Guarding against Grinches

There are many sad truths in life, and one of them is that the coming holiday will not be a Happy Christmas for all.

In a land of plenty and a people rich with the privileges of liberty, the American yuletide will be tarnished again by crime this December. There are real Grinches, and they will steal Christmas from millions.

It’s a national irony that amid the season in which we celebrate the joy of giving, the criminal takers in society ramp up their activities to match the retail frenzy.

Because most of us aren’t criminals, it’s hard to think the way they think. Burglars and thieves are continually on the lookout for targets, and most victims are guilty of doing exactly the opposite: not paying attention at all to potential red-flag warning signals.

Crimes of opportunity are often sparked by happenstance and circumstance, and that means the foil to becoming a statistic involves mixing a healthy dose of prudent caution in with your Christmas spirit.

Victimization, in many ways, is a numbers game. There are X amount of criminals out there, and they will commit Y number of crimes on average in the next couple of weeks leading up to Christmas.

Some criminals will burglarize empty houses, some will break into cars where bulging gift bags are visible. Porch pirates will plunder Amazon and eBay packages left on doorsteps. Purse snatchers and pickpockets will permeate shopping throngs.

Holiday safety tips abound, and most revolve around common sense. Lock your doors and cars. Notice your surroundings and appear purposeful. Shop in groups. Follow your instincts—most stores and shopping destinations are happy to have someone walk you to your car if you’re feeling apprehensive.

As bad as material losses are if they occur, especially when they may have been destined to be gifts, they are still generally replaceable.

Physical violence by criminals causes damage of a different nature entirely. The good news is that truly random violent crimes are anomalies. Most assaults, rapes and murders involve people who know each other.

The bad news is that violence is also partly a numbers game. A certain number of people will experience suffering and injury and death by criminals this December. Who the victims are and who the perpetrators will be are impossible to individually predict, but by collectively heightening awareness and prevention that number can be reduced.

The FBI Uniform Crime Report analyzes six main crime categories, with the data going back decades. Arkansas is poorly reflected in the rate of crime comparisons with other states.

Among the 50 states and the District of Columbia, Arkansas ranks 33rd in population, which is both the lowest we’ve ever ranked and the most common ranking (32 times in the 57 years since 1960). We’ve never ranked higher than 30th.

But in contrast to that low-thirties position, our population outperforms other states in criminality. In 2016, we were a top-10 state for the rate of crime in four FBI categories: burglary, rape, aggravated assault and larceny-theft.

In the case of burglary, it’s a state disgrace that we have been No. 1 or 2 in the nation for 11 of the last 13 reported years—including a deplorable five-year stretch at the top from 2009-2013.

Our dubious leadership in the rate of break-ins and thefts appears to be a situation of Arkansas simply not improving as much as other states, because our burglary rate is down significantly in the last five years.

The same is not true of some of the violence categories. In whole numbers, Arkansas has experienced back-to-back record years for aggravated assaults, and the rate hit a 23-year high in 2017.

Both the number of murder cases and the rate of homicide also reached levels not seen in 20 years.

Falling victim to any of the FBI’s category crimes can cast a shadow on the merriment and brightness we hope for at Christmas.

But taking extra precautions for your holiday protection and safety is only part of what I hope will become a sharper focus across our state for the new year, which is the goal of making Arkansas safer again.

Reviewing the FBI data tables, a picture of unflattering change over time emerges for our small, natural state.

Overall in 2016, Arkansas ranked fifth and sixth in the violent and property crime index rates. But that’s not our history and need not be our legacy. As recently as just a decade ago we were top 10 in neither; in 2002 we weren’t even in the top 20.

Looking back at the 1970s and 1980s, we enjoyed very low property-crime rates. Until 1986, Arkansas never ranked higher than 40th in the overall index, and normally fell into the 44th or 45th spot.

Even in the violent index comparison, we never cracked the top 10 until 2009. The violence-packed 1990s, bad as they may have been here, were worse in other states.

Lower crime is partly achieved by higher preventive activities and prudent mindsets by all of us. As Christmas nears, structure your shopping and travel and entertaining around an astute, staying-safe mentality.


Small-town incubator

Business incubators are based on a strong foundational premise: to give small and startup businesses access to what they need to survive and thrive.

