Democracy is no spectator sport

Modern Americans believe we can mass produce good citizens the way we mass produce automobiles, hot dogs and American flags (Taiwan).

It’s never going to happen. As Herman Hesse put it, ”Knowledge can be taught, but not wisdom.” Wisdom is a treasure hunt in the hearts and minds of our youth. It is imperative we send them in the right direction.

The afternoon before Memorial Day, while driving through the avenue of 444 flags in Hermitage, Pa., an epiphany hit me in the gut. ”Memorial Day is too passive to do justice for our veterans’ sacrificial blood.

We must transform Memorial Day into a calling for citizens to rediscover America’s soul, and then work for its indefinite preservation. Otherwise America could soon become no different than any other country.”

Epiphany after epiphany challenged the conventional Memorial Day wisdom, ”Hobos and beggars living under the Market Street and Summit Street bridges experience more ‘freedom’ than responsible taxpaying citizens, so let us not suffice it to say our men and women in uniform died for mere freedoms. Not unlike life itself, freedom without a higher purpose is meaningless.”

Rather, beloved patriots live according to inalienable rights and are willing to die to ensure our most essential democratic values will prevail. In this way our vets’ American dreams live on through us, lest we forget.

In other words, to truly honor the ultimate sacrifices made to preserve our values We the People must observe much, much more than our heroes’ gravesites for an hour a year while giving lip service to ”freedom.”

Good citizens must closely examine and analyze America’s values (the Constitution, its amendments, and the Bill of Rights) and then seek in his/her life a personal way to promote and preserve them.

Memorial Day observations are well-meaning, and many local volunteers go a step further by decorating graves and organizing parades, or writing letters to the editor – thank you all. However, most Americans never get beyond the patriotic festivities.

If we stay uninformed, distracted and divided, we cannot unite with a higher purpose to limit abuses of elite power in Congress or courts of law over entitlements, commerce, banking, energy and defense sectors.

No pressure, but if Joe Q. Public becomes a non-factor in our democracy, our democracy could fail – meaning every fallen soldier in all of America’s wars heretofore would have died in vain.

So rather than fight over the most divisive personal freedoms in the land, we must focus our hearts and minds to follow through with the surest footsteps any American patriot could have ever made in war or at home; We the People must dedicate our lives to protect our rights to live peacefully with all reasonable liberties in a self-determined manner.

We the People must go beyond providing for our families, because our founding fathers granted us the inalienable right to be counted equally (to the elites) in any local, state, or federal court or legislative hall, but first We the People must be well informed!

Finally, this column would not be complete without guiding citizens in the right direction.

Several free online courses are available to help American citizens become more aware of our nation’s higher calling by thoroughly examining the history of the U.S. Constitution, Constitutional Amendments and the Bill of Rights. Some of these free courses are 20- to 30-minute refreshers while some require more than 10 weeks of reflective study to earn a certificate of completion.

Finally, kudos to a group of locals who make a habit out of discussing, debating and perpetuating the big ideas that keep America’s democracy alive and well the high school speech and debate teams representing the Valley with spirited success year in-year out. Keep in mind, the Constitution is just a piece of paper unless we read it, understand it and hold it dear in our hearts.

One particular speechie – Brian Duricy, a junior representing Howland High School at nationals this year – informed me he had been annotating an online copy of the Magna Carta for fun in his spare time! I wasn’t surprised when he qualified for and placed at nationals.

Just knowing we are turning our country over to young folks such as Brian and his teammates makes me feel a lot better about our future.

Every graduating high school senior should be required to complete a yearlong citizenship project (a wisdom treasure hunt) to demonstrate awareness of and promotion of the essential democratic values as written in our Constitution.

If they cannot defend our Constitution coherently, perhaps they should not graduate!

Some might say such a program would come with a great cost. I don’t believe it would cost us any more than a single drop of veterans’ blood.

Herman is a Warren resident. Email him at