In reviewing The Divided by Matt Taibbi in the Sunday New York Times Book Review, Timothy Noah makes the remark that poverty is being criminalized in the United States. He refers to the way that poor people are being treated on the streets, and he observes that while violent crimes have dropped by 44% over the past two decades, the prison population has more than doubled, skewing black and poor.
The remark causes me to reflect on the unity of conservative thought. Their effective opposition to a government safety net for food, clothing, housing, medical care, and jobs guarantees a desperate population that will commit crimes to sustain themselves and their families when necessary. The conservative reaction to this is to cast blinders on the root causes, to throw the rascals in jail, and to throw away the keys, if possible.
Those who are poor are poor because they deserve to be poor think the conservatives. They don’t work hard enough; they are irresponsible. Law violations prove that the perpetrators are morally defective. In addition, to being lazy and irresponsible, they do not respect authority. Their existence requires the softening of constitutional requirements except for the Second Amendment. The existence of a poor population requires an armed population to protect themselves. Never mind that the guns held in households for protection are a leading cause of inter-spousal killings.
The child development and social supports that lead conservatives to be so hard-hearted, angry, and frightened cannot be easily turned around. They are unlikely to be persuaded by facts that are contrary to this social picture. And demonstrations against their views are likely to make them angrier and more frightened. One of the factors fueling their anger and fear is the recognition that they are losing the White Male Christian (read right wing Christian) country they once took for granted. They still have significant power. But their days are numbered.
Meanwhile, the Democrats are slowing progress. They remain reluctant to make poverty an issue though (thanks to the Occupy Movement), they are willing to raise the issue of income inequality. Fortunately, the Pope has made the issue more difficult to ignore. But Democrats can do far more to combat the group libel of poor people, a group libel so often associated with racism. May they muster the political courage to do so.