We have two criminal justice systems. One under-incarcerates white, wealthy males and sports heroes who steal, cheat or take drugs. Some are never arraigned, nor convicted, or spend easy time in Allentown. The other over-incarcerates the poor and uneducated accused of property and addiction crimes, exacerbating the sense of futility among those struggling to make a go of it and lowering the ceiling on their belief in the American dream. Jailing the powerless only diverts resources from education and economic development initiatives that might help prevent more economic and addiction crimes.

And if indeed we are a white, Christian nation, as a loud minority insists, then how is it that we are one of the few civilized countries left that still contravenes the Biblical injunction against killing, especially when we occasionally do it in error?

According to the US Census, the distance between a poor man and a rich man is now the greatest it’s been in our history and double what it was in 1968. More tragically, education, always considered the ticket out of poverty, is now being hit hard by this rising income disparity. The gap in standardized test scores between wealthy and poor students has grown 40% since the 60’s.

Congress is paralyzed by apparent narcissists who have no sense of civil discourse or compromise. The dignified family man currently holding the Office of President is the butt of demeaning racist jokes and threats that go unrepudiated by the leaders of the opposition party. Those who tolerate this demean us all as citizens.

Business, an intrinsic social good, is now deified the way it was before Republican “trust buster” Teddy Roosevelt reasserted the rule of law. It has castrated regulation, not just bought itself free speech, but some say judges, congressmen, and senators as well. In the upcoming election, big business will now try to buy a president.

We remain one of the last civilized countries in the world with no comprehensive healthcare system, leaving a large portion of our children and elderly to cope with illness on their own. There are those who still believe that the free, unregulated market solves all social and economic ills even though that tired axiom has long since been disproved in education, healthcare and the environment.

America is undergoing changes… some good, some bad. And when those with the most to lose dance to the fiddles of those with the most to gain at their expense, there’s reason for concern.

It’s said that working-class Americans respond better to the moral nostrums intoned by the right than to the policy-based frameworks of the left. So conservatives need only talk in broad terms about “personal freedom,” “responsibility,” “morality,” and “self-determination” without ever acknowledging the underlying conditions that make these possible, like equal justice and opportunity, and addressing the well-being of people and communities.

Perhaps liberalism’s failure is its focus on policy and process rather than painting the landscape its principles might produce. People of good will on all sides have much work to do.

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