Supernatural stories and diplomatic missives have recently surrounded the Statue of Liberty. First, a man claimed to have captured three UFOs in a photo of the Statue of Liberty. Then, according to the Washington Post the statue gave Senator Cruz the middle finger after he made disparaging remarks about New York values. On the campaign trail, Donald Trump who resented the attention on his rival told the Statue of Liberty to reject all Muslims.
Lately, the buzz has been that the French are insisting on taking back their 1886 historic gift to America and to relocate the Statue of Liberty to Canada. It turns out that the spirit of the sculptor Auguste Bartholdi is demanding it. Why would Bartholdi treat us like modern Hamlets? What have we done that he would appear as a Parisian apparition demanding a Hamlet-like action?
A French paper that claimed a sighting of the phantom of Bartholdi published an op-ed, “The Statue of Liberty is a Patriotic Concern.” It stated that the French people named the statue and inscribed it as Liberty Enlightening the World. The French were already upset when Rumsfeld insulted them and erased the word French from our beloved fries. During the Iraq War, which the French did not approve of, they thought that Rummy was a historic fluke. Now they are very upset because they hear the latest xenophobic incitements coming from America.
The French have enough racists of their own yet they believed that the words they inscribed in the Statue “Liberty Enlightening the World” would take roots in America that has already seen itself as a City on a Hill. The French pinned their hopes on us because they thought that we started from square one without a monarchy, as Tocqueville wrote in Democracy in America, our point of departure was “we the people,” not “we the king.”
The French also know from their French Revolution how quickly ugly words turn into unspeakable action. They saw Donald Trump saying, “No more Muslims coming to America,” they watched when a Muslim woman saying nothing, just standing at a Trump rally wearing a headscarf was banished, unceremoniously escorted out while American men screamed at her as she walked up the aisle to the exit. They saw us acting like a bunch of misogynists.
It is not that the French are better in terms of prejudice; it is just that they know from their French Revolution how quickly words and jeering can turn into rivers of blood and how the line between hateful speech and beheading guillotines is much thinner and more fragile than we would like to believe. They just hoped that we, by virtue of being a country of immigrants would be good custodians of the Statue of Liberty.
The French sent a message: they would like us to embrace Emma Lazarus again and live up to the statue’s open arms:
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”
We in America really need to embrace reason and sanity and refuse seduction by bluster, primitivity and hatred. Let’s remember Native Americans the owners of the land, and follow Pope Francis and embrace compassion. Then Trump will not be president and the Statue of Liberty will not migrate to Canada.