Left to their own devices, entrepreneurs struggling to make payroll often have neither the expertise nor the connections to access the necessary capital, structure resources or professional mentoring that lead to success. Incubators centralize and consolidate those crucial collaborations and affiliations.

Like small businesses, small towns face well-known and predictable challenges to surviving, and often don’t have access to requisite resources—and also don’t have a holistic leadership structure in place to strategize or execute a plan.

Towns looking for a model, and inspiration, should cast a glance over Batesville way.

Chamber of Commerce CEO Crystal Johnson and local banker Phil Baldwin returned from New York recently, hauling home an American Bankers Association Foundation Community Commitment award for Citizens Bank’s support of and contribution to the IMPACT Independence initiative.

Going back to 2015, which is as far as the ABA site lists, no Arkansas bank has ever submitted a winning, runner-up or even an honorable mention entry in any of the six award categories. That’s a true testament to the innovation that distinguishes Batesville’s IMPACT effort.

If we think of Batesville as a blueprint for a small-town incubator, several takeaways emerge for emulation.

Most community strategic initiatives are launched top-down, with decisions consecrated at the powers-that-be level, then foisted on the public for approval. Throw city/county politics into that hierarchy, and it’s little wonder that working folks get frustrated and frequently lose faith in such plans.

In Batesville, the IMPACT planning bubbled up in genuine grass-roots fashion across the entire county, rising on a framework supported by a three-prong superstructure: civic leadership (chamber of commerce), higher education engagement (local colleges) and financial institution support (hometown banks).

Rather than town fathers and elders preaching from on high, the growth gospel of IMPACT was born from a broad cross-section of residents, including millennials and young families whose children’s futures lie ahead of them. The people owned the planning process, and the four resulting subcommittees reflected their long-term interests: economic prosperity, educational excellence, tourism, and healthy living.

Every plan needs goals, so the IMPACT team created a community-wide survey to ask residents two main questions: identify topics most critical to the quality of life in Independence County, and rank the top five most important to them personally. To get maximum input, organizers made communication a constant priority. In addition to emails, traditional media, online posts and handouts, they walked along car pickup lines at schools and gave informational flyers to parents.

The outreach overemphasis paid off in spades. Ultimately more than 1,200 people responded to the survey, and 300 attended the initial community meeting in July 2015.

Fast-forward to today, and the word that most comes to mind is “wow.” The downtown revitalization is magnificent, with the fully renovated Melba Theatre standing as a cornerstone to Main Street’s new-but-still-historical vibe. Previously boarded-up buildings are open as businesses. Old dilapidated houses have been preserved and restored as legacy-rich residences.

Checked-off IMPACT action items are on display with new construction, commerce, venues, activities and events all around.

One of the most impressive achievements is also one of the most ingenious: an early-pay local scholarship program called Independence Promise.

Normally, secondary education scholarships are reserved till after a student gets his diploma. Independence Promise gives students an early start on launching their careers while still in high school. Eligible students from the area high schools can use the scholarship money to take college or work-force training courses while in grades 9-12. For students interested in technical or trade employment, that opens a pathway to go straight from graduation into high-wage jobs with certifications already in place–and without any student debt.

Every small town faces internal conflicts. Progress occurs when conversations are steered into grouped voices of cooperation and compromise. The IMPACT organizers saw that happen in the subcommittee meetings, where people who didn’t normally interact with each worked out problems in a common-ground environment.

Most small towns are also squeezed financially, but another IMPACT lesson is that things don’t take as much money as people may assume. The bottom line is, buy-in at the grass-roots level for a community plan translates directly to efficiency in implementation costs. There are a lot of state and national funding entities to aid enterprising communities, and unity in purpose around a well-conceived plan catches their eye and attracts their support.

IMPACT, essentially, was and is a declaration of Independence County residents that they have the right and collective opportunity to improve life in their community.

As with the American founding itself, uniting a local community requires overcoming competing interests, personalities and opinions by sharpening the focus on shared values and desires.

For small-town residents anywhere, IMPACT offers a powerful learning-by-example case study for successful self-improvement.

Holiday of hope

It’s easy, while enjoying family traditions associated with Thursday’s holiday, to lose sight of its national purpose.

The first Thanksgiving was issued by presidential proclamation in 1789 by George Washington, but it was only for that year. There was no nationwide, uniform custom of Thanksgiving until Abraham Lincoln’s proclamation in 1863, which established an annual observance date on the last Thursday in November.

