Public school teachers learn this truth early in their careers: perception is reality.
Elections are similar – all too similar. Let’s take Melania Trump and her famously plagiarized speech at the Republic National Convention. Melania and her writers included a few lovely and meaningful phrases that, perhaps unknown to Mrs. Trump, originated with Michelle Obama. This “oops” created a new perception of Melania Trump: the copier. The word thief. The unoriginal one. Based on this perception, social media exploded with jokes at her expense along with the hashtag #MelaniaTrumpFamousQuotes.
Melania’s script writer eventually stepped forward and took the blame for the stolen phrases. Mrs. Trump was no longer personally responsible for the plagiarism. This announcement pushed the perception of the candidate’s wife in a new direction.
Suddenly, Melania Trump was a sympathetic character in the drama. It wasn’t her fault! Give the woman a break! Those who stuck with the plagiarism program were now perceived as haters, daring to criticize. Public perception had made a 180 degree turn.
Perception shifts like this are dangerous. Those on a candidate’s staff, speechwriters or otherwise, need to be constantly aware of changing public perception. And then, people in the know need to analyze and act on the perception as it stands. In this case, the excerpts Melania “borrowed” from Michelle Obama distracted people from the real issue: the scary possibility of a Donald Trump presidency.
Melania Trump is not running for office. The brouhaha over the content of her speech distracted voters from the candidate himself and his capabilities or lack thereof. Those working with the Democrats need to make sure that the strengths and capabilities of progressive candidates attract more attention than the sorry plagiarism on the other side. After all, perception is the reality that will guide voters in November.