If there’s one thing we learned from the first day of the Republican National Convention, it’s that we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure.

The world is very different now. For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life. And yet the same revolutionary beliefs for which our forebears fought are still at issue around the globe.

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

Luke, I am your father.

Where’s the beef?

OK, if we’re being honest, the main thing we learned is that if you’re a presidential candidate, it’s a bad idea to have your wife lift part of her prime-time speech from a speech previously given by the wife of the president you think is an incompetent Muslim impostor.

Melania Trump was supposed to take the stage Monday night and give America a glimpse into the more compassionate, human side of Donald Trump. And she did a fine job, showing a charming sense of humor and a poised delivery.

But some of her words seemed familiar, and soon enough we saw clear evidence that one of the more heartfelt passages of her speech was lifted almost directly from a speech First Lady Michelle Obama gave at the 2008 Democratic National Convention.

The gut reaction is to not blame Melania Trump, instead pointing the finger at one of her husband’s incompetent or careless speech writers. But just days before the speech, she said in an interview that she “wrote it with as little help as possible.”

Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe. (Full disclosure: I didn’t come up with that, Einstein did. Maybe. I copied it off the internet.)

While “my wife is a plagiarist” is probably not the message Trump wanted coming out of the first day of his convention, the truth is that it’s better than the message delivered via the umpteen other speeches delivered before a borderline bloodthirsty crowd of GOP delegates.

Consider these jaw-dropping moments that preceded Melania Trump’s speech:

Monday morning, Iowa Rep. Steve King went on MSNBC and took a stand that would make white supremacists smile, commenting on the intense whiteness of the GOP crowd and saying: “I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?”

Convention officials had to shut down the event’s YouTube chat feature after it was overtaken by raving anti-Semites.

A former soap opera star, Antonio Sabato Jr., who spoke at the convention for reasons that remain unclear to me, said after his speech that he is “absolutely” sure President Obama is a Muslim.

The mother of a victim of the terrorist attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi gave a gut-wrenching speech blaming Hillary Clinton for her son’s death. While that was happening, Trump was doing an interview on Fox News, effectively counterprogramming his own convention.

Two members of a security team that fought in Benghazi spoke in gruesomely casual detail about the experience. The description of shooting a terrorist to death — “dropping him like a sack of potatoes” — were met with wild, fiery cheers from the audience.

Former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani looked as though he might explode as he implied that America as he knew it no longer exists, screaming into the microphone: “WHAT HAPPENED TO IT? WHERE DID IT GO?”

There were chants of “Hillary for prison!” and “Lock her up!” along with cynical mockery of “illegal aliens” and Americans who only want “free stuff.”

All of which was lapped up by the devoted Trumpsters who filled about two-thirds of Quicken Loans Arena. (There were many empty seats. As Trump would say, sad.)

The problem is this: For someone who isn’t a die-hard Trump backer, Monday night’s convention looked like an ad that Clinton’s campaign would make to highlight why you shouldn’t vote for Donald Trump.

It was mean-spirited, occasionally unhinged and angry, and apparently part of it was plagiarized.

Trump’s fans won’t care. But the people he needs to win the presidency will, because they know that nothing in all the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.

And you can quote me on that.

Just make sure to attribute the last part of that sentence to Martin Luther King Jr. I may have plagiarized it from him.

 

Rex Huppke is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune. Readers may e-mail him at rhuppke@tribpub.com.