The Dream is Over: The Jaws of Darkness Do Devour It Up

3-28-06, 9:00 am

'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 by men.

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 public will.

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 King.

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 hand').

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 .