I know, I know. In my last post, which was only yesterday, I said I was taking the rest of the summer off “unless something shows up in the news that I can’t resist making fun of.”
There I was, lazing in my lounge chair, enjoying my vacation from the rigors of writing something funny twice a week, when this happened: a member of the Trump Administration, Acting U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Director Ken Cuccinelli (pictured), suggested a few edits to a classic sonnet by Emma Lazarus called “The New Colossus.”
The current Executive Branch of our government is not known for its literary talents or, for that matter, for its ability to speak and write the English language. Let’s face it: it’s been awhile since it managed a document of more than 140 characters, and even those have a lot of misspellings.
Nevertheless, Mr. Cuccinelli decided to try his hand at poetry. The section of the original of the sonnet he decided to rewrite goes like this:
“’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!’”
Perhaps you recognize it, or at least the beginning of it.* That’s right: it’s the inscription on the plaque at the Statue of Liberty, the icon that welcomes immigrants to America, holding her torch high as if it was a middle finger pointing at Donald Trump.
Here is Mr. Cuccinelli’s version of the first line:
“Give me your tired, your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.”
I’m not sure what pentameter that’s in (or, frankly, what a pentameter is), but its artistic merit or lack thereof is besides the point. What’s more important is that it’s a clear representation of what America now wants the world to know about its welcoming committee.
The Trump Administration does not want any tempest-tost people coming to America. Mr. Trump may even have tweeted something about “toasted people staying the hell out of the country.” The Trump Administration wants to replace our golden door with a slatted wall. The Trump Administration would prefer that people didn’t come to America to find a better life unless they already have a good life.
“We will decide,” the Trump Administration says, “if you are worth having.”
Cuccinelli went on to explain that Lazarus’s poem was referring to immigrants from Europe, which, as everybody knows, is a much classier type of wretched refuse than the kind that comes from Central America.
While I don’t think Emma Lazarus intended to exclude from her invitation anyone who was not from Europe, it is true that the vast majority of immigrants were coming from there at that time. And, yes, they were coming without any of the “safety nets” that today’s immigrants have, like food stamps, for instance. And, look, if I’m being honest, I, too, would prefer that people not come to this country just to become “a public charge” for an indefinite period of time.
I guess what I’m objecting to here isn’t so much policy itself, but, rather, the sheer mean-spiritedness with which Trump and his people seem to do everything.
With that in mind, I believe the administration shouldn’t pursue its excursion into literature half-heartedly. If you’re going to put a new poem on the Statue of Liberty, don’t just redo the first line; rewrite the whole thing. Maybe something like this:
A rich asshole scion of famedom
Who as leader is strictly from lamedom
Says, “We refuse your refuse, sirs.
We don’t want you losers
Go back to the place where you came from.
See you soon. I’m going to try this vacation thing again.