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Our new national motto: ‘Don’t even try’

October 13, 2018

I’m workshopping a new American motto. Not only is it catchy — it also perfectly captures the contemporary spirit of our country. Ready? Here it is: Don’t even try.

Consider the alternatives. The home of the brave? Rather just stay home. Out of many, one? Unity in a time of bitter partisanship is hard. Give me your tired, your poor, your … It’s too exhausting to even finish.

“Don’t even try” may feel a little weird or even un-American at first, but it comes naturally once you embrace it, as our wise ruling party has. Time after time when faced with complex problems that require decisive action, Republicans in Washington — who control all three branches of government — decisively sit on their hands.

Take the war zone that America has become. According to the Gun Violence Archive, the U.S. has seen close to 10,000 gun deaths in 2018. Some of this is preventable: Bipartisan research from the University of Pennsylvania found that more closely regulating access to guns decreases firearm mortality.

Maybe that’s why two-thirds of Americans favor stricter laws around gun sales, according to Gallup. Yet shortly after 17 kids and staffers were shot dead in February at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., Republican Sen. Marco Rubio stood on the Senate floor and explained why doing nothing was the best option: There’s a black market for assault weapons, he sighed, so it’s pointless to make it harder for bad actors to obtain them legally. Background checks are easy to get around, he shrugged, so expanding them couldn’t possibly help.

Even though Pew found that more than half of American teenagers and their parents worry a shooting will happen at their school, Rubio and his colleagues are tackling this problem the All-American way: by not tackling it at all.

This indomitable can’t-do American spirit leaves a mark on everything around us.

Sea levels are rising, coastlines are shrinking, and hurricanes and droughts are gaining in intensity. That might explain why most American adults, including about two-thirds of Republicans, believe in human-caused climate change and the importance of reducing greenhouse gases, per recent research from the University of Colorado Boulder.

But despite this observable threat and popular support for doing something about it, President Donald Trump has demonstrated a strong commitment to inaction, defunding programs that fight global warming, withdrawing from the Paris agreement and letting climate change skeptics run the Environmental Protection Agency.

As if that’s not enough, our leaders are spreading “don’t even try” beyond our borders. America’s leaders used to preach that everyone everywhere deserves a shot at a better life if they’re willing to work hard enough for it. But while the Trump administration’s notorious family separation policy at the border was a miserable failure in terms of public relations (not to mention human rights), it successfully sent the message that the journey to the greatest country on Earth is a waste of blood, sweat and traumatic sacrifice.

Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, told NPR that taking children into custody “would be a tough deterrent” for asylum-seekers. In other words, the administration’s stated goal was to convince people who are trying to escape persecution and/or death threats in their home country to just, uh, don’t do that.

Of course, not everyone sees this visionary approach for what it is. Those in opposition might argue that people like Rubio, Trump and Kelly have taken deliberate, decisive action to promote policies that make our children less safe, our natural resources less plentiful and our country less welcoming to refugees who enter legally. But let’s give our leaders the benefit of the doubt: They’re simply pioneering a boldly passive strategy as an alternative — not a roadblock — to bipartisanship and compromise.

Faced with this glorious inaction, you could contact your representatives and urge them to take meaningful steps on gun safety, climate change or immigration policy. Heck, you could even vote this November for someone who doesn’t need urging. Or you could follow the example of Republican leadership and stand up in support of our new American motto: “Don’t even try.”

If not, that’s OK, too — taking a stand is a lot of effort.

Ryan Newberry is a former San Antonio resident and current Master’s of Public Administration candidate at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service.

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