By Donna Steele
In my dream Lady Liberty whispered to me, “Can you help me?”
I looked up to see her sinking into New York Harbor. Her torch was not lit; she struggled. In my mind’s eye, I saw her in her former glory, strength her trademark as she welcomed the poor, tired, sick and homeless. Why was she sinking?
Some of her foundations had been exposed and crumbling for a while, and her nicks and dings as time passed were to be expected. Nothing is perfect, not even the enlightenment of democracy she represented.
The actual Lady Liberty was born in 1776. Her physical embodiment debuted in 1886, a time of disenfranchisement for many in America, as Reconstruction was still wreaking havoc, and spiritual and physical wounds from the Civil War could still be felt. Though exposed, her foundations were strong on Liberty Island.
Lady Liberty’s foundation weakened when the United States fought against workers in their struggle to form unions; when American/Japanese citizens were interred in camps during World War II; during the McCarthy era when witch hunts destroyed lives; when a president resigned in the face of probable impeachment for wire-tapping his opponents; and when civil rights were denied to many. Citizens United caused some recent cracks.
Nonetheless, Lady Liberty’s foundations remained mostly intact.
It wasn’t until 1916 that proper technology illuminated Lady Liberty’s torch beyond the pale of a “glow-worm.” Likewise, the United States began as a beacon of liberty, yet took about 100 years before it abolished slavery. It took about 60 more for women to get the vote. “We are all created equal” was clearly subject to interpretation in this democracy.
Despite this, the United States has been a symbol of freedom, a place to find refuge and liberty from war, famine, despots and persecution. The clarion call of opportunity has been heard in every corner of the world, and Lady Liberty’s beacon has drawn immigrants to our shores for a large part of our history.
Until very recently.
The dark pall of President Donald Trump’s executive order to suspend immigration from certain countries will hover over the air a long time. With one signature, and no preparation, he has undone the dream of coming to America and up-ended lives.
In my dream, the tablet representing law that Lady Liberty carries is mostly submerged in a murky brown water, but enough of it is exposed to see the play of light against its flat surface as the clouds cover and uncover the sun. Illumination is bright, then not so bright. The inscription, July 4th, 1776, appears then disappears as the brown water laps against it.
The Spirit of ’76 flies overhead in the form of Air Force One, trailing behind it a banner that reads: “Make America Great Again!” Lady Liberty gasps for air.
As the water on the tablet ebbs and flows, so, too, does the law. It changes with the mindset of the day. Trump, the new enforcer of the law, and creator of it through executive orders, will make a mockery of our laws, as he has our time-honored traditions of welcoming the other.
His narcissism puts him above the law and the conventions of diplomacy, history, sharing tax returns and telling the truth.
It is the latter that has Lady Liberty crying for help. Our country was founded by principled leaders, and now a man who uses “alternative facts” to meet his own ends is leading the free world. His greatest demand is loyalty to himself, not country.
Let’s hope Lady Liberty can remain afloat four years and the swamp Trump has created doesn’t cover her up for good.
Donna Steele of Greenfield is a member of a variety of community organizations aimed at bettering the city, including Greenfield Main Street and the Greenfield Coalition. Send comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.