Melania: the good, the bad and the beautiful

Story highlights

  • Peggy Drexler: The low-profile Melania Trump delivered a well-written RNC speech but with lines identical to Michelle Obama's speech
  • She says that has overshadowed remarks that weren't themselves very revealing, either about herself or about her husband

Peggy Drexler is the author of "Our Fathers, Ourselves: Daughters, Fathers, and the Changing American Family" and "Raising Boys Without Men." She is an assistant professor of psychology at Weill Medical College of Cornell University and a former gender scholar at Stanford University. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

(CNN)One of the most anticipated speakers at the Republican National Convention Monday night was someone who, in campaigns past, we would have already heard a lot from by now: the presumptive candidate's wife.

And by the time Melania Trump finished her prime-time address before the rapt crowd in Cleveland, it appeared that she had gotten the job done. The speech itself was solid-seeming: delivered well and with grace and poise.
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    Then came the controversy (it's a Trump event, after all): pieces of her speech bore not just an uncanny resemblance to the one Michelle Obama delivered to the 2008 Democratic National Convention. They were identical. Two whole paragraphs worth.
    After Twitter erupted with the revelations in the hours after the speech, and the media followed suit, the candidate himself delivered his own statement, via a campaign adviser, that reflected, it must be said, impressive chutzpah: "Melania's team of writers took notes on her life's inspirations, and in some instances included fragments that reflected her own thinking," it said, in part.
    Was this flop inevitable?
    Melania Trump may have made her name as a model, but she's not used to being the center of attention, at least not on the campaign trail. To date, she's done little but stand by her man, on occasion taking the podium at her husband's prodding to say a few quick words, but leaving most of the stumping to her stepdaughter, Ivanka.
    So when it was announced that she was to take the stage at this year's convention, the cards were stacked (gently) against her. But few — even the most ardent Trump opponents — went so far as to doubt she had anything worthwhile to say.
    It's hard to imagine there wasn't a faction hoping she'd fail, for any number of reasons — because she's a woman, because she's a beautiful woman, because she's married to Donald Trump, a man many regard as a charlatan at best, dangerous at worst.
    But no one, certainly, would suggest that she was little more than a (very) pretty face (or exotic accent), even if most stories leading up to the event did take note of her appearance in some way -- even going so far as to point out that if she becomes first lady she will be the first former lingerie model to earn the distinction, as if that distinction is worth being made.
    That said, expectations for the remarks were high, given her privacy so far. Having been deprived for so long, audiences were clamoring to get a glimpse of her, and of her marriage; of what it is, exactly, that joins her and her husband in ideology and character; of what makes her so sure he's the right guy for the job, other than the fact that he's her husband. Of what sort of first lady she'd be, not only to the country but also to her President. They're married, yes. But what binds them?
    After a rousing introduction from Trump and to the tune of a song by Queen, Melania Trump walked out on stage. She looked, it must be said, stunning; this is a woman who knows her best angles and expressions, not to mention how to dress to flatter (in what appeared to be a $2,000 dress by a Serbian designer).
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    She went on to deliver what sounded like a well-written speech very well, with fewer distractingly smoldering looks as time went on. Her greatest appeal came when she smiled, a wide, genuine smile that radiated a warmth we've yet to see from her, or from her husband.
    She defended Trump, noting his support for women and children, for immigrants (following, it should be noted, Sen. Jeff Sessions' anti-immigrant rant), his love, and hers, and for family and America, saying that she fell in love with him for his kindness. But she offered little in the way of insight, or of what might be called proof of that love, or of that kindness, or of that strength of character.
    Where were the examples of the "amazing man" she knows so deeply? Where was a scene from their marriage? Where was anything that could have been shared by only her?
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    Instead, it was a speech full of pro-American rhetoric underwritten with good-wife devotion --with some of its strongest and most heartfelt-seeming passages cribbed, to boot.
    In a pre-speech interview, she told Matt Lauer that she wrote the speech herself, "with a little help." Clearly, she had considerable help — if you can call it that, at this point -- whether in the form of a careless speechwriter or, if it was an intentional act of plagiarism (which seems unlikely, given how closely she must have known she'd have been watched), with word-for-word assistance from Michelle Obama's speech.
    As such, she can't bear the responsibility alone for the similarities, though ultimately she bears the most. At the very least, we can all admit, it was not the campaign's most carefully vetted moment -- though of those there have been few.
    Still, in the context of her fellow convention speakers, she emerged a reasonable, rational, likable human being, even if her words were, ultimately, not all that revealing, either about herself or her husband—or entirely her own. Her remarks were as political as they were impersonal -- messy disguised as polished.
    Melania Trump is not a person who has chosen to live her life publicly, not since her husband announced his candidacy or before. It's clear that she loves America, and probably her husband, even if she didn't quite tell us why.
    If people expected her to fall completely flat, they were disappointed—though the plagiarism doesn't help her much. But if they expected some real insight and revelation, they, too, were disappointed.