The Brutal Slice of Trump’s Razor

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump gives his thumb up as he walks off the stage with his wife Melania during the Republican National Convention, Monday, July 18, 2016, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/John Locher)
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Over the weekend, I outlined my heuristic of Trumpian action which my high school classmate John Scalzi has now dubbed ‘Trump’s Razor‘ in honor of ‘Occam’s Razor’, the foundational mode of reasoning devised by the 14th century scholastic theologian William of Occam. According to Trump’s Razor: “ascertain the stupidest possible scenario that can be reconciled with the available facts” and that answer is likely correct. Last night ran very late at TPM thanks to the Melania/plagiarism debacle. As I was walking to my apartment well past midnight I started considering the implications of Trump’s Razor and I shuddered and recoiled at what it told me. To phrase the principle in Occam’s terms, it tells us ‘the stupidest scenario is always to be preferred’. And what was the stupidest possible scenario? Right: Melania wrote the speech herself.

As I said, I couldn’t believe what my theory was telling me. In a brief moment of megalomania I imagined myself like Einstein, unwilling to accept the full implications of Relativity. I decided to waste some more time on Twitter and then go to bed. But now we have this article out from The New York Times which turns things in a pretty new direction. The main gist of the piece is Trump campaign dysfunction, denying the obvious, doing damage control. But down in the piece is this passage ….

Two people briefed on the process, who insisted on anonymity to discuss such a sensitive issue, said that a contract speechwriter, Matthew Scully, had written an early draft of Ms. Trump’s speech several weeks ago. Ms. Trump then took that speech and made substantial changes to it, according to this person, with help from someone working at the Trump Organization.

Who is Matthew Scully? He’s a career professional speech writer who also happens to have written a well-received book about animal rights Dominion: The Power of Man, the Suffering of Animals, and the Call to Mercy (2002). Scully was a speechwriter for President Bush during the 2000 campaign, a White House speechwriter from 2000 to 2004. He wrote the vice presidential speech Sarah Palin ended up giving in 2008. In other words, Scully is one of the small cadre of top GOP speechwriters whose services are routinely called up year after year. Dems have an analogous group.

William of Occam, Predecessor of ‘Trump’s Razor’

Anything is possible. But this does not seem like a mistake someone like Scully would make. Not remotely. According to these sources, Scully wrote the speech “several weeks ago” and then passed it off to Melania who “made substantial changes to it … with help from someone at the Trump Organization.”

We can’t be certain this account is accurate or complete. But it seems to suggest that the plagiarism is the work of either Melania or the unnamed person at the Trump Organization. It also suggests without saying explicitly that the speech may not have been vetted after the work these two did on it.

Who is the person at the Trump Organization? A corporate speech writer? A personal assistant of Melania’s? Did Melania watch earlier First Lady speeches (not surprisingly or at all unreasonable), decide she liked that passage, ask the Trump Organization employee to give her ‘something like that’ only to have it appear in the speech almost word for word?

Admittedly we’re dealing with a small portion of information, albeit from two sources, who remain unidentified. We can’t know what happened yet. But the power of Trump’s Razor is strong. It commands us to go in directions too imbecilic or stupid to be imagined. And yet those who will not go willingly are often dragged later where it beckoned them.

We can’t know yet. But the now available evidence suggests Melania perhaps being the plagiarist herself or at least being much closer to it than we could possibly have imagined.

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