Friday was a sad day for our country. I would think — I would hope — that even those who support President Trump’s executive order suspending all entry into the United States for refugees from Syria and six other predominantly Muslim countries (Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia and Yemen — though not, curiously, Saudi Arabia) would agree with that assessment. The idea that America was a place of refuge and hope for people whose lives had been made miserable by despots and their jackbooted flunkies was among the noblest ideas our planet has ever known. Abandoning it is no cause for celebration =- even by those who might believe, as I do not, that such measures are made necessary by our position in a perilous world.
Several months ago, I posted my well-worn copy of Emma Lazarus’s poem “The New Colossus” — whose final words are, of course, engraved at the base of the Statue of Liberty, but which is worth reading from time-to-time in its entirety, to remind ourselves of a time when America really did bid “world-wide welcome.” The beacon on the hill. After all, we were founded on the notion that the fundamental rights of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” are not gifts of the State but are inherent and inalienable, and they are possessed by all people not by virtue of their citizenship or the happenstance of their birth but by virtue of their being human.
So here, again, is Lazarus’s poem — just my way of helping to ensure that it doesn’t vanish entirely. It still sends a little chill down my spine. “Sentimental hogwash!” perhaps. But it wasn’t sentimental hogwash to my grandparents, and it wasn’t sentimental hogwash to Trump’s grandparents, either.
“The New Colossus,” by Emma Lazarus
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “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-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”