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History is unkind to multigenerational family business success. "Wealth never survives three generations," warns the ancient Chinese proverb.

Corollary linguistic lineage is traceable across multiple cultures. "Rice paddies to rice paddies in three generations" is the Japanese version, which Europeans recast as "clogs to clogs" in the 19th century and we Americanized in the 20th to "shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves."

The verbiage varies but the core meaning stays constant: Subsequent generations tend to squander inherited wealth. Business statistics bear out the adage. Only 3 percent of family businesses survive to the third generation.

The reasons, established by exhaustive research, are fairly straightforward and attributable to two primary characteristics: entitlement and expectation. Simply put, wealthy grandchildren know neither the work ethic nor drive of their forebears. So they undervalue the handsome world they inhabit, and the risks that threaten it.

Successful grandparents mean well in seeking to provide a more educated and luxurious life for their offspring. The fatal flaw is the lack of longer-term vision and structure in formal planning--and the education and communication of that plan to posterity.

If we substitute the blessings of liberty for wealth in this scenario, the saving grace for the American republic has been the wisdom of our collective grandfatherly founders and framers. In particular, their establishment of our Constitution. Essentially, it is and has been the wildly successful succession planning document that has consummately thwarted the "three generation rule" for two centuries.

Monday is Constitution Day, and our contemporary political rhetoric is drowning in doomsaying dialogue.

Citing "The American Crisis," The Atlantic categorizes a series of stories purported to answer the provocative headline "Is democracy dying?" One essay claims America is "living Madison's worst nightmare," asserting that the Virginian founder's fear of mob rule is now being realized. Another, titled "Why Technology Favors Tyranny," cries Chicken Little over data concentration, artificial intelligence and digital dictatorship.

"The Constitution Needs a Reboot," crows a Politico columnist. "When the Constitution Hurts the United States," opines an economist at Equities.com.

Emanating in one way or another from these and other raving commentaries are shortsighted attacks on the electoral college, the amendment process, indirect democracy, representative republicanism and federalism itself. In short, anything that a left-leaner thinks might have prevented the election of Donald Trump, or stands in the way of a more socialist U.S. tilt.

None of those writers, or others voicing verses of the same song, were involved in achieving our national independence or conceiving our Constitution. Nobody alive today was. We are all part of a descendant generation born into a king's opulence of liberty's blessings.

Some of us behave more badly and more squanderously than others. But for all of us, the blood and sacrifice and toil of nation-building is the stuff of story and legend, which we casually second-guess from our comfortable, prosperous perch of inheritance--and ignorance.

What we don't know about our own founding documents will hurt us; indeed, it is hurting us. The painful polarization decried so loudly is caused not by the Constitution or its concepts, but by lack of constitutional knowledge.

Those who seek to subvert the due-process selection of the president tear at the fabric of our common allegiance to freedom through constitutional self-government. Like it or not, and like him or not, the office of the president deserves civic and civil respect, period.

Contentious presidential elections and vehemently sore losers are nothing new; see the outcomes of 1800, 1824, 1876, 1912 and 1948. But the opposition's first instinct was not to doubt, blame and challenge the brilliance of our government charter.

Too many citizens today have become utterly disconnected from the principles, tenets and doctrine on which the U.S. Constitution and nation was built.

Madison, the father of our Constitution, studied democratic societies going back thousands of years; most of his source material came from Jefferson, already a scholar of classic democracies and their failings.

Modern surveys show large majorities of citizens can't even identify key constitutional components, such as the three branches of government, much less explain the political theories behind them. Ignorance begets devaluation. It's folly to expect citizens without understanding of constitutional rights and responsibilities and reasoning to rise to the occasion for defending and preserving them.

The solution is education: specifically, full-fledged, every-year civic and constitutional instruction in the public school curricula. Such a move will not only afford Arkansas marquee billing at a critical moment in national history, but also deliver priceless practical benefits.

If we start teaching our kids in primary school about the virtues and values of our constitutional form of government, and carry that instruction annually through high school graduation it will transform subsequent generations. Making better citizens will make better neighborhoods, communities, businesses, workplaces, schools, government--in the end, a better Arkansas.

Ultimately, repairing our damaged political system requires fixing us, we the people. That starts with remedying constitutional ignorance and illiteracy.

As a small, agile "laboratory of democracy," Arkansas can take the lead. Now's the time.

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Dana D. Kelley is a freelance writer from Jonesboro.

Editorial on 09/14/2018

Print Headline: Ignorance in America

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