Jayne: Sacrifice for the Common Good

Sitting in a cafe, sipping hot chocolate and thinking about how to start this column, I had an epiphany.

I calculated that hot chocolate costs $37.65 per gallon (after sales tax).

And that my favorite beer costs $16.88 a gallon at the grocery store or $56 a gallon at a bar.

And that a pound of family-favorite coffee beans equals about $5.56 per gallon of homemade java. Not that I ever touch it; I prefer, uh, uh, healthier options. You know, like hot chocolate and beer.

None of this makes gas prices of $4.39 or $4.59 or $4.79 a gallon any less of a pain. And none of this is particularly relevant if gas prices rise. Gas is essential for many people and for our economy; hot chocolate is not, no matter how hard I try.

But it does add some context and fuel a discussion about these gas prices and the efforts of conservatives to use them as a political weapon. (If a Republican was in the White House, Democrats would likely try to cash in on the issue.)

More importantly, it also leads to a discussion of Americans’ willingness to sacrifice for the greater good. Because it speaks to the collective psyche of our nation.

Have we become so soft as a society that we can no longer do difficult things or work together? There is evidence to support this claim. But there is also evidence that elected officials see political expediency in their exploitation.

I know, it seems convoluted so far. So let’s talk about the details. Let’s start with the war in Iraq.

In 2003, President George W. Bush launched an attack on Iraq, speciously claiming that Saddam Hussein’s rogue regime possessed weapons of mass destruction. Whether or not you believe the war was morally justified, there was another aspect that tore our national fabric apart.

Bush launched wars in Iraq and Afghanistan while simultaneously pushing for tax cuts in Congress. Rather than calling for a national effort, he sent a message that war should be painless for the average American. It’s not leadership; leaders rally the public around a common cause and a shared goal, demanding a little sacrifice from everyone.

Subsequent administrations employed similar tactics. Most notably, Donald Trump imposed huge tax cuts that mostly benefited the wealthy, driving up the national debt despite a robust economy. Even before the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, Trump’s economy was on the verge of running an annual federal deficit of nearly $1 trillion.

Note to elected leaders: Adults pay their bills when they can; they borrow money when times are tough. The national debt now stands at over $30 trillion, and if you think that doesn’t matter, consider this: the federal government will spend $305 billion this year in interest on that debt, or nearly $1,000 per person.

It all has to do with a lack of public sacrifice — or a reluctance by presidents and Congress to ask for such a sacrifice. Our leaders think we are so spoiled that we are unable to see the big picture of problems, like a toddler who wants a candy bar and wants it now.

I think we are better than that. A Quinnipiac poll last week found that 71% of those polled favored a ban on oil imports from Russia, even if it means higher gas prices. The poll found that 66% of Republicans and 82% of Democrats support the ban as a small price to pay for opposing Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Of course, with this news came countless stories and furious wranglings about what rising gas prices will mean for Democrats in the November election. We don’t know, and we shouldn’t care. If we want America to be the leader of the free world, we have to accept that sometimes you do things because they are right, not because they are politically expedient.

And maybe we should ask ourselves why we get upset about a 20 cent hike in gas prices, but gladly pay $37.65 a gallon for hot chocolate.

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