When my sons entered their teen years, we had “the talk.” No, not that one. Well, we did have that talk, too. But the talk I refer to now is the one about expensive products generally, and about cars in particular. This was my mantra-like advice to them: “Repairs are cheaper than replacement, and maintenance is cheaper than repairs.”
Fiscal Prudence Pays
My advice to them continued along these lines: “If you properly maintain a car—and pay for the occasional necessary repairs—you can expect it to get you where you need to go for at least 200,000 miles. And that means that if you drive the average number of miles Americans drive per year—13,500—you can expect to get nearly 15 years out of your car. Then, if your auto loan was for six years, that means you will have nearly nine years of payment-free driving. If you are fiscally responsible and you save the $300 monthly car payments over eight of those years, you will amass nearly $29,000—and that does not include any interest you would accrue. You could then pay cash for a very nice replacement vehicle.
“However, along the way to amassing that small fortune, there might be times when the car has problems, some frustrating enough to make you want to demolish it and start over, regardless of the cost. Resist that temptation. You do not want to place yourself in the position of never-ending car payments.”
Political Prudence Also Pays
My advice to America during the 2016 presidential campaigns—and still today—is along those same lines. Our Founding Fathers gave us a remarkably durable foundation. If we maintain it properly and make the occasional necessary repairs, that foundation should last many centuries.
But during the Obama presidencies many conservatives—particularly white conservatives—saw the changes being made by the “hope and change” administration as too radical. In their view, the changes went too far; we had moved beyond maintenance—or even repair. It was time, they then believed—and most still do—to demolish the Obamamobile and build a new (old) car.
A Choice to Step Back
So, 46 percent of voting Americans cast their ballot for The Great Demolisher. They believed America was no longer running properly and it was time not for repairs but for radical replacement. “This 2016 Toyota Prius is too different. Let’s rebuild a ‘57 Chevy Belair.” I understand that thinking; a ’57 Belair looks way better than a Prius. But rebuilding a half-century old car that lacks emission controls, safety restraints, and that gets just 13 miles per gallon might not be the best way to move the nation forward.
Car buffs now look back at the ’57 Chevy with loving nostalgia as perhaps the greatest car America ever made. But let’s remember in all honesty, that in 1957 Ford was outselling Chevy. The past is not always as we now remember it. And, by the way, why were Fords outselling Chevys in that American Graffiti era? Because Chevrolet dared to introduce a new technology: tubeless tires, a concept most drivers were then unwilling to accept but that is now taken for granted. Change is difficult for many to accept—even when it’s beneficial.
But that’s where we are under the Demolisher-in-Chief. We’re tearing down entire institutions and annihilating decades-long societal norms in order to metaphorically rebuild that classic Chevy so many upheld as the quintessential icon of America’s industrial and design greatness.
President Trump and his loyal followers want to return to the nostalgic era of the ’57 Belair, to an era before the Civil Rights Act, to a time when Ku Klux Klan members forced black truck driver Willie Edwards to jump off a bridge to his death in the Alabama River. They fondly reminisce over the good old days. But in those good old days, Governor Orville Faubus of Arkansas called out the National Guard to prevent the “Little Rock Nine” African American students from enrolling in Little Rock Central High School.
What was so bad about 1957? It wasn’t all bad, but…
Was America better in 1957, when a Dover, Delaware, restaurant refused service to Ghana’s visiting finance minister simply because of his skin color?
Was America better in 1957, before the first kidney transplant or heart transplant?
Was America better in 1957, before automobile safety belts?
Was America better in 1957, before vaccines for rubella and mumps?
Was America better in 1957, before the invention of synthetic insulin for diabetes?
Returning to 1957 Will Not Make America Great Again
Like it or not, this is 2020, not 1957. And, no, the past is not always as we remember it. We’d be wiser to repair any deficiencies in our current model than to build new factories aimed at reproducing a model that went out of production 63 years ago—no matter how good anyone might think it looks.