Like Washington before him, Lincoln presented American liberty as a blessing warranting prayerful gratitude during the darkest moments of schism, strife and uncertainty.

As contemplative dessert for yesterday’s feast, here are annotations to Lincoln’s words.

The year that is drawing towards its close has been filled with the blessings of fruitful fields and healthful skies. To these bounties, which are so constantly enjoyed that we are prone to forget the source from which they come, others have been added, which are of so extraordinary a nature that they cannot fail to penetrate and soften even the heart which is habitually insensible to the ever watchful providence of Almighty God.

Lincoln begins not with the war and its bloodiness, but with the harvest, which many states already celebrated with feasts. He also establishes God’s sovereignty early on.

In the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity, which has sometimes seemed to foreign States to invite and to provoke their aggression, peace has been preserved with all nations, order has been maintained, the laws have been respected and obeyed, and harmony has prevailed everywhere except in the theatre of military conflict; while that theatre has been greatly contracted by the advancing armies and navies of the Union.

Secretary of State William Seward had been successful at preventing foreign nations from interfering in our domestic dispute, a critical Union objective.

Warfare in 1863 was still limited, primarily, to the battlefield. The optimism following recent victories at Gettysburg and Vicksburg is reflected in the reference to positive troop movements.

Needful diversions of wealth and of strength from the fields of peaceful industry to the national defence have not arrested the plough, the shuttle or the ship; the axe has enlarged the borders of our settlements, and the mines, as well of iron and coal as of the precious metals, have yielded even more abundantly than heretofore. Population has steadily increased, notwithstanding the waste that has been made in the camp, the siege and the battle-field; and the country, rejoicing in the consciousness of augmented strength and vigor, is permitted to expect continuance of years with large increase of freedom.

Lincoln itemizes the nation’s gains, despite devastating human casualties, as wartime demand ramped up already rapid industrialization. Mechanization in agriculture in the north, such as the new threshing machine, was vital in maintaining output in the absence of able-bodied men called to military service.

The 1860 census reported a 34 percent growth in the nation’s population since 1850, heavily tilted to northern states and their fast-expanding cities.

No human counsel hath devised nor hath any mortal hand worked out these great things. They are the gracious gifts of the Most High God, who, while dealing with us in anger for our sins, hath nevertheless remembered mercy.

Lincoln steadfastly credits God.

It has seemed to me fit and proper that they should be solemnly, reverently and gratefully acknowledged as with one heart and one voice by the whole American People.

In the most divisive of times, Lincoln stresses unity in giving thanks.

I do therefore invite my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next as a day of Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens.

The president remembers Americans outside our borders, and again explicitly names the Heavenly Father as the benefactor of all blessings.

And I recommend to them that while offering up the ascriptions justly due to Him for such singular deliverances and blessings, they do also, with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience, commend to His tender care all those who have become widows, orphans, mourners or sufferers in the lamentable civil strife in which we are unavoidably engaged, and fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty Hand to heal the wounds of the nation and to restore it as soon as may be consistent with the Divine purposes to the full enjoyment of peace, harmony, tranquility and Union.

The poetic phrasing here—remarkable for its beauty, benevolence and restorative tone—has been described as more like a prayer than an official document.

As Washington did 74 years earlier, Lincoln declares a national duty to acknowledge God’s hand. He also lifts up the indirect victims of the war, and casts a vision for a return to a whole and wholly healed nation.

Things today are not as divisive as the 24/7 news media hype suggests. Even if they were, the Thanksgiving holiday is a hope-inspiring reminder of our longstanding and successful national instinct to unite around gratitude to God.

And no, TGIBF isn’t what that means.

The non-news news

Media self-aggrandizement is nothing new. However, it’s been grotesquely magnified of late thanks to technology leaps, the evolution of consumer hyper-connectivity, and the 24/7 news cycle.

It’s easy to forget that only a few decades ago, the “news” was narrowly punctuated against the grander mosaic of everyday living.

That is not to suggest that news subject matter didn’t coalesce firmly in the ideological and political identity of American citizens. Since the founding, we’ve been a nation of news-readers, eager to absorb the current issues affecting our republic, our liberty and our local livelihood.

