President Donald Trump revived a story from a song he had invoked on the campaign trail to incite fear against immigrants and refugees while speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference on Friday.
This time, the daughters of the artist who wrote the song spoke out against Trump's use of their father's lyrics.
The story was initially written as a song in 1963 by social activist and black communist, Oscar Brown Jr. The artist's daughters, Maggie and Africa Brown, appeared on MSNBC on Sunday to criticize Trump’s invocation of the tale.
"He’s stealing. Oscar Brown Jr. wrote those lyrics. And then he’s twisting Oscar’s meaning to serve his own campaign and climate of intolerance and hate, which is the opposite of what the original author, Oscar Brown Jr., intended," Maggie Brown, 55, said.
"The Snake" involves a woman who nurtures a snake, only to have the snake fatally bite her. In Trump's use, the United States is the woman, and the snake represents immigrants.
“He’s twisting Oscar’s meaning to serve his own campaign and climate of intolerance and hate.”— MSNBC (@MSNBC) February 25, 2018
The daughters of “The Snake” author, Oscar Brown Jr. want Trump to stop using their father’s lyrics as anti-immigrant propaganda.
Oscar Brown Jr., the original writer, developed a reputation as a celebrant of black culture and advocate for racial equality. His work included a musical play adaptation that eventually featured Muhammad Ali and was shown on Broadway and numerous shows featuring gang members. Brown frequently performed in nightclubs.
“It’s very, extremely ironic. And it’s an insult to the deep respect for humanity that inspired everything our father stood for,” Africa Brown, 48, said.
Trump’s earlier use also inspired the ire of Brown’s family members. The Chicago Tribune reported that Brown’s grandson also noted the paradoxes of Trump quoting the song.
“It would have been nice if you credited him for his work,” Sidakarav Dasa, the grandson, wrote in 2016, "but I can see how telling your crowd that you were quoting a man who resigned from the Communist Party in 1956, declaring himself to be 'just too black to be red,' might be problematic."
But Trump’s recent contortion reflects the irreverent, but smart, branding that helped him gain office. While it, perhaps, seems an infuriating manipulation of messages that contradicts the initial artist’s underlying ideology, Trump’s invocation of Brown’s song should be understood within the current political atmosphere.
Branding is a powerful rhetorical device, as witnessed by Trump’s success with marring his political opponents. By detaching the words from their author, Trump has once again indicated his single-minded focus on promoting himself. Broader political narratives and historical realities don’t seem to matter as long as Trump can appeal to his base.