‘Sh*thole Countries’? Lady Liberty Would Slap Trump Silly for What He Just Said, If She Could
“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!”
Emma Lazarus, The New Colossus, November 2, 1883.
That was then, this is now…
“Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
President Donald Trump, January 11, 2018
In 1883 the artists, intellectuals, and business elites of New York City’s high society were hard at work raising money to build the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now stands. Among those who were asked to contribute was the poet Emma Lazarus. She was young, but in the final years of her life, and what she would contribute would not only become one of the defining characteristics of Lady Liberty, but indeed, of America as a nation.
Lazarus already had a history of eloquently patriotic verse. This descendant of some of the earliest Jewish immigrants to settle in New York City had a singular skill for evoking the spirit of America. Her volume, Admetus, and Other Poems, sang of the beauty of America, the strength of it’s people, and the bravery and sacrifice of those heroes live and dead who fought to free it.
And indeed as her words famous and less so defined America then, they are still as relevant as ever today. Her poem, Heroes, in particular, should be read by every American in this time of endless war and an endless stream of warriors coming home with wounds both obvious, and hidden.
But it was her poem, The New Colossus, which most defined America at it’s best, and today stands in shining contrast to the darkness of America at it’s worst, as embodied by the worst President this nation has ever endured. Today, that President, Donald J. Trump, spoke these words: “Why are we having all these people from shithole countries come here?”
The comments came amid discussions in the Oval Office with lawmakers trying valiantly, on both sides, to bridge the partisan gap and strike a bipartisan deal on immigration policy. A deal that is essential, especially for the “dreamers”, Americans brought here illegally by parents whose only real “crime” was yearning to breate free.
According to two people briefed on the meeting who spoke to the Washington Post, the President’s comments were not only shocking enough to leave the lawmakers they were hurled at taken aback, but were spoken in a very racist context.
The lawmakers were covering a part of their proposals which were designed to restore protections to refugees of disasters both natural and military from places like Haiti, El Salvador, and Africa. In reaction Trump reportedly made his “s***hole countries” comment, as well as suggesting we needed more people from nations like Norway, whose Prime Minister Trump had just met with the day before, instead. People from El Salvador are usually Hispanic, while people from Haiti and Africa are predominately Black — while people from Norway are usually White.
And by the way, in a nod to the fierce urgency of now, a time when any inconvenient truth may be labeled “fake news” , let me make note for the doubting deplorables that the story is confirmed by Fox News Chief White House Correspondent, John Roberts.
But still, as we witness the efforts of this likely puppet of putin to unmake America’s greatness, there is hope.
As another eloquent phrase once turned, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” And just as that is not always given the proper credit, neither were the words of Lazarus, at first. At the dedication of the Statue of Liberty in 1886, her words were not mentioned – despite having been praised by other luminaries of the time. And so, a year later when she died tragically of cancer, it was not mentioned in her nevertheless exultantly triumphant obituary.
Why? Poetry was a field dominated by men.
But then, in 1901, Emma’s grieving friend Georgina Shuyler found a book containing The New Colossus at a bookstore, and made it her mission to see the work given the recognition it deserved. Two years later the words were cast in bronze, and affixed to the pedestal which they were written to help fund, upholding the Statue of Liberty on Ellis Island. And that plaque, pictured below, can still be seen in person today, in the museum on the site.
And so, even as this episode in American history which we are living through makes me want to wax poetic and end this commentary with a pessimistic sonnet of my own;
So much for a more perfect union
So much for yearning to be free
So much for the audacity of hope
At least until we get rid of this racist dope
from reality TV
I know that in the fullness of time that moral arc of the universe will bend towards justice, as it did for Lazarus, and for all the immigrants who made this nation great. And so I will instead wrap this up with the words of Emma Lazarus on Hope:
If grief came in such unimagined wise,
How may joy dawn? In what undreamed hour,
May the light break with splendor of surprise,
Disclosing all the mercy and the power?
A baseless hope, yet vivid, keen, and bright,
As the wild lightning in the starless night.
Still, I think Lady Liberty would slap Trump silly if she could. Melania, if you happen to read this, as an immigrant and First Lady, I think it’s fitting that the duty falls to you. And speaking of hope, I hope you will.
Here’s some inspiration for you…
— Walt Handelsman (@Walt_Handelsman) January 31, 2017
Featured images by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images; Walt handelsman, Twitter.