But its delivery was neatly compartmentalized: the newspaper arrived in the morning on the porch or doorstep, and the television newscast aired in the evening. Radio headline news breaks occurred at the top of every hour, and in-depth reporting by news magazines was, truly, periodical: most arrived monthly, some biweekly.

The bulk of everybody’s day was generally made up of in-between non-news zones. The stuff that consumed most of us, by and large, involved work or home or children or church—not national political issues, campaigns or persons.

There is a season for everything, of course, including politics. But even in the height of election fever back then, the most fervent of candidates had no hope of intruding on voters’ personal lives much beyond the segmented time slots previously mentioned.

In other words, our diet of “man-bites-dog” sensationalism and scandal was proportional to their actual rarity. News spotlighted the atypicality of society. Most of our living, and most of our thoughts, fell into the normal order of things—where dogs did the biting, if you will—that is, by its very nature, the consolidating essence of civilization and social organization.

It’s impossible to return to being a news-limited society, and nobody wants to backtrack on the advantages and benefits that telecommunications technology delivers.

It is possible, however, to consciously counteract and balance the never-ending onslaught of spin, commentary, breaking news, protestation, blind-bias advocacy, talking-head shouting matches and other quasi-­reporting that has supplanted traditional informative journalism.

With “all-news, all-the-time” carnival barking and instant mobile phone communication, it takes discipline and effort to avoid distraction and distortion.

Fortunately, counter-trends are emerging. Consider the reach of highly popular content on Facebook, which more properly should be called Lifebook (it’s now more a chronicle of life events). Videos with the highest number of views—10 million or 20 million is not unusual—are seldom the same subjects or topics debated on that day’s amped-up news. They aren’t ugly, or crude, or violent.

They’re funny and heartwarming and uplifting.

A viral example that popped up as I scrolled Facebook recently carried the title, in all caps, “THE WHOLE WORLD IS IN LOVE WITH THIS VIDEO.”

My sentimentality was piqued, so I clicked. Last time I looked, more than 13 million people had also watched it. (For scale, CNN nightly prime time averages fewer than 1 million viewers.)

The video starts with some young boys, 10 or 11 years old, playing basketball on a carport court, jumping and shooting and running around.

A missed shot bounds down the narrow alley, and when a blond-haired kid goes to retrieve it, he sees another boy about his age on a next-door porch—in a wheelchair.

A moving truck is out front, and there is a pensive pause.

“Hey,” the blond boy says.

“Hey,” the boy in the wheelchair replies, nodding, then looking away.

The blond boy’s gaze lingers a moment, then he smiles softly and runs back to his game.

The scene shifts to a little while later, with the boy in the wheelchair back inside his house, and the camera zooms in to frame his puzzled expression.

Through his screen door, he sees a basketball sitting on his porch.

With the ball in his lap, he wheels himself up the alley and we hear the sounds of a game growing louder. But as it comes into vision, the kids aren’t running and jumping about this time.

Each of them is straddling something on wheels or casters: a wagon, a desk chair, a stool, a tricycle, a milk crate strapped on a dolly.

They’re all rolling themselves around the concrete, passing to each other, hoisting shots at the garage-mounted hoop.

“C’mon!” the blond boy shouts to the kid in the wheelchair, who smiles in a closeup, and then hurries into the fray.

From the kitchen window, his mom watches, smiles, and continues unpacking.

It’s hard to watch the 1-minute video just once. And without a lumpy throat or pepper nose.

The shared version on Facebook ends before the credits roll, so most people don’t know to thank Canadian Tire Co. for reminding 13 million of us (and counting) how good—soul-deep good—it feels to be kind and considerate.

But now you know.

Omni-coverage media outlets compete by stirring the pot past the point of saturation.

It’s important to stay disciplined enough as a consumer to remember that individual life has always been shaped more by backyard acts of compassion—that never make the news—than by sensationalized headline stories.

To modify a credit card ad’s catchy closing line, “What’s on your screen?”

Mother Nature’s dominion

Humankind has lofty cerebral capabilities and mechanical abilities to manufacture machines and devise devices that are amazing in their power and complexity.

Still, we are also lowly organisms of nature. And if we forget the magnitude of forces at her disposal, Mother Nature can harshly remind us who holds dominion.

Though our consciousness may elevate our perception, we remain minuscule against the earth’s physical framework.

