What is the most dangerous phrase in America?
I’ll give you a hint; it isn’t “Make America great again.”
Navy admiral and computer scientist Grace Hopper said, “The most dangerous phrase in the language is, ‘We’ve always done it this way.’”
Let’s take a look at the government as an example. The GOP took control of the White House, the House and the Senate. Exciting, game-changing times, right? Wrong. Republican leaders are proclaiming that they are going to get the government back to work, that they’re going to work more hours and more days and that they’ll do more than they’ve ever done before. They’re abhorring the thought of doing anything that remotely resembles the past eight years.
But what are they actually changing? I’ll give you a hint: nothing!
If you look at GOP leadership, absolutely nothing has changed. Speaker of the house? Same. Senate majority leader? Same. The most dangerous part of all is not just that the individual people didn’t change, but that their ideas for change are way past their expiration date. Essentially, not that much is really going to change.
Freshman senators and representatives are practically pushed into submission by leadership, reminding them that their positive outlook and energy won’t last. Essentially they’re told, “Sit in your seat, and don’t make too much noise. Vote with the party and we’ll help you win re-election. Don’t rock the boat with your radical ideas of change. We’ve been around the block a few times; trust us, we know what will work.”
This is the way it’s always been done.
News flash: It isn’t working.
Doing things the way we’ve always done them seems to be the easier path — and it’s tradition! We’re supposed to be building on our nation’s rich history, right? There is no question traditions and practices of the past bring powerful principles and experiences to the table. We absolutely must learn from the tragedies and triumphs of the past. George Washington cautioned, “We should not look back unless it is to derive useful lessons from past errors, and for the purpose of profiting by dearly bought experience.”
President Barack Obama sold the nation hope and change. President Donald Trump is selling disruption and change. The question is, Where should we look for change?
Hint: It isn’t Washington!
The second dangerous phrase, and perhaps it's even more so, in the English language is, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.” We have blindly relied on the government for change while ignoring that centralized power and decisions never end well for the people. The only way to spark real change is for individual Americans to decide that they are not content with the way we’ve always done things. Politicians keep all the power when the status quo prevails.
Elected officials are so concerned about their re-election campaigns or keeping their leadership positions on their committees that they sabotage real change and cover up the lack of progress with idle talk. No real action results in no real change. Lawmakers would do well to remember that technological advances, religious liberties and social reform in America would never have happened if the innovative minds of determined citizens were content with the way things had always been.
It’s evident in our newly elected president that Americans have begun to comprehend the danger of doing things the way we’ve always done them. We’re ready for change.
The catchy campaign slogans of elected officials make it seem as if change is as easy as a teleprompted speech or a 140-character tweet. What must be recognized is that the path to real change is tedious, full of uncertainty and setbacks. Americans voted for a wild-card president and now must deal with his unconventional tactics and be ready for the messiness of doing things differently.
Thomas Jefferson wisely recognized the importance of individual Americans. “The last hope of human liberty in this world rests on us. We ought, for so dear a stake, to sacrifice every attachment and every enmity.” Politicians and citizens alike must sacrifice personal pride and power and decide to embrace the process of change and forever challenge the way we have done things in the past.
The process of change happens when individuals reject the notion “we’ve always done it this way” and never depend solely on the government to create change. Eliminating poverty, fixing the education system, protecting the rights of all and promoting upward mobility require each of us to perpetually challenge the status quo. These problems will take a lifetime of innovation in our nation to perfect.
Hint: It will work; it’s what America does best.
Sarah Matheson is president of The American Agenda, an organization focused on engaging millennials in the pursuit of upward mobility and opportunity for all.