This editorial answers the question, "What is the American Experience?" It is part of a series from the junior AP Language and Composition classes at Oakton High School in Northern Virginia, and was selected by a panel of student judges for publication on HuffPost Teen.
A young college student exchanges excited glances with her friend, both of them suppressing squeals of joy. Suddenly, however, their expressions of delight transform into ones of horror as two men enter the hotel room, throw a pair of skimpy undergarments at them, and inform them that they will be working at a nearby strip club. This is the tragic story of Katya* and Lena*, two foreign exchange students who had come to America under the impression that they had received summer jobs at Virginia Beach, only to find themselves ensnared in Detroit's booming sex trafficking industry. Lured by the false promise of education and opportunity, both girls were tricked into slavery and endlessly abused mentally, physically and sexually.
According to the United States Department of State's Trafficking in Persons Report, an estimated 17,500 people are hoaxed and trafficked to the United States annually, and this number does not even include people trafficked from the U.S. The hundreds of thousands of young women, girls and boys who are trafficked within the U.S. can more often than not tell Katya's and Lena's stories to a tee because they have all shared similar fates. Expecting nothing but the great, positive experience that America has always been associated with, each of these people fell victim to this age-old misconception of what the American Experience actually is -- one of deceit.
Americans as a whole, not just the scum of society, rely on deception. The qualities that conmen and criminals exhibit are prevalent in the law enforcement sectors of the United States as well. In fact, ABC News covered a story relating to the public a huge operation conducted by Osceola County Sherriff's Department that resulted in the arrest of 40 pedophiles and online predators -- this operation would not have been so successful without the use of deception. Detectives, posing as children, set up fake online identities in order to initiate contact with suspected pedophiles. The ruse worked, and the nation was cleared of 40 dangerous men.
Further investigation along the chain of authority figures reveals that even the presidents of the United States are guilty of dishonesty and manipulation of the public. President James K. Polk deceived the American public in order to instigate a war against Mexico with his famous claim that "American blood [had been shed] upon the American soil." In reality, bloodshed occurred on highly disputed territory; however, as stated in The American Pageant, "Like many presidents with ambitious goals, [Polk] felt justified in bending the truth if that was what it took" to achieve those goals. Although there were several other factors that led to war with Mexico, in the end, the complexity of a war was caused by something as seemingly silly as a simple lie.
More recently, President Bill Clinton became infamous after involvement in the Lewinsky scandal. For not just one but seven months, President Clinton emphatically claimed not to have been involved in sexual relations with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, despite the mountain of evidence stacked up against him. He carried his lie all the way from federal court to national television, resulting in his eventual impeachment.
When the people who are responsible for leading the United States and ensuring its well-being are so comfortable with deceiving its citizens, how does that reflect upon our country? Maybe you think that in some circumstances, deceit is necessary because it provides the easiest or most efficient solution to an issue. Or maybe, Honest Abe, you're president of the "Honesty is the Best Policy" club (which would be ironic considering President Lincoln tricked the world into believing the Civil War wasn't about slavery until he issued the "Emancipation Proclamation" two years into the war, so Honest Abe is really an oxymoron). Either way, the fact of the matter is that whether we like it or not, deceit is everywhere. It defines us, America, as a culture and as a country. Who knows where we'd be or what we'd look like if deception didn't play such a huge role in our history and our present lives.
*Names have been changed by MSNBC for confidentiality reasons.