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Opinion: This week, let's renew the spirit of America

Michael Warren

The ills facing America today are not just from COVID-19. Massive demonstrations and counter-protests are turning violent, riots have plagued many cities, the presidential campaign and Washington, D.C. political games are doing their best to alienate everyone, and the 24/7 news/opinion cycle and social media are downright toxic.

Plus, many are ignorant or disdain American history, the Constitution and civics. The country seems to be unraveling right before our eyes.

Some may feel like it is time to act like an ostrich or perhaps even retreat from the very idea of America. That is exactly the wrong course. Instead, we need to double down on celebrating all that makes America great, while simultaneously working to make her live up to her full potential.

There are many reasons we have arrived at these crossroads. One overlooked cause is the demise of our civic calendar. The traditional civic holidays — which were intended to renew the spirit of America — have been hollowed out by empty excuses for three-day weekends, barbecues and carpet sales. When confronted with this dismaying situation in 2009, my then 10-year-old daughter Leah pounded on a table and demanded a new celebration — and Patriot Week was born. Little did we predict that in 2020 the nation would need Patriot Week for another reason — to heal the spirit of America.

Nevertheless, America has seen worse times. We have made it to the other side of terrible tumult by rediscovering our founding First Principles and expanding them to include historically excluded groups. The question at this crossroads is whether we renew the American Dream or tear each other apart.

At bottom, nearly all Americans embrace the First Principles expounded in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Simply put, we believe in the First Principles of equality, unalienable rights, the Social Compact, limited government, the rule of law, and the right to reform or abolish oppressive government. This is what makes America, well, America. Cobra Kai, P-Valley, TikTok, and ridiculous tweets — it is our founding First Principles.

A U.S. flag hanging from a steel girder, damaged in the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center, blows in the breeze at a memorial in Jersey City, N.J., Sept. 11, 2019.

With slaves, oppression of women and other discrimination, we were unquestionably hypocritical in 1776. But abolitionists, suffragettes and civil rights leaders embraced those First Principles to move our country forward.

We need to remember what unites us. In addition to the First Principles, Patriot Week commemorates great patriots that made those First Principles come alive; key documents and speeches that embody those principles; and flags from our history that represent them. The week begins Sept. 11 (in commemoration of the terrorist attacks) and ends on Sept. 17, Constitution Day (the anniversary of the signing of the Constitution). The week has been recognized by over 15 states and unanimously by the U.S. Senate.

During the week there are grassroots activities such as festivals, parades, paloozas, 9/11 commemorations, debates, panel discussions, school lessons, daily rituals, contests and more. This year, we have mostly embraced a virtual approach.

Patriot Week provides us the opportunity to remember what unites as Americans. Why we should be celebrate what we have achieved, and why we should continue to clamor to better our country — all rooted in the promise of the Declaration of Independence. If we can remember this, and love each other, we can bind the divisions that face us. Our future will never have been brighter.

Join us in celebrating Patriot Week in 2020 to renew — and heal — the spirit of America. 

Hon. Michael Warren is an Oakland County Michigan circuit judge, author of "America’s Survival Guide," and host of the Patriot Lessons: American History and Civics Podcast. Learn more about Patriot Week at