Nature is both part of us and separate from us, which contributes to its metaphorical proclivity in our prose. Whether the subject is philosophical, psychological, religious, amorous, or political, we analogize natural disasters.

“We need the storm, the whirlwind, and the earthquake,” Frederick Douglass famously said at his Independence Day speech in 1852. Those events produce irresistible change, which he held as the only hope against seemingly immovable social fortifications.

But while natural disasters have always been with us, we have never before been able to “see” them so quickly and with such clarity.

I’ve never been to Mexico Beach, which is just east of Panama City in the Florida panhandle. It made national headlines as one of the worst-hit areas when Hurricane Michael made landfall on Oct. 10. Ironically, in our last trip to the Scenic Highway 30A area I had looked at the little beachside town of a thousand souls as a possible side trip.

Before and after photos often appear in the weeks following major disasters, but within mere days there were such images of Mexico Beach available on online news outlets.

We’ve become numb to the true meaning of words like obliteration, annihilation, devastation; the hurricane aftermath photos gave them new meaning and context. Sitting anywhere in the country with an Internet device and connection, anyone can instantly bear visual witness to destruction that, in earlier times, we would only have read about.

It’s a tribute to our improved meteorological prognostication that a Category 4 hurricane slamming into a populated shoreline and spreading tropical storm-force winds across a 300-mile inland span only claimed 33 lives (as of this writing).

Damage in dollars is something else, of course, and estimates have already exceeded the $4.5 billion threshold. As many as 1 million people wound up being without power, officials reported.

Bad as Michael was, its lethality paled compared to the Indonesian natural disaster two weeks earlier, whose death toll stands at 2,000 and still counting. A 7.5-Richter scale earthquake produced a tsunami that sent a 20-foot wave crashing into Palu and other cities.

It’s hard to imagine the force of such a wall of water; watching it happen on cell-phone video footage, and hearing panicked cries of fear, made me shudder at the inadequacy of imagination.

Perhaps you have never heard of “liquefaction.” It’s one of those ominous yet scientific-sounding words that one might expect to find lurking in a lesser known sci-fi story. Tragically, it is no fiction, and its truth and experience are more horrifying than alien invasion flicks.

Liquefaction is a geological process by which the soil structure collapses. It’s a seismic condition in which terra firma essentially becomes liquid, resulting in a quicksand-like “land tsunami” (as Indonesian witnesses described it) that swallows up entire homes, blocks, neighborhoods.

A Sept. 28 time-lapse satellite photo of Palu showcases the devastation in motion. It begins by showing a still image of neat rows of roofs in a small town, with streets forming a perpendicular grid. As the time-lapse motion starts, the straight lines of streets begin to bend, and sections of roofs start to slide, as if water were being slowly poured over a painted image of the town, smearing the image’s structure and colors. Huge swaths of little roofs disappear, swallowed up and replaced by a murky brown mass.

The bird’s-eye view is surreal and sterile–the viewer is far removed in both space and time from the mass and magnitude of what’s actually happening. On the ground, survivors spoke of the “mud” rolling like ocean waves, with homes shifting and sliding as much as 700 meters (nearly a half-mile).

These events epitomize a just-released United Nations report on economic losses suffered in natural disasters from 1998-2017: The most deadly events are earthquakes, the most destructive economically are storms, and those affecting the most people are floods.

All told, the summary numbers of Mother Nature’s havoc the past 20 years are staggering.

A total of 7,255 disasters were catalogued in nine different classifications that killed 1.3 million people: floods, storms, earthquakes, extreme temperatures, landslides, droughts, wildfires, volcanic activities and dry land mass movement.

More than 4.4 billion people were directly affected: injured, homeless, displaced or in need of emergency assistance. The total economic loss was calculated to be $2.9 trillion, of which the U.S. share was $945 billion (due to our high assets value).

In times of disasters, nature awes and intimidates us, but at the same time inspires and lifts us.

We always can hope that our enhanced ability for tragedy awareness and empathy might percolate up as one of those majority things that do indeed unite, rather than divide, us.

A report to relish

It’s not every day that the words Arkansas, education and national leader wind up in the same sentence, much less the same headline. And in a time when political antics and absurdities dominate the headlines, good news is lucky if it plays as close as second fiddle to fiasco.

Today it’s taking first chair, at least in this column.

