Like they get pretty much everything else wrong as well…
HOW THE LEFT GETS THE STATUE OF LIBERTY POEM WRONG
No, it’s not a mandate to wreck America.
Its revival has focused heavily not on its opening lines, but a few lines before its conclusion, “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.” The most obvious error they make is to remove the context and read The New Colossus with the painfully literal-minded didacticism of the idiot.
When the poem speaks of “wretched refuse”, they ignore the ironic tone and assume that the ideal immigrant is wretched refuse. Since the poem speaks of “poor” immigrants, they insist that the United States is obligated to take in not just immigrants who are currently poor, but intend to stay that way.
They believe (often without reading it) that the poem speaks of America’s obligation to the world.
But the poem isn’t an idealistic address to the world, but an ironic one to backward tyrannies. By cutting away the opening, “Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp”, the context and contrast between the “storied pomp” and “wretched refuse” is lost. Only “yearning to breathe free” still suggests that the poem is a dialogue between two different ways of life that is meant to demonstrate how liberty works.
America, The New Colossus is saying, was built by people who came here because they had no place in their old societies. Emma’s message was not that America was an evil imperialistic nation obligated to take in every migrant to atone for its sins, but that it was a free nation built by people who had escaped the “ancient lands” with their “storied pomp” and thrived in a land where they could “breathe free”.
Its point was not that America was obligated to take in “wretched refuse”, but that the people who were considered “wretched refuse” by the ruling classes of Europe, had made America into a great nation. The “wretched refuse” is Europe’s view of the waves of migration by English tenant farmers, Scotch and Irish laborers, German and Jewish refugees, Italian workers, and many others considered of no worth in their home ports. Because Europe considered its people “wretched refuse” and the other unflattering descriptors, its nations lacked the liberty that America had.
The Statue of Liberty had been a gift from France to America. But the French idea of liberty was different than the American one. The French had wanted to make a political point with the Statue of Liberty. Their liberty was an idealized figure enlightening the world. A secular goddess of political revolution.
Emma Lazarus instead humanized her into an American figure, a welcoming statue, not an ideal of political terror. Perversely, her poem has been embraced by the advocates of political revolution who see immigration as a means of transforming and overturning the United States of America.
That was the French vision, but it was not the American one. And it was not Emma’s vision.
The New Colossus instead suggests that free societies succeed and tyrannies fail. Like Mark Twain, Emma Lazarus challenged the French presumptuousness of gifting America the Statue of Liberty.
America did not need the statue; it had the reality.