NOW that the votes have been tallied and the election is over, few of us will find our lives very different.

The results won't improve the quality of life for those of us considered middle class. The changes needed right now go far beyond one election.

As a nation, we're beginning to negate the very principles responsible for our social and economic success and strength - the ones that led to America's role as world leader, a people and nation to be emulated.

We demand huge funding for the military and elect those who support war - but want someone else's son, daughter or spouse to do the fighting and risk their lives.

We vote for candidates endorsed by those we acknowledge aren't qualified for office, and by those whose tactics have been vilified in the past.

We vote for candidates who claim to be out of the mainstream and thus not responsible for the status quo - yet they've actually held office for years. We vote for candidates who offer no suggestions on how they'll do things differently - and can only vent against the incumbents.

We denigrate immigrants - legal or undocumented - failing to recall that except for Native Americans, all of us are descendants of those who came to the United States - willingly or not. And we ignore the reality that many who most decry making it possible for undocumented immigrants who are contributing to our society to secure a reasonable path to citizenship are often the very people benefiting from cheap labor for their own personal benefit.

We no longer offer welcome to young people from distant lands who come here to study - so they leave and take the skills they learned here elsewhere.

We ignore the declining performance of our education system - except in 30-second sound bites when a new report is released noting our (diminishing) success as compared with other nations' performance.

We continue to use Second Amendment "rights" as reasons to let anyone own assault rifles, yet consider other countries "dangerous."

We investigate the poor for misuse of the ever-shrinking safety net, yet tax breaks and corporate entitlements far exceed any abuse by the poor.

We reject universal health care because we don't want to pick up the cost for someone else, nor do we want to be forced to buy insurance. We ignore the fact that we're ALREADY paying the costs for those who choose not to buy insurance or can't afford it. And we ignore the reality that it's the insurance companies and drug companies fighting hardest to poison the waters for universal care.

We continue to deny rights to those among us who are "different," whether it's based on gender, sexual preference, religion, race, economics, education.

We continue to get our information from the media - more entertainment/politics than real journalism, with investigative reporting as endangered as polar bears and ice caps.

AND WE continue to become angrier - could this be linked to fear that as America becomes increasingly a minority majority country, those who were previously in the minority may treat the new minority as they have been treated?

But our intolerance, blame and anger are misfocused. We've been deluded into targeting each other and often those who might actually help us, perhaps forgetting that old adage about "divide and conquer."

Our enemies, those sworn to destroy us, aren't the real threat. If we continue in the direction we've taken - via frustration, ignorance, hopelessness or apathy - we'll likely destroy ourselves.

What should we do? First step, we need to vote - no matter our frustration. And we need to insist on ethical candidates who refuse to indulge in the untruths and exaggerations spewed during elections.

Second, we must understand that it took at least a decade to create the current problems; our need for immediate gratification must be replaced with more realistic expectations. And we need to speak out against those who would lead this country to deny the qualities that have made us great - our willingness to embrace and welcome "others."

And we need to reflect on the words of Martin Niemoller: "In Germany, the Nazis first came for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, but I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time there was no one left to speak for me."

Philadelphian Marjorie P. Dugan is a liberal - with no apologies.