Education Superhighway is a nonprofit organization that advocates broadband connectivity for the nation’s public school classrooms. Its annual State of the States report praised Arkansas as a “Blueprint for Success” as a national model. The wording is worth quoting verbatim: “Arkansas has led the nation to 1 mbps per student of Internet access in 98 percent of its school districts.”

That national triumph was no accident. On the contrary, it’s an accomplishment deserving of recognition and kudos on a number of levels.

Some were skeptical initially about the public-private partnership put in place by Gov. Asa Hutchinson soon after taking office in 2015.

The novel idea and plan for upgrading the Arkansas Public School Computer Network (APSCN) also raised doubtful eyebrows by aiming beyond the FCC’s short-term connectivity speed goal of 100 kilobits per second (kbps).

It required public vision to realize that more Internet speed would be needed to keep up with device technology development, but more importantly, it took private cooperation among competitors to coordinate and implement a new Internet infrastructure.

The result was a real rarity: Not only did our state seize the gold medal in the race to 1 mbps per student access, but the coalition of Arkansas Internet providers slashed the cost of broadband by 86 percent along the way.

In an incredible feat of efficiency, this national spotlight performance in bringing fiber-optic broadband to almost every student in four years (only two schools are left to connect) was achieved with only a 7 percent increase in state funding.

For a rural state, that seemed particularly challenging at first. Fiber lines would stretch miles to remote schools and pass nary a house or business en route that might help subsidize it. The likelihood that large nationwide providers would lead in such scenarios? Zero.

The reason Arkansas led the nation was because Arkansas-based telecom companies led the way locally.

The list of involved Internet access service providers features a dozen independent telecom companies with Arkansas ZIP codes; some serve only one or two school districts. But as part of a larger team, they are all key players, and without them Arkansas wouldn’t have gotten top billing in the Education Superhighway annual report.

Broadband connectivity is the cure-all antidote to rural isolation, for communities and their schools. Remote, or cloud-based, everything is the rage. Its ability to refine education and learning, especially for rural schools, offers potential beyond our present imagination.

Education Superhighway officials called out rural districts as leading the charge to reach the 1 mbps per student goal. “With an average of only 200 students per school and without the resources … [of] larger districts, these communities are aggressively adopting digital learning as a means of leveling the playing field,” the report stated in a sidebar.

Rural single-school districts, it noted, invest eight times as much in Internet access to get five times the median bandwidth. “These investments open the door to 1:1 student-to-device programs that enable schools to dramatically expand their course offerings, provide access to virtual labs and field trips, and embrace project-based learning.”

All of which enhances even the most rural student’s readiness for career or college.

A big potential upside: the emerging opportunity to bring more vocational career paths online. Rural students that go off to college often also wind up having to leave for jobs. But every small community needs carpenters, electricians, plumbers; small industries need welders, machine operators, mechanics. Remote learning tracks at the local school in pursuit of those skills can help keep rural communities vibrant.

Anyone involved in research of any sort understands the vast power Internet resources provide. Organizing instruction in ways that embrace and incorporate all the various teaching apps and methods (including those not even dreamed up yet) can catapult rural schools and students to new heights.

As October opens toward the autumnal spectacle that showcases our Natural State’s rural beauty, it recalls a line from Christina Rossetti: “One day in the country is worth a month in town.” For those who relish rural living, Internet connectivity is the ideal elixir: part love potion that preserves the admiration of picturesque panoramas, and part stimulating tonic that promotes livelihood possibilities in isolated locales.

Let the winds of political discontent wail in the east. Here in the lower heartland of harvest beauty and heritage, applaud our state government officials and legislators and local telecoms for a job well done for our public schools and kids.

It’s fun to be No. 1. We should try it more often.


Like all writers, I hate typos and misspellings. Last week, one of the rascals got past me.

The phrase “advice and consent” is enshrined in our revered Constitution. Curses on the word gremlin that possessed my fingers to mistype “advise” instead.

Ignorance in America

Ignorance in America

History is unkind to multi-generational 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 three 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 more 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 dialog.

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 Magazine columnist.

“When the Constitution Hurts the United States,” opines an economist at

Emanating in one way or another from these and other raving commentaries are short-sighted 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 the those writers, or others voicing various 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 (those have well stood the test of time and trial), but by lack of constitutional knowledge (which is at record highs).

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 marquis 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.