"The dream," John Lennon once said of 60s idealism,
"is over." These were the words that came to me late
one evening, sitting at my desk, in the glow of a
computer screen, a glass of red wine at one hand, a
spiral ringed notebook and pen at the other.
I had been searching the web for more than an hour,
looking through mainstream newspapers for a chorus of principled complaint against the presidential breach of constitutional rights. But, depressingly, I found little. And after a while, when it was clear my search was in vain, I thought for a long time about Lennon's words.
Of course, I wasn't thinking of the idealists' dreams
of 60s peace and love (though those were nice dreams,
too). No, I was thinking of a far older, far more
noble, far more meaningful dream - the great American
Dream: the truly enlightened dream of a nation of the
people, for the people, and by the people; the
Jeffersonian dream of a nation ruled by laws and not
But sitting there, looking for hope against hope in
the cold silence following the president's defiant
admission of warrantless, unconstitutional
wiretappings, I was more certain than I had been in
five years: the dream was indeed over.
I considered that, perhaps, it was like that with such
dreams, dreams born of wild idealism, dreamy
experiments in the angels of our better nature. In the
history of civilization, such dreams are brief,
perhaps necessarily brief, and rounded on both sides
by dark ages and nightmarish sleep.
Of such idealistic dreams, Shakespeare wrote: "Or, if
there were a sympathy in choice, War, death, or
sickness did lay siege to it, Making it momentary as a
sound, Swift as a shadow, short as any dream, Brief as
the lightning in the collied night, That, in a spleen,
unfolds both heaven and earth, And ere a man hath
power to say 'Behold!' The jaws of darkness do devour
it up: So quick bright things come to confusion."
I then thought for a long while of Thomas Jefferson's
dream that spoke of liberty, and of justice, and of
domestic tranquility - his "quick bright things" - and
how they had all now "come to confusion" in this Age
of Unreason, where American democracy was just
sideshow entertainment, an outrageous mockery of true
And it struck me as a sad irony that Jefferson's
America overthrew the tyranny of King George III,
overthrew his oppressive society ruled by men and not
by laws. But then, just 230 years later, another
tyranny imperceptibly returns as another George
dismisses Jefferson's grand Constitutional dream with
a simple smirk - and in doing so declares himself
Certainly, I know that other presidents have tried and
failed to kill the dream before. Just a generation
earlier, Tricky Dick Nixon similarly wiretapped
Americans without constitutionally required warrants.
But back then the American press and Congress
steadfastly believed in a nation of laws and moved to
protect the American Dream, vigorously reporting on
the president's treason and actively preparing
articles of impeachment.
But that was then. And this is now. Tricky Dick was
just a paranoid politician with a dark willingness to
crush others for political gain. George W. is far more dangerous. He claims to be a savior, sent by God.
Throughout history, tyrants often claim to be saviors
- and are well rewarded for their claims. Caesar was
granted dictatorship over the Roman Republic for
"saving" Rome from the democratic mob. And Napoleon
was crowned Emperor for "saving" France from the
republican rabble. They each claimed to save the ideal
of their respective nations by becoming the ideal.
They each claimed to save the law of their respective
nations by becoming the law. And so it is with George
W. Bush: he claims to be saving America and thus
doesn't need constitutional approval for his actions.
That is, he need not heed the constitution because he has
become the constitution.
"The tree of liberty," insisted Thomas Jefferson,
"must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of
patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure." But,
clearly, Americans have lost their ability to discern
tyrants from patriots. Ironically, we hear the loudest
support of the president's unconstitutional actions
from those who passionately defend their
constitutional right to own guns ("from my dead
I would laugh, if I didn't feel like crying. So, I
shut off my computer, raise my glass, and lament the
death of a great and noble dream - the American Dream.
"And so dear friends," as John Lennon also said,
"you'll just have to carry on. The Dream is over."
Steven Laffoley is an American writer living in
Halifax, Nova Scotia. He is the author of Mr. Bush, Angus and Me: Notes of an American-Canadian in the Age of Unreason. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org or