Trump spokesman gives up on Liberty

The Statue of Liberty, gateway for many American immigrants.

On Wednesday, Donald Trump‘s senior policy advisor Stephen Miller had a shocking exchange with a reporter in the White House Press Room, regarding Trump’s immigration policy.

Miller spoke about a Republican proposal co-authored by Trump White House officials which would reduce legal immigration into the United States by about half in the next 10 years, and favor English-speaking immigrants and skilled workers. CNN Senior White House Correspondent Jim Acosta then asked about the change this would mean for America. Acosta quoted “The New Colossus,” the poem which adorns the Statue of Liberty, asking:

The Statue of Liberty says, “give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being able to be a computer programmer. Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them, you have to speak English? Can’t people learn how to speak English when they get here?

Miller responded by saying “the poem that you’re referring to was added later, is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

First, Miller’s comments were a boneheaded political move that partially cedes the concept of “Liberty,” something Republicans have tried for years to co-opt, to Democrats, progressives and liberals. This was an unforced error of the type that could tend to limit or even lower Trump’s support. When you have a symbol as powerful as the Statue of Liberty, and “Liberty” is one of your party’s favorite words, it’s not something you want to give up if you want to maintain or increase your popularity.

Second, Miller’s spin on the facts is wrong. Emma Lazarus wrote “The New Colossus” in 1883, after being asked to do so for an effort sponsored by publisher Joseph Pulitzer to raise money for the pedestal on which the Statue of Liberty was to stand. The Statue wasn’t completed in France until 1884. It did not arrive in New York until 1885. It was not unveiled and dedicated until 1886. So actually, it was the Statue, not the poem, that was “added later.”

Miller also used white supremacist talking points in attacking “The New Colossus.” For example, at Stormfront.org, a white supremacist website, forum members have attacked the poem, saying it was written by a “Jewess who tried to destroy the US,” that the poem is “considered graffiti” and that it is “not part of the original” statue. This is part of an alarming streak of bigotry matching some of what is coming from Trump and his White House, from Trump’s Muslim Bans to his recent speech before the Suffolk County, New York Police Department, where Trump called gang members “animals” and suggested that the police be “rough” with suspects, even to the point of inflicting head injuries on them. One source of such bigoted policies may be Trump White House Chief Strategist Stephen Bannon, who hails from Breitbart.com, a right-wing website known for racism and anti-Semitism.

What also makes Miller’s remarks especially unfortunate is that his ancestry, like that of Emma Lazarus, is of Jewish immigrants from Europe who came to America to escape harsh treatment of their ethnic group, and to seek a better life. That is precisely the type of American welcome that the Statue of Liberty and its accompanying poem stand for.

Photo by Celso FLORES, used under Creative Commons license. https://is.gd/uwYJdv

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