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John M. Crisp, an opinion columnist for Tribune News Service, lives in Georgetown, Texas.
We Americans are 330,000,000 people trying to find a way to travel together to the same place. Or so we like to think.
In reality our current divisions indicate that we are headed toward different destinations. The metaphor that properly describes the dilemma in front of us is elusive. A crossroads? A fork in the road? A perilous trek along a knife-edged ridge with a disastrous fall on either side? Chutes and Ladders?
However we describe the journey, it’s clear that we’re not going to the same place. And the point of no return is closer than we think. In fact, we could reach the decision point in weeks, in connection with the fate of the Democrats’ “Build Back Better” plan.
Or maybe we have until the midterm elections next year. But, certainly, by no later than the presidential election of 2024, we’re going to have to decide who we are and where we’re going.
Extending the metaphor, let’s call one of the destinations Trumptown. Overly dramatic? Maybe. But it’s dangerously naive to underestimate the remarkable endurance of the former president, as well as the grip he maintains on the Republican Party.
The Republicans already have a built-in head start on the road to Trumptown. They’re able to use simple battle cries (Low taxes! Small government! Personal freedom!) to good advantage over Democrats, who can never run on high taxes, big government and restricted liberty.
Further, Republicans have exploited the advantages that our system provides to the political minority: the filibuster, the Electoral College, the gerrymander and disproportionate representation in the Senate.
Advantages such as these should work both ways, but they can easily swing the pendulum so far in one direction that it can never swing back.
And then there’s Donald Trump. The devotion of his disciples should concern us as much as his politics. Polls find that as much as 70 percent of Republicans believe — erroneously — that the 2020 election was stolen, and the figure appears to be growing.
How wrong is this position? The day after the Arizona audit Trump said that Joe Biden “didn’t win in Arizona. He lost in Arizona based on the forensic audit.” But the audit — mounted by Republicans for the predetermined purpose of proving the election in Maricopa County was rigged against Trump — showed just the opposite.
And yet Trump is clearly planning to run in 2024, and he’s likely to win the Republican nomination. But Trumptown is a fantasyland. Are you sure you want to go there?
I’d prefer Bidenville. But getting there depends heavily on the passage of some version of his $3.5 trillion plan to provide an array of civilized benefits that most Americans want, including a significant percentage of Republicans.
These are things such as lower prescription drug prices, child tax credits, more affordable college and, at long last, measures that pay attention to climate change. These are not the features of some socialist utopia; they’re merely some of the privileges that advanced countries have been awarding themselves for years. It’s a chance for us to catch up.
But Biden’s plan has two things working against it. First, Republicans harbor a deep reluctance to allow the Democrats anything that looks like a win.
And, second, the cost. Republicans never tire of reminding us of the $3.5 trillion price tag.
Still, perspective is called for: Over a decade, the price tag amounts to $350 billion per year. That’s still a lot of money, but it’s less than half of what we spend annually on defense.
We spend $100 billion per year on our pets. We spend $62 billion on cosmetics. We spend somewhere between $200 billion and $300 billion on stress-related illnesses. I’m not suggesting we get rid of our dogs and cats, but I wonder if the benefits of Biden’s plan could help us get rid of some of our stress.
In any case, two starkly different visions of our future are currently in conflict. By no later than 2024, we’ll have chosen. May we choose wisely; there will be no turning back.