The early 1960s song “The Snake” is familiar by now to political observers who have seen President Donald Trump recite it at numerous campaign rallies and at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last week—but the family of the man who wrote the piece says the president entirely misses the song’s point.
Trump has presented the song’s lyrics to his supporters as an allegory to the dangers of welcoming immigrants into the U.S., sharing the story of a woman who comes across a snake and is convinced to take care of him, only to be poisoned by the animal:
“The elephant in the room is that Trump is the living embodiment of the snake that my father wrote about in that song,” Africa Brown, daughter of the songwriter Oscar Brown, Jr., told Don Lemon in a CNN interview on Monday night.
To be more accurate, Trump would need to change last line of the, she continued: “When he says, ‘You knew damn well I was a snake before you took me in’—he could say, ‘Before you voted me in.'”
Africa Brown and her sister, Maggie, expressed anger that Trump has “perversely” appropriated the song for his anti-immigrant agenda.
“My father’s words are being used to support something that he would not back. He’s attacking people of brown color and my father supported people all the time of all color,” said Africa, whose father was a civil rights activist and one-time member of the Communist Party. Brown based the song on Aesop’s fable “The Farmer and the Viper.”
Trump has used the song to further “a political agenda that deals with separatism, racism, sexism, and it’s the kind of thing that polar opposite to what Oscar Brown, Jr. was about,” added Maggie. “And so to actually quote his words verbatim every time, pulling it out of his breast pocket as if it’s this coveted thing that makes him a rock star and people of starting to request it because it’s in popular demand when he does it. You know, that totally is insulting.”