The United States has managed to survive the gas prices apocalypse. But we might not make it through the eventual ecological collapse due to the extraction and use of fossil fuels.
Meanwhile, politicians and pundits on both sides are still obsessing over the increasing costs that American commuters are paying at the pump. The Biden Administration recently reversed its policy prohibiting new permits for oil drilling on federal land, while also tapping into national oil reserves to mitigate potential political fallout from high fuel prices. GOP officials—including Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis—argue, absurdly, that rising gas prices prove the folly of Democrats’ environmental proposals, even though those proposals have been consistently blocked by Senator Joe Manchin. Evidently, the “green new deal” is so powerful that merely mouthing the words can influence the cost of oil in the United States, and many other countries also experiencing increases.
Outside of Congress, rightwing rage over gas prices has provoked an outbreak of sticker vandalism. Republican voters throughout the country are placing stickers of President Joe Biden pointing and saying “I did that” on fuel pumps. A Pennsylvania man was caught in the act and, when asked to remove the sticker, became irate and resisted arrest. He now faces charges of criminal mischief, harassment, and disorderly conduct.
But the panic extends far beyond average Americans armed with stickers. Politico reporters Rachel Bade and Ryan Lizza, echoing conventional wisdom among the Beltway commentariat, wrote that gas prices “could crush the Democrats” in the 2022 midterms. Fear of political reprisal has also moved local leaders to act, including Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who recently delineated a plan to distribute prepaid gas cards to low-income constituents.
Of course, any jump in cost for the poor, working class, and increasingly squeezed middle class is lamentable, particularly in a year of high inflation. But the excessive and outlandish attention placed on gas prices alone—compared to other rising expenses such as rent and health care—exposes a cynical political strategy that prioritizes knee-jerk reactions, while refusing to substantively address the more consistent and devastating costs of ordinary American life.
And while gas can eat up to 5 percent of commuters’ monthly budgets in rural states, the majority of people in the United States fill their gas tanks only once a week, and as a result, take less of a hit when prices go up. For residents of major cities who use public transportation, the cost of gas is even less relevant.
The costs that transform life into a financial struggle are rarely the subject of forecasts of doom from political prognosticators.
But, regardless of a person’s location and transit needs, other costs that transform life into a financial struggle are rarely the subject of forecasts of doom from political prognosticators.
Rent, for instance, is now so high across the country that a full-time worker at minimum wage cannot afford a single bedroom apartment in any state. On the rise for decades, the average rent in some cities, over the past year alone, climbed by an astounding 40 percent. And it’s particularly bad for renters of color, who often pay more for rental applications—while getting denied more frequently—than their white counterparts.
Health care premiums for employer-based plans, similarly, have spiked by 47 percent in the past decade, with rates for individual purchasers increasing by similar percentages. Along with larger deductibles and the soaring costs of prescription drugs, insurance premiums rarely crop up in the press. Democratic proposals to lower health care costs—including an expansion of Medicare, a cap on the price of insulin, and increased subsidies for plans available through the Affordable Care Act—consistently fail to pass due to obstruction from Republicans.
In the last two decades, the cost of higher education has climbed by a staggering 169 percent, shackling millions of graduates with onerous student debt. Various debt forgiveness proposals have gained popularity, but annual increases in tuition which have now become alarmingly routine almost never receive media coverage.
The crippling costs of housing, health care, and education, among other necessities such as child care, place Americans in a burning house, armed only with water balloons. From 1980 to 2020, the purchasing power of average wages, to quote one Pew Research study, “has barely budged.”
This has predictably fueled the rising level of credit card debt for the average American, which now surpasses $6,000. Analysts are in almost unanimous agreement that the Federal Reserve’s recent interest rate hike will raise interest payments on credit card holders, adding yet another largely unmentioned burden to the American household budget.
The “Build Back Better” legislative agenda of Biden and Congressional Democrats included many measures to address the painful cost of living in the United States—such as an extension of the child tax credit, subsidized child care, and Medicare coverage of dental and vision treatment. As the bill collects dust in a dark corner of the Capitol, leading pundits act as if Republican callousness toward working and middle class suffering should have no political consequences.
Fixating on gas prices gives the GOP one more tool to distract the public from their dangerous ambitions.
Worse yet, the relentless rage over gas prices provides cover for the Republican Party’s ongoing assault on democracy. Investigations into the January 6 insurrection continue to expose cooperation from high level Republican officials in the House and Senate and in the Trump Administration with the violent mob that attempted to subvert the electoral process, and nullify the votes of millions of Americans. Fixating on gas prices, in this sense, gives the GOP one more tool to distract the public from their dangerous ambitions.
Exaggerating the importance of gas prices without acknowledging the broader economic context of housing, health care, education, debt, and wages, also shifts political discussion in favor of the poisonous oil and natural gas industries.
Scientists are becoming more desperate in their warnings that humanity is racing toward disaster with its policies of pollution, fossil fuel extraction, habitat destruction, and deforestation.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 report warned that it is “now or never” if the world hopes to avoid catastrophe.
The political preoccupation with the cost of fuel, while neglecting far worse causes of financial hardship, amounts to throwing gas on a fire.
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