The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. Photo by Derek Jensen via Wikimedia Commons

By Mike Levin

As we all know, recent events have highlighted the deep divide in our politics. This week, the Trump administration decided to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program or DACA. Just two weeks earlier, we witnessed the tragic and racially charged events in Charlottesville.

While the nation and the state of its politics are much better off now than over a century-and-a-half ago when Abraham Lincoln famously warned the nation that “a house divided against itself cannot stand,” some aspects of the current political divide deeply concern me.

When considering DACA and the Charlottesville marches and counter-protests, there is a core theme which has come to separate the Trump administration from the country I know and love. The divide is one of empathy.

Back in 1883, a young Jewish poet named Emma Lazarus penned the famous words that are now inscribed on the base of the Statue of Liberty (you may recall these words were recently the subject of a heated debate between White House policy advisor Stephen Miller and CNN’s Jim Acosta). In her poem “The New Colossus,” Lazarus wrote:

“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.”

As the grandchild of immigrants who came to America with nothing but the dream of safety, prosperity, and a better future for their children, I read Lazarus’ words as an expression of American empathy in its purest and highest form. Oddly enough, it was this same sense of empathy that inspired Lincoln and others to act upon what they believed was right — because they deeply understood the core principles of equal human rights upon which our country was founded.

Mike Levin

So where are we today? While Lincoln and the first Republicans were defined by empathetic strength, many in today’s GOP are defined by their continued support of a president who seeks to deport hundreds-of-thousands of law-abiding individuals and families, and who also refused to condemn white-supremacists and compared neo-Nazis to those who bravely stand up and march against them.

From the policy perspective, the GOP’s attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which the Congressional Budget Office has repeatedly warned would deny millions of Americans basic health care, to their threats to defund Planned Parenthood, which would deny basic preventative and often life-saving care to thousands of women, to the White House’s immigration bans and ending of DACA, the divide in our politics has never been more stark.

As a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives for California’s 49th District, I have never been more proud to stand for progressive values, which I believe both Lincoln and Lazarus would understand and support. I stand for protecting our environment for generations to come. I stand for ensuring that as the most developed nation in the world, we do not subject our people to third-world quality health care. I stand for accepting those like my grandparents who seek a better life for their families. I stand for safety from those who wish us harm, and protecting civil rights, now and in the future. And while I admit that few of these policies are groundbreaking, I take pride in their vision for a stronger America and their empathy for those who are less fortunate.

Just as Lincoln and Lazarus were moved by our nation’s ability to use its immense power to help those in need, so do the vast majority of Americans, regardless of political preference. And, because of the desire to use our national standing and influence to be a beacon of freedom and democracy for all the world, I could not be more honored to be an American, with a story possible only because my immigrant grandparents were inspired by the words on the Statue of Liberty:

“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.”


Mike Levin, a candidate for Congress against Darrell Issa, was raised in South Orange County, where he attended public schools. He graduated from Stanford University, where he served as student body president, and Duke University School of Law. He was the executive director of the Democratic Party of Orange County and has worked since as an environmental attorney and clean energy advocate. 

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