“…Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
– Emma Lazarus’s “The New Colossus”
Last August, senior White House policy aide, Stephen Miller, attempted to talk down the significance of “The New Colossus”, Emma Lazarus’s immortal Petrarchan sonnet inscribed in bronze on the pedestal of the Statue of Liberty.
Miller was trying to justify President Trump’s so-called skilled-based immigration proposal or, in other words, ‘if you want to immigrate to America you have to be able to speak English’ proposal.
And, just last week GOP gubernatorial candidate Kim Guadagno unveiled a 30-second TV spot that has been correctly condemned as “a grossly distorted, dishonest, race baiting, anti-immigration, anti-sanctuary, cringe-worthy, swift boat type” attack ad calculatingly designed to impugn the reputation of her Democratic opponent Phil Murphy.
It was a page torn right out of the Trump playbook, and so, just like that, in two short months, we’ve gone from “The New Colossus” to the colossally stupid.
Miller argued with a CNN reporter that the poem, although written in 1883 to help raise funds for the statue’s construction, was later added-on to Lady Liberty in 1903 and was not part of the original dedication in 1886.
According to Miller and the ‘let’s deconstruct the state’ crowd on Pennsylvania Avenue, the Statue, therefore, should only be considered a symbol of Liberty and not Immigration.
The poem, as everyone comes to learn, depicts Lady Liberty as ‘the Mother of Exiles,” and surely gave new purpose to the world famous statue regardless of what Stephen Miller thinks.
It’s hard to argue that it’s not a symbol for the world’s ‘huddled masses’. And, one wonders why the White House is in such disarray!
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But Guadagno’s gubernatorial election commercial, more so than Miller’s dribble, is much more revealing of an “arrogance of intolerance.” She approved a TV ad that politicized the murder of three helpless children, an ad that was titled “Sanctuary. ”
Using misleading claims, stoking fears and purposely distorting Phil Murphy’s position was ruthless enough but then wanting to claim to speak for or represent one of the most diverse states in the nation, a state with the 3rd largest population of immigrants in the USA, is positively Orwellian.
Phil Murphy, to his credit, is right when he says the immigrant communities need protection. He is also right to want to lend a hand to those less fortunate rather than resorting to back handing a massive number of people by using lies and misinformation.
It’s what I never understood about Trump, a man who was born to wealth and now with so much more than imaginable wants to deny those with so little.
And, it’s what I do understand about Phil Murphy. A man who was born and raised with so little who now looks to achieve so much for so many.
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My grandmother, an Irish immigrant domestic, met my grandfather at a social club in Jersey City around the time of the sinking of the Titanic, circa 1912.
Eventually they planned to marry but here’s what she told him: “if you want to wed me, bucko, you’ll have to return to Ireland and come back to America through Ellis Island, the right way.”
He had come here through Canada, but she immigrated just like the hundreds of thousands of huddled masses, in steerage class, sailing past the Statue of Liberty.
She would often gaze at the Statue of Liberty from her safe refuge in downtown Jersey City. She made sure my grandfather understood that it was symbolically important to her. Thankfully, he did.
And yet, here we are, a hundred years later, or so, with Stephen Miller, a policy advisor for the White House, who with the benefit of history and education, just doesn’t seem to understand the meaning and importance of any of that.
And then there’s Kim Guadagno and her 30-second political TV commercial and its misguided and nasty riff on sanctuary for immigrants.
She’ll soon discover what Phil Murphy already knows about the people in New Jersey, especially those who will be voting in three weeks.
Murphy instinctively knows that what they deem important is not the contents of a ‘nuclear option’ attack ad.
What’s important to people are answers to these three simple questions: “Can I trust you, are you committed to doing what’s right and do you and will you care about me?”