The Robb Elementary School tragedy in Texas continues to haunt the soul of our country. Good faith negotiations on bipartisan gun legislation seem promising. But the horrific calamity is expanding and revealing another wound — questions of American character and competence. This dynamic is being featured in political debate.

The apparent inaction of law enforcement during the 80-minute nightmare when 19 children and two teachers were murdered is a new addition to a tortuous series of U.S. debacles: The clumsy departure from Afghanistan, the baby formula fiasco, rampant inflation, chaos at the southern border, an uncertain economy and confusing COVID-19 responses. These issues are raising serious questions about American competence. Is there a deterioration of our global excellence and what can be done?

Pignanelli: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.” — Bill Clinton 

For 300 years Americans have been teenagers of the global community. Distrust of authority, mood swings, obsession with innovation, embrace of new cultures and ideas, emotional compassion, aggressive work ethic and drive to win are a shared heritage. These traits remain among almost 340 million.

The common denominator in the current episodes of ineffectiveness is an interaction with national or local governments. As the country has grown, so have the bureaucracies to provide needed regulations, funding mechanisms and structure. Yet, the swelling of the systems have increasingly rejected characteristics of the people who built them. This is a dangerous trend. Other civilizations were crushed because their governance could not respond to challenges.

Post-pandemic rebound of the economy, speedy development of vaccines and nonstop technological prowess provide optimism that we can alter trajectories. But societal leadership must be courageous to jettison the status quo comfort and reexamine how government is delivered, especially public safety. A failure to change and adapt causes more than economic hardship — lives can be lost.

Grandiose speeches are not needed. Instead, the White House, Congress, state governments and thousands of public entities (including the Uvalde School District) must rip open their organization to scrutinize processes and deliverables without sentiment to the past. Our history documents success with such realignments.

Teenagers can be frustrating and obnoxious. Acting like them will keep us safe and prosperous.

Webb: This is certainly not the worst of times in America. By many measures, it’s the best time in history. I enjoyed growing up in the 1960s. But at that time social unrest was dramatically worse than now; an unpopular war claimed 50,000 American lives; the standard of living was much lower; racism was prevalent with little focus on it; women had far fewer opportunities; LGBTQ people were outcasts, relegated to the fringes of society. Not much was done about homelessness. Jobs were harder to find. Crime and accidents were worse on a per-capita basis. 

1 in 20 young adults identify as transgender or nonbinary, Pew survey finds

Today’s seemingly depressing outlook is exaggerated by social media and the instant viral posting and broadcasting to millions of people of anything bad that happens. When our multitude of screens are filled nearly every minute of every day with negative news, along with images and gossip about the rich, famous and beautiful, no wonder we’re depressed.

To be sure, America has problems that need fixing. Dramatic political divisiveness is among them. But when one side believes the solution to America’s problems is more government and more debt, I’m glad there’s another side willing to step up and fight that notion. I believe an ever-larger government taking an ever-larger role in our lives leads to a decline in family strength and a weakening of standards and values. Looking to government for every solution isn’t the answer to America’s problems.

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Last week witnessed almost a dozen mass shootings in the aftermath of the elementary school horror. Will this be the year when bipartisan congressional legislation is passed to help law enforcement prevent these tragedies?

Pignanelli: Despite partisan baiting by President Joseph Biden and some lawmakers, the several changes to federal law popular with the American electorate may be enacted. These congressional leaders understand that the country wants evidence that Congress has the ability to negotiate and collaborate.

Webb: As an owner of several guns, including an AR-15, I’m an avid defender of the Second Amendment, but I’m not an absolutist. Some modest provisions to prevent gun violence make sense and don’t infringe on gun ownership. These include sensible red flag laws with due process protected. Also, gun buyers shouldn’t object to quick background checks at gun show sales and some private sales (but not between family members). Preventing gun violence will require a lot more than just focusing on guns. 

New poll shows widespread support for background checks and other gun reform laws

How will these developments affect Utah and how can our state be a positive influence?

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Pignanelli: The commitment to excellence exhibited through the “Utah Way” abounds in most of our private and public entities. Thus, how we respond to environmental, growth, economic and public safety challenges will be a path for other states and the country.

Webb: Utah has its own challenges, but compared to the federal government, we enjoy model governance. We have good people seeking real solutions, ensuring a bright future.

Republican LaVarr Webb is a former journalist and a semiretired small farmer and political consultant.

Frank Pignanelli is a Salt Lake attorney, lobbyist and political adviser who served as a Democrat in the Utah state Legislature. Email:

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