice or Robin Thicke. It can ruin your credibility professionally speaking, especially if you are a writer or an artist.

Melania Trump could have taken a lesson from the social icon Jay Z. Yep, Sean Carter.

Artists like Jay Z give credit where credit is due. It’s called sampling in the music industry. One is not just copying another’s work, but rather putting a new twist on that work creating a new experience and still giving credit where credit is due. (Shakespeare did the same thing, but in his time it was allowed to happen without giving credit, but then again he never really owned his own plays.)

If Mrs. Trump wanted to use Michelle Obama’s words to show her own story, then she should have given the First Lady credit for the words but then showed how those words applied more to her own story than to that of the FLOTUS.

That would be original. Then Donald could come do what Donald does best which is wear iconic baseball hats that he makes more famous than any other Yankee can (11) and then show how everyone can leave his/her hard knock life (12) to live long and prosper (13).



  1. The song “Ice, Ice Baby” stole the central riff from “Under Pressure” which is a song by Queen and David Bowie.
  2. Robin Thicke was just found guilty of plagiarizing literally many rhythms from Marvin Gaye.
  3. “Four score and seven years ago” – Abraham Lincoln from The Gettysburg Address.
  4. “Cuyahoga” is a damn good song from the Life’s Rich Pageant album by R.E.M.
  5. “Tear down this wall!” – Ronald Reagan at the Berlin Wall
  6. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!” – Emma Lazurus from “The New Colossus”.
  7. “Let’s Make America Great Again” – Ronald Reagan campaign slogan.
  8. “Brave, new world” – Shakespeare from The Tempest.
  9. “Let freedom ring from the mighty mountains of New York. Let freedom ring from the heightening Alleghenies of Pennsylvania. Let freedom ring from the snow-capped Rockies of Colorado. Let freedom ring from the curvaceous slopes of California.” – Martin Luther King, Jr. from “I Have a Dream”.
  10. “A day that will live in infamy” – Franklin Delano Roosevelt on the Pearl Harbor attack in 1941.
  11. “I made the Yankee hat more famous than a Yankee can.” – Jay Z from “Empire State of Mind”.
  12. “It’s a hard knock life!” – from the musical Annie, later sampled by Jay Z in “Hard Knock Life”.
  13. “Live long and prosper.” – Dr. Spock from Star Trek.