Central to the GOP midterm strategy is capitalizing on anger over inflation. They have sought to blame it on what they claim was President Joe Biden’s overly generous COVID-19 stimulus. (Never mind that Donald Trump’s rescue packages were also generous, and those Paycheck Protection Plan and stimulus checks didn’t pay for themselves.) Insofar as energy prices have contributed to inflationary pressure, they blame Democrats’ environmental focus for preventing more oil drilling.
But looking at other countries quickly puts the lie to these inflation arguments. Globally, gas prices are rising due to COVID-related supply shocks and, more recently, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Supply bottlenecks are due to refining capacity rather than the drilling on which Republicans are so focused.
Inflation is a global phenomenon. Yes, until recently, the United States was experiencing a slightly higher rate of inflation than most other industrialized democracies. But that is no longer true. As of the latest reporting, the U.S. rate stood at 8.3 percent, equal to Spain; Britain was at 9 percent, and the Netherlands at 9.6 percent. Many other countries are mired between 5 and 8 percent.
Larry Summers notwithstanding, it is unlikely that Biden’s COVID relief bill in March 2021 was more than a marginal driver of domestic inflation. As Robert Shapiro recently wrote in the Monthly, inflation has varied by industry—it has been particularly bad in the energy sector—and the inflationary spike aligns much more closely with global supply chain issues than Biden’s stimulus. Most of the money for Biden’s signature infrastructure bill hasn’t been spent yet, and when it does literally hit the roads, it will likely decrease inflation. Corporate profiteering, monopolization, and price gouging are direct causes, as corporations enjoy record profits despite higher material and labor inputs: Clearly, they are not just passing costs along to consumers.
Of course, it’s important to note that the alternative to the COVID stimulus was an economic collapse. Fighting climate change would be worth the cost of minor short-term economic impacts, but there’s no sign that, say, canceling the Keystone XL pipeline drove up prices at the pump. And Americans still pay lower gasoline prices than those in most other developed democracies.
It’s not just inflation where Republican blinders to the rest of the world warp their messaging. Virtually every major plank of modern conservatism is often refuted by evidence from abroad. The inability of Republicans to recognize that American exceptionalism often means that we’re doing exceptionally poorly is probably not surprising. It’s more frustrating that Democrats haven’t been cleverer about pointing this out.
GOP politicians blame gun violence on video games, mental illness, a shortage of heavily armed teachers or law enforcement, or lack of religion in schools. Fox News even had the gall to blame video games after a white supremacist murdered 10 people and wounded three more in Buffalo, motivated by hateful conspiracy theories promoted by Fox News’s own Tucker Carlson. In the wake of the slaughter at a Texas elementary school, Republicans found themselves arguing with a straight face that limiting entrances and exits is the real problem, not that a deranged 18-year-old who is not old enough to buy a beer or even a handgun can purchase two assault rifles on his birthday.
Let’s state the obvious: The rest of the world has video games; the U.S. does not have higher rates of mental illness than other countries; most other developed democracies are far less religious than the U.S. The United States is unique among its peer nations for its weak social safety net, high incarceration rates, and, most importantly, its mindboggling proliferation of guns. America’s shockingly high rate of gun violence is evident if you compare us with similar countries. Conservative lies are easily laid bare. Geography doesn’t lie.
Similar stories can be told about health care, abortion, regulation, LGBTQ rights, and other issues. Universal health care leads to better health outcomes all around the world. Societies with commonly available access to abortion tend to have better outcomes for children and women; stricter regulation of monopolies and financialized exploitation lead to healthier economies; countries with respect for LGBTQ rights are stronger than homophobic ones (as Ukraine is currently proving against Russia, much to the chagrin of the pro-Putin wing of the GOP). And so on.
The conservatism of the Edmund Burke variety has always had its strengths—modesty, caution, and a curiosity about the world. American conservatism, by contrast, has a tradition of proud ignorance. Burke could look abroad and see distinctions between the persuasive goals of the American Revolution and what he saw as the menacing and messianic nature of the French revolt. That distinction may be argued, but what’s indisputable is that Burke looked overseas for answers. Today’s Republican Party evinces little interest in accomplishments abroad, save perhaps in Hungary, where CPAC recently met, reveling in Victor Orbán’s ethnonationalism. If Republicans are incapable of global soul searching and Democrats have trouble making the argument that we have things to learn from the rest of the world, then voters and media outlets should ask themselves after the next mass shooting: Is this what happens in Europe? Do we have to live this way?