The latest star of the culture war is a kitchen appliance. For years, research has shown that gas stoves are bad for the environment and for public health, particularly for the developing brains of young children. Cities and states—mostly blue ones—have begun to consider and implement bans, citing these health risks. And the growing body of research on the detrimental impacts of gas stoves has, unsurprisingly, found its way to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. On Monday, the CPSC’s chairman, Richard Trumka Jr., told Bloomberg that “any option is on the table. Products that can’t be made safe can be banned,” when asked about gas stoves.
Right on cue, Trumka’s comments ignited a firestorm on the right. “I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove,” tweeted Texas Representative and former White House physician Ronny Jackson, “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” Following Jackson’s lead, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted out a modified Gadsden flag—with a gas stove over the words “Don’t Tread on Florida.” Tucker Carlson had a restaurant owner on to talk about how electric stoves were “less functional” than gas ones. “You will have to pry my gas stove from my cold dead hands,” tweeted Matt Walsh.
Why do so many people want to die embracing their stoves? And who said anything about taking them away in the first place? Your guess is as good as mine. A few weeks ago, gas stoves were just stoves. Now they are fodder, symbols of identity, talismans in a culture war that will never end.
This is as predictable as it is tiresome. And the people who cover the ins and outs of the far-right perpetual outrage machine and the things they invent to be mad about should be wise to this game by now. The larger right-wing media and the political agitants employed therein wake up every morning in need of the next big target; an endless churn of these stories is necessary for the care and feeding of this propagandistic maw. It’s all well-worn artifice—and every once in a while, the mask slips. I can’t help but recall Tucker Carlson’s palpable sense of exhaustion as he teased a segment on—get this!—the sexuality of the green M&M. “Because that’s what we do here,” said the tuckered-out Carlson on a recent broadcast.
Committed to a vision of the country in which liberals and elites are constantly forcing unnecessary (and often decadent) change down the throats of hard-working people, politicians like DeSantis and broadcasters like Carlson are constantly on the lookout for the latest bullet points in the “woke agenda.” Gas-stoveghazi fit the bill in a number of different ways. In the first place, people are, to be fair, very attached to them. (I am attached to mine, even though it is both not a very good stove and objectively bad for me.) Mining these kinds of psychological attachments has been DeSantis’s stock-in-trade; his trademarked move has been to cast himself as the primary opponent of the left’s phantasmal “fun police.” In his version, any move to protect public health in the form of recommendations—let alone mandates—is an intolerable harshing of the vibe. By contrast, DeSantis will let you continue to do whatever it is you feel like doing, right up to the moment it kills you.
This silly game requires the right to successfully get perfectly anodyne recommendations, information, and mandates reflected in a funhouse mirror for media consumption. And when the caricature becomes news, real-world knowledge falls by the wayside. Cigarettes, for instance, are bad for you, and the government discourages people from using them in a variety of ways. But as of this writing, they’re not banned. Similarly, there’s little reason to believe that any kind of gas stove ban is coming, and Trumka clarified as much not long after conservative luminaries lost their ever-loving minds over his comments. But on the right, even the knowledge that can help consumers make free and informed choices—including the reminder that gas stoves may not be good for you, and especially not good for young children—is apparently anathema, another sign of the fascist nanny state trying to dictate how you kill your own brain cells.
Gas stoves are particularly attractive as a culture-war subject because they are also connected to the natural gas industry which, along with the larger fossil fuel industry, is symbiotically attached to the right-wing funder apparatus. The gas stove controversy is—like the plastic straw meltdown of yesteryear—a way for the right to turn the effort to fight climate change and reduce pollution into digestible, culture-war items. As with getting a vaccine or having the occasional vegan burger, so goes the plastic straw and the gas stove: Politics-free decisions made by ordinary people are transformed by the right into symbols of political identity.
This is, inevitably, what happens when a political movement gives up on policy: Everything becomes identity politics. The right has long since stopped trying to come up with solutions to problems like climate change. There is no effort to reckon with the possibility that gas stoves may be bad for you. There is no interest in actually solving these problems. No one’s thinking big picture: A long-term transformation from gas to induction stoves could promote stateside manufacturing, create scads of new jobs, and make entrepreneurs a lot of money—all things the GOP occasionally claims to lionize, along with idealizing the virtues of individual choice. Republicans are making the hollow choice here, opting for a cheap supply raw material for their never-ending outrage mill, because that’s what they do here.