Trump administration repeats the cycle of book burning

Drishti Upadhyaya, Features Editor

History repeats itself as the Trump administration ventures into book burning, though not in the literal sense. 

Trump and his administration have enforced xenophobic laws since first coming into power. In 2017, Trump issued Executive Order 13769, commonly known as the Muslim ban, which suspended entry of refugees from many Muslim-majority countries. It cut the number of refugees entering the country in 2017 to 50,000. In 2018, roughly 250,000 immigrants were detained by ICE and sent to detention centers. Currently, the administration is aiming to drastically decrease the number of refugees coming to America in 2020 to zero. 

Director of Immigration Services Ken Cuccinelli has kickstarted his career in literature, intending to revise the poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty titled “The New Colossus.” Instead of the famous lines, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Cuccinelli proposes, “Give me your tired and your poor who can stand on their own two feet and who will not become a public charge.” The edit, he explained, would be in reference to illegal immigrants and refugees. Cucinelli stated that the original poem was written in reference to European immigrants, and not people of color, which justifies the revision in his eyes. Essentially, he wants to rip out a page of history and replace it with one supporting xenophobia. 

Book burning has existed since man first put pen to paper. Books are burned to erase any religious or political topics addressed in them. It is a surefire method of censorship. It makes sure any texts available to the public were ones the powerful support. In the past, historical documents would be burnt as a method of denialism. Any texts that remained would show a revised version of the past. 

 The Qin Dynasty in China burned historical writings to enforce a new ideology: legalism. Years of philosophy and history were destroyed in mere seconds. And the children who grew up with the new words never heard the old. Growing up in a revised society makes the original foundations fade away. Cultural genocide intends to destroy history to promote prejudice against those who stand by the old. Those who protested legalism were executed in China. 

European colonists burned the natives’ writings in order to erase their history. The impact is still seen today, with indigenous people still suppressed and seemingly written out of history. Cultural genocide segues into literal genocide, as evidenced by the mass murder of natives shortly after. Even today, the impact of both the ethnocide and genocide is seen. The natives were massacred, and their population still remains small. Their history and culture have been erased, and few still hold on to it. 

The current Indian government, led by Narendra Modi, is pushing an Islamophobic agenda to weaken India’s history as a secular nation, and instead promote a Hindu India. Books that counter this ideology and rather point out secularism throughout various periods in India have been burned by members of the Hindutva movement, and have been attacked legally. The Hindus: An Alternative History was forced to go out of print and is under court order in India, as it attacked the right-wing idea that no Muslims truly have Indian blood. The number of lynchings of Muslims has increased since Modi first took office and began this era of book burning. 

The pattern of book burning at the start of a genocide has been seen often in history. The Nazi book burnings in 1933 occurred the same year their first concentration camps were formed. The book burnings occurred to wipe out the old works and replace them with new ones supporting the administration—sound familiar? 

Words have always been used to voice rebellion, and censorship has always been used to overpower them. Revisionism can be a form of censorship at times. To get rid of a line seen as a staple of this nation and replace it with one more supportive of a political agenda is to act as though these words and the history behind them never existed. Burning books burns history. Burning history enables genocide. 

Attacking “The New Colossus” is significant in this political climate. The Trump administration enforces xenophobic, anti-refugee policies, and this poem attack the idea. It paints the ideal America to be one welcoming of all who wish to be free. An ideal America doesn’t turn refugees away or make concentration camps for immigrants. It accepts. To make immigrants appear as a burden on this nation—one that was founded by immigrants and their descendants—is to erase America’s history. Words hold power, so people will always try to burn them. History isn’t pretty, so people will always try to twist it. Genocide always begins with books burning. America seems to be right on that track. “The New Colossus” isn’t just a poem. It’s history. 

The Trump administration also has a controversial stance on climate change, views that 64% of the population disagree with according to the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research. The administration has pushed support for coal use, and cut back regulations on decreasing carbon dioxide emissions from corporations. Climate refugees have yet to be acknowledged by Trump, though this year has displaced nearly 7 million due to climate related catastrophes. But in this era of scientific proof, how has the administration retained their ignorance? 

The White House has begun editing out evidence of climate change from scientific documents. Reports by the National Park Service no longer explain the role of humans in climate change. The Trump administration has also been deleting past records of temperatures recorded in American history, in order to limit the evidence of climate change. Censorship has made scholarly articles from government agencies unreliable. The administration is erasing data and records just to maintain an air of ignorance. While some may argue that revising poetry is inconsequential, no one can argue for the benefits of erasing solid, scientific fact. For documents on climate change to make no mention of the increasing release of greenhouse gases is ridiculous. Trump refuses to acknowledge this in order to protect corporations and deny climate change refugees asylum.  Trump is silencing science for short term gain. Nevermind the long term consequences.  

Evidence and records have gone up in figurative flames under Trump’s rule. A poetic classic integral to this nation has been ripped out of history and replaced with falsehood. The cycle of book burning is haunting our nation, and until we force the administration to face the consequences, it will continue to torment the people.