Michael A. McDowell
Gaslighting is a form of psychological manipulation (some call it abuse) aimed at controlling a person by altering reality to the point where the person doubts their own sanity. The term itself comes from the 1930s play The Gas Lantern, in which the main character tries to drive his wife crazy by gradually dimming the gas lights in their home.
Many believe that the “big lie” is a form of gaslighting because when people are told repeatedly that the election was rigged, they believe it despite the facts to the contrary. But the gaslighting is hardly limited to the efforts of some Trump supporters. Both sides seem to be using it quite successfully.
The current administration is lighting the American public on gas prices. They point the finger at US oil companies for speculation by raising gas prices during “wartime”. They are asking citizens to ignore the administration’s policy, which has drastically cut gasoline production, leading to a dramatic increase in prices.
Progressives pushed for a rapid phase-out of fossil fuels before renewables could meet even an iota of the nation’s energy needs, leading to the deficits we have today and the corresponding spike in prices. These policies have ripple effects throughout the economy, raising not only gas prices, but all oil-dependent goods, including food, shipping, the cost of plastic and other oil-based goods.
Clearly, in the long run, it would be the right thing to do to move the country away from an oil-based economy to one that relies more heavily on renewable energy sources. However, the speed with which the new administration moved to end oil production before alternatives became available is too aggressive.
A federal incentive to replace gasoline-powered cars and trucks with electric vehicles, the cancellation of oil leases in Alaska and the Gulf of Mexico, and the closure of the $9 billion Keystone pipeline were just some of the actions that have reduced U.S. oil refining. capacity of 800 thousand barrels per day. This artificial oil supply constraint was exacerbated by the fact that many refineries were closed due to the transition to more environmentally friendly fuel production. The pandemic and the war in Ukraine were exacerbating factors, but minor compared to the administration’s wounds to oil supplies.
Instead of pointing out that the transition to renewable fuels will be long and expensive, requiring sacrifices on the part of Americans, the administration has turned to gaslighting, pointing the finger at mom and gas retailers, saying, “Lower the price you charge and make it’s now.” Neither party is without fault in today’s pump prices, and the energy industry is complicit. However, to place the blame solely on the industry, as President Biden and members of his administration have done, is patently wrong. This is gaslighting in the extreme.
Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm recently said, “Rising oil prices have become the ‘exclamation mark’ that demonstrates the need to shift from oil to wind and solar.” She showed extreme rashness in not pointing out the administration’s drastic policy changes and lack of planning on the part of her department that led to the price hikes we are seeing today.
And the gaslighting continues. In May, the Department of Justice announced the creation of the Office of Environmental Justice to ensure that poor communities are not discriminated against because of the implementation of environmental policies. How the agency will address the discriminatory negative impact of higher gasoline prices on the poor, who spend a larger percentage of their disposable income on gas than higher-income households, remains a mystery. Let’s hope this approach doesn’t resemble the bad energy policy decisions the administration has made recently.
The administration’s progressive and overly aggressive clean energy drive has simply lacked planning and, most egregiously, no effort to educate Americans about the costs we will all be paying. Instead, the administration has chosen to point to the pandemic, the war in Ukraine, and/or greedy oil executives as the reasons for today’s unsustainable gas prices.
This gas lighting technique is much easier to implement than the hard planning work required to make a thoughtful transition from oil to more renewable energy sources.
Michael A. McDowell is president emeritus of Misericordia University and director of the Kelvin K. Kazanjian Foundation for Economics. He lives in Estero, Florida.