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A Sleeping America

By Shawn Nelsen



            Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, this is the American dream right?  Well honestly it sounds nice, but unfortunately a sleeping America is never going to be able to experience Thomas Jefferson’s lovely dream.  Somewhere along America’s turbulent path her hazy dream became her harsh reality and now all of America’s people have to face the truth that a lost dream is not going to get anyone anywhere.  In retrospect America is comparatively one of the better countries to live in and there is no doubt that the few glimpses of the American dream were nice while they lasted. With events such as the passing the civil rights act in the 1960s and putting a man on the moon it is easy to believe that maybe Jefferson’s dream was realized, but unfortunately this is simply not the case.  America now needs to face the fact that the good times are now over and much needs to be done if the American dream is ever going to become the American reality.  Americans now live in a time that innocent people could legally be put to death. She lives in a time that congress can pass a supposedly patriotic act that goes against many of the principals and values that America’s original patriotic forefathers fought and died for. Lastly Americans live in a time that the White House wants to pass a constitutional amendment against gay marriage that will limit people’s freedom as apposed to expand them.   In essence, because of such modern truths as the American support of the death penalty, the recent passage of the Patriot Act, and the current fight against gay marriage, it seems that Thomas Jefferson’s American dream that consists of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is long dead.

            Although many people do live in the United States of America, Jefferson’s dream of life is, without a doubt, long faded away.  It should be apparent that life is so much more than the ability to live, it is the knowledge that one will be able to keep his or her own life.  With this in mind, the problem that becomes apparent is that hundreds of times each year people are legally sentenced to death, some of whom may have actually been innocent. Sadly enough it appears that America is doing nothing to stop this horrible attack on the dream of life for today America has as her commander and chief Mr. Bush who used to be the governor of Texas, the state that puts the most people to death.  During Mr. Bush’s term as governor a man named Gary Graham was sentenced to death, convicted on the testimony of only one witness. Gary Graham's lawyer Ronald Mock offered virtually no defense and among Mock's clients were five men already executed, and six more who are waiting to die.  Furthermore, Columbia University researchers had just finished tracking all capital convictions from 1973 to 1995, which was nearly 5,800 cases. They found serious errors in 68 percent of them.   All this in the wake of various other controversial cases and still, according to CBS News Correspondent Bob McNamara, Mr. Bush claimed that the system was fair, saying "I believe they've had full access to the courts and they've had full access to have a fair trial not only in the state system but in the federal system."  With such a high percentage of errors in sending people to their death though, it sadly becomes clear that Mr. Bush is wrong.  Furthermore, there becomes a high risk of killing innocent people. Sadly enough this may have already happened.  Modern DNA testing has already proved many people innocent on the prospective eve of their deaths.  Who is to say that some people were not missed because of lack of DNA evidence or the technical ability to test it?  As once written in The Christian Science Monitor, at its root, the motivation for the death penalty is not justice, but vengeance.  This is a motivation that is not worthy of a civilized state.  Even though the death penalty has been abolished de jure or de facto by 106 other nations, The United States still sends many people to their death each year.  According to Derechos Human Rights the United States along with China, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Iran are the most prolific executioners in the world.  Indeed, the US is one of six countries (including also Iran, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Yemen) which execute people who were under 18 years-old at the time they supposedly committed their crimes.  With such an abundant and unneeded use of death by the United States government, it certainly seems that no one can make the claim that Jefferson’s dream of life has been realized.

            Along with life, it seems that Jefferson’s dream of liberty has also slipped away from today’s American reality.  Liberty, being the Americans’ personal freedom is, it appears, being slowly taken away by the trusted American government.  After the horrible attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11th 2001 it seemed that America was afraid and on edge.  Unfortunately the American government took advantage of this fragile time in American history to take away many of the liberties that most Americans thought were untouchable by passing the Patriot Act.  Congress has tried to pass the Patriot Act off as a bill that will only protect Americans against terrorists, but, to many people’s dismay, the act has only managed to become a huge scuff on Americans’ personal liberties.  One of the liberties that the Patriot Act robs from Americans is the freedom to Privacy.   According to Jennifer Van Bergen, who holds a law degree from Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law, the patriot act has provisions that make void any legal protection that states that a court must first determine that there is a probable cause before law enforcement can engage in any search and seizure.  These provisions also mix foreign intelligence gathering with domestic criminal investigation, allowing the FBI to spy on Americans whom no court has determined to have done anything wrong.  “In other words,” say Van Berger “If the FBI thinks [some] information might contribute to an investigation, whatever the target’s activity might be, legal or not, the FBI can simply go search and seize.”  Furthermore, under the “sneak and peak” provision law enforcement can search and seize with out any one ever knowing.  Although many people have been lead to believe that the government can only use this abuse of power on foreigners and immigrants, this is simply not the case.  The Patriot Act allows for spying on American citizens just as it does for any one else who may set foot in America.  Even if the Patriot Act did only affect foreigners and immigrants, it would still be hard to believe that such an attack on anyone’s freedom of privacy could have been intended when Jefferson dreamed of liberty.   

              Alas, along with life and liberty, the Pursuit of Happiness has also been deferred, or even forgotten about all together.  This last truth should become sadly apparent to anyone who takes the time to study the recent controversy regarding gay marriage.  Even though this issue does not seem to affect the personal lives of the strait masses, they have still stood together to stop homosexuals from pursuing their own happiness.  For instance, when it was found that there was nothing stopping gays from getting married in the State of Massachusetts’s constitution the country entered into an uproar.  “Marriage is between a man and a woman” seemed to be all America could say, as though a gay couple holding a marriage license would put this country into a huge moral dilemma.  In response to this “problem” in Massachusetts the state congress got together and came up with a state constitutional amendment that would prohibit gays from pursuing their own happiness by getting married, but still this was not good enough.  Mr. Bush, The president of The United States of America, then came out and declared that everything needed to be done against this immoral pursuit of happiness and that a constitutional amendment on a federal level needed to be drawn up to stop gays from getting married.  Even though it is apparent that many Americans seem to have a problem with gays getting married, it was also apparent that in the 60s many Americans had a problem with letting blacks pursue their own happiness as well.  In retrospect it was obviously better to let black people pursue their own happiness, but still America seems to ignore that lesson and remain blind to the link today.  How can Jefferson’s dream of the pursuit of happiness possibly be realized today if America is doing everything she can to stop millions of her gay citizens from pursuing their own happiness?

            Although it is nice to have a dream, America needs to do much work in the realm of reality.  Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness could be so much more than far off hopes if only America worked harder on the ideals that she supposedly already has set out for herself.  America could abolish the death penalty and live up to the dream of life.  She could recall the Patriot Act and give back to her people liberty.  America could let all of her people enjoy the benefits of marriage no matter what their sexual orientation and enable her people to enjoy the pursuit of happiness.  In other words, America needs to wake up to experience the American Dream.