Off the Record: The writing on the wall (or the statue)

The Trump Administration this week has offered a new interpretation and a proposed rewrite of the Emma Lazarus poem, “The New Colossus.” The poem, written in 1883, is famously carried on the Statue of Liberty, and states, at the end,

“…”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!”

This week Ken Cuccinelli, acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, offered a rewrite to “…your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and will not become a public charge.”

He added that the poem was written about Europeans. I suppose he means the white anglo saxon kind of Europeans, the nordic types that President Trump prefers to let in. Maybe they forget how some other Europeans, like the Irish and Italians, were considered too poor and uncouth and uneducated to be accepted in American society.

Cuccinelli claims his agency is tasked with “enforcing the law, not a poem.”

Well, that’s true. But this move undermines one of the basic philosophies of America as a land of opportunity, where the poor person, with only a couple of dollars in his pockets, could arrive and create a new life for himself and his family. The idea of America as a “great melting pot” where people of all ethnicities and cultures could come and add to the blend that is America.

This proposed “rewrite: of “The New Colossus” reminds me of another literary classic, George Orwell’s “Animal Farm,” an allegorical tale denouncing the rise of communism in Russia through the story of an English farm where the animals drive off their human farmer and set up their own society.

Their socialist tenets are painted on the side of the barn, in the Seven Commandments of Animalism, including mottos like “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Bad,” and “All Animals Are Equal.”

As the pigs, the most intelligent of the animals and the leaders of the rebellion, begin to take advantage of their fellow animals, the mottoes change, until near the end of the book they are reduced to two: “Four Legs Good, Two Legs Better!” (as the pigs have learned to walk on their hind legs), and “All Animals Are Equal, But Some are More Equal Than Others.”

We should be suspicious of the administration’s attempts to rewrite the motto on the Statue of Liberty, lest we wind up like the poor four-legged animals of Animal Farm.


Kevin Sweeney has been the managing editor of The Journal since May 1985. A native of St. Paul, he worked at newspapers in LeSueur and Albert Lea before moving to New Ulm. Contact him at ksweeney@nujournal.com.


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