If the Statue of Liberty Could Speak to Trump

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Head of the Statue of Liberty unpacked in New York, 1885: Donald Trump, head of the Republican Party.
Head of the Statue of Liberty unpacked in New York, 1885: Donald Trump, head of the Republican Party.Credit: Wikipedia, Drew Angerer, AFP
Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden
Vivian Eden

The New Colossus

Emma Lazarus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.

“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

On the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor, between Brooklyn and Manhattan

A 1917 poster advertising U.S. Government bonds. The poster depicts immigrants on a ship, sailing past the Statue of Liberty. Credit: Wikipedia

If the Statue of Liberty were speaking right now during (if not at the Republican convention in Cleveland, she might be saying: “The slogan ‘Make America great again’ is meaningless.

"America has always been great, relative to the competition. Never perfect – the country has been home to slavery, segregation, racism, income inequality, support for oppressive regimes, way too many guns and too little real consideration for working families. But always, historically and today, America has been great relative to the competition. America could be made better, but it is already great.

“Proof and cause of that greatness is the endless stream of people coming here for a new life, as I have witnessed lighting their way.

"That brazen giant of Greek fame, the belligerent old Colossus erected in 280 BCE in Rhodes harbor sent a xenophobic message.

"So does Donald Trump, particularly if you are Mexican, or belong to a certain religious faith. One banned faith can lead to another, despite the 1791 First Amendment to the Constitution promise: ‘Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.’ That amendment also disallows ‘abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press – principles Trump and his sometimes anti-Semitic followers have violated. Trump says: ‘Shut up and keep out!’

Emma Lazarus, 1866Credit: Courtesy Antoinette Geyelin Hoar

“I say: ‘Come in!’ We’re about welcoming the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to be free, like poet Emma Lazarus, who wrote ‘The New Colossus’ and worked with exactly such refugees from tyranny and poverty, helping to found the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, HIAS, which today assists refugees of all faiths.

“In short, my fellow Americans, ‘Make America great again’ is code for keep out the wretched of the world, tossed by tempests in their old countries. Remember where your forbearers came from and think about what your life might be, if at all, had they stayed there.”

Lazarus wrote this poem in 1883 for an auction of a portfolio of writing and artwork, part of newspaper publisher Joseph Pulitzer’s fundraising efforts for a pedestal for the statue of “Liberty Enlightening the World,” a gift from France. The statue was dedicated in 1886 and the plaque with the poem was affixed in 1903. Lazarus, who was born to a wealthy New York Jewish family in 1849 (her birthday is this week, July 22), died in 1887. 

*Bonus: Phoebe Snow and the All City Choir sing “The Lady in the Harbor