What does the Melania Trump 'Rickroll' mean?
© Greg Nash

A good friend of mine is a professional auctioneer, has been for almost 20 years. His ability to drive up the price of the cars he's selling using fast words and bluster is impressive, and has won him numerous awards. What's even more impressive, though, is his ability to inject entire sentences into his cadence without anyone — other than those in on the joke — knowing exactly what he is saying. I've heard him discuss his favorite country songs and point out the pretty girls in the room in flurries of words sandwiched between the increasing bids on a truck for sale below him while the price he's asking accelerates in $250 increments.

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In the fallout from Melania Trump's speech on night one of this year's Republican National Convention, I am reminded of my fast-talking friend and his talent for subliminal messaging. And while many have spent the past two days arguing the finer points of plagiarism and whether or not it really even matters, I wonder if an earlier passage in Mrs. Trump's speech was a tip-off — a message to those in on the joke — that a grand sabotage of the entire Trump campaign was unfolding in front of 35 million people.

For those of you with rich, rewarding lives and a proportional work-life balance, "Rickroll" is perhaps a word you aren't accustomed to. For the rest of us, though, it's a common prank, played out daily for years on the internet. It's classic, harmless internet fun, and almost 225 million people have fallen for the joke over the years. It involves the singer Rick Astley, his song "Never Gonna Give You Up" and YouTube. For a more thorough explanation of the frustrating rabbit hole that so many are lured into, click here.

So beyond the all too common, threadbare themes ("His campaign is lean and mean!" "He's a different kind of candidate!") used to explain the Trump campaign's utter ineptitude in allowing Melania Trump to deliver an otherwise elegant speech — save for the fact that parts of it were stolen — I wonder if there are more nefarious things at play behind the scenes in the Trump universe.

Early in the speech, while describing her husband's commitment to America, Mrs. Trump said "He will never, ever, give up. And, most importantly, he will never, ever, let you down." Harmless enough, to be sure, and many noticed it. But was it, as Mike Cosper theorized on Twitter, a tell, alerting all of us that what appeared to be a wonderful speech by a potential first lady was about to go off the rails?

Was it the sign of the Zodiac, scratched onto the side of car, near the now lifeless body of a presidential campaign? Was it the world's best ever Rickroll?

Of course, the simple explanation is that both passages in her speech are mere coincidence. An overeager speech writer cribbed notes from a speech delivered years ago by the current first lady and hoped no one would notice, while Melania, in some far reaches of her brain where the English language is still a struggle, channeled Rick Astley in hopes of convincing reluctant Americans that her husband was never gonna run around and desert you.

Or it could be that someone in Trump's inner circle exploited his previous claim — "I have the best words" — and used it shamelessly to embarrass the family. Either way, the Trump campaign has been mercilessly knee-capped by this entire, unfortunate episode. If Trump's unending outlandish statements have proven infallible, perhaps his wife's will not. And even as an avid opponent of the entire Trump spectacle, I feel sorry for Melania. She deserves better.

That's the beauty in words, though: They are always out there, floating in the ether, free for any of us to use. And whether you can string them together in quick bursts like an auctioneer, or slowly enunciate each in a thick, beautiful, Slovenian accent, they are there. There to explain joy; to entertain; to sell cars; to encourage, to persuade and to cajole. We use them as instruments to describe our passion, assuage our fears and to heal. Words can be soothing and help to restore calm. But they can also be weaponized, hurtful and dangerous. Sometimes they are misunderstood, or not heard at all. And sometimes they are used to Rickroll an entire nation.

Hale is a freelance writer who resides in San Antonio with his wife and three children. He has written for Sports Illustrated and NBC Sports but his first, true love has always been politics. The machinations carried out by otherwise good people are his glorious, guilty pleasure.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.