Nina Yang is one of seven judges on Colorado’s federal trial court, taking that seat in 2022 after her nomination by President Joe Biden. Speaking at her formal investiture she emphasized the core of her judicial philosophy, “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” That’s a noble statement very much in concert with the progressive social justice movement.
I’d agree it’s one measure of the character of our system of criminal justice, but not the sole “true” measure of that, and certainly not of our society as a whole. Other at least equally important measures of the character of criminal justice are due process for all, impartiality, justice for victims of crime, and the impact on public safety. We’ve seen the all too obvious destructive consequences of excessive leniency for those who commit criminal acts from car thefts to organized-group-shoplifting in the decline of cities across the country like San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Seattle and Denver.
Judge Yang’s narrow view is a close cousin to other progressive platitudes masquerading as truth and wisdom such as: “The true measure of a society is how it treats the weak and needy.” Again, you might say that’s one measure of a society but hardly the only “true measure” of a society — or even the most important.
The unfulfilled promise of Marxism, after all, is: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his need.” This sentiment comports with Bernie Sanders’s philosophy–shared by his socialist followers and idealistic young students–but its incompatibility with human nature dooms it to failure as a system of political economy. It crushes incentive and punishes success while rewarding failure and idleness. Moreover, socialism’s pathway to totalitarianism and societal poverty has been evident in places like the Soviet Union, North Korea, Cuba and, most recently, Venezuela.
There are many significant measures of a society’s relative greatness or decadence compared to all others in the world, including its system of governance, justice, law and commerce. Its commitment to political and economic freedom and individual rights. Its military’s capability to defend the people. Its achievements in science, engineering, industry, technology and exploration. It’s morals, religion and philosophy. Architecture, literature, art, music, and culture. Medicine and health. Education, scholarship, intellectualism. Economic efficiency, creation of wealth, standard of living, poverty levels. Also, humanitarianism and a society’s other contributions to the world in general.
Private philanthropy has its place, which is apart from government programs to redistribute income and aid the needy. In our system of government, it’s essential to understand that the state is not society; it’s a subset of society. We are much more than our government, which was created to be a servant to the people, not its master or sole provider.
And while compassion is commendable, it, too, is only one measure of a society. Mother Theresa did exceptional work in her specialty, ministering to the poor and the sick. But so did Socrates, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Henry Ford, Albert Einstein, and Dwight Eisenhower, to name just a few, in their specialties.
As Tevye mused in “Fiddler on the Roof,” there may be no shame in being poor, but it is no great honor either. Poverty is nothing to be revered. The poor want it least of all. That’s why President Lyndon Johnson declared a war against poverty with a multitude of government programs in 1964. True, there’s still “relative poverty” in America. But that’s just a statistical measure that compares the financial status of people from top to bottom. In fact, the relatively poor here live better than most of the world’s population. “Abject poverty,” on the other hand, is another matter, a condition where people have barely enough financial means to sustain life, a grim reality in so many places on this planet. Abject poverty has been long eradicated here by our extensive welfare state, which is so generous as to produce the unintended consequence of making some people permanently dependent on government support.
Perhaps, the most telling measure of a society’s standing in the worldwide marketplace of desirable places to live is to observe which way “the guns are pointed.” Inward to keep captive subjects from escaping, as in the former Soviet Union and the Berlin Wall in its vassal state of East Germany. Or outward, figuratively, to keep millions of hopeful or desperate immigrants from entering, as in the U.S. southern border (if we actually enforced border security which, obviously in the Biden era, we don’t). By that measure, America is surely number one.
Longtime KOA radio talk host and columnist for the Denver Post and Rocky Mountain News Mike Rosen now writes for CompleteColorado.com.
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