America swings to the Right. The Left loses. How has the Left dug itself into this hole?

Summary: Today we look at one of the defining political trends of our time — America’s movement to the Right. Like most political evolutions in our history, it’s bipartisan. Previous posts have examined how the Right has won. Today and tomorrow we look at how the Left has accomplished this (it didn’t just happen), and how they have responded to this long series of defeats. These are just sketches about vast and complex trends. At the end see links to other posts in this series.


America has been moving to the Right since roughly 1980. Not in all things. The 1% cares about power and money; as a class it does not care who marries who. The US health care system’s decay, and the Right’s indifference to reform, allowed the Left to pass ObamaCare.

But the overall trend has been to the Right. A few examples…

  1. Defunding public colleges.
  2. Cutting taxes on the rich and businesses, shifting the tax burden down (as the GOP is doing in the States today).
  3. Reducing the safety net (e.g., . Reducing the minimum wage (in real terms), Clinton “ending welfare as we know it” in 1996).
  4. Crushing private sector unions.
  5. Deregulation of corporations, especially banks.
  6. Eroding away the 1970s reforms on the military and intelligence agencies.

We can debate the wisdom of these changes (I’m mostly against them all), but let’s leave that debate for another day. How has the Left responded? Today we’ll see how the Left has worked to gain public support — and failed. Tomorrow we’ll examine how they addressed the equally important (in an operational sense) task of maintaining internal cohesion during their long defeat.

The Left fights back

The Left responded its efforts on use of two tactics.

(a)  Legal leverage

The Left used its strength in the Courts to effect public policy measures they could not do through democratic means. Most notably, expansion of environmental protections, plus expanded rights to abortion and same-sex marriage. Although this produced some wins, the long-term effect has been catastrophic for the Left.

The focus on legalistic tactics led to an atrophy of grass-roots organizing, and a loss of legitimacy for the agenda. Legitimacy in the political sense, people’s acceptance of governmental authority. From bussing to abortion to closing logging in the NW to save the spotted owl, court-driven policy measures produce powerful backlashes unless supported with deep measures to gain public support — which step the Left has often skipped. An increasing fraction of the public believes the Left uses anti-democratic (even authoritarian) means to change public policy.

Now the real weakness of this strategy appears, as the increased strength of the Right results in more conservative judges at all levels. Judicial activism works just as well for the Right as the Left. Indeed for most of American history the Courts have been a conservative, even reactionary force. We might return to this old normal.

(b)  Gaining strength by sounding alarms



The Left attempted to regain public support largely through one tactic: sounding alarms. Shrill, loud, warnings of certain doom. Exaggerating the science to gain public support for their long-standing public policy proposals. The Population Bomb.  Pollution. Pesticides (the Alar on apples hysteria). Nuclear war (the nuclear winter scare). Resource scarcity (from the exaggeration of the Club of Rome study to the Peak Oil hysteria of 2005-2009). Killer bees.

Doomsters like Paul R. Ehrlich and Lester Brown became their vanguard. Saving the world became their raison d’être. Catastrophic anthropogenic global warming. Agitprop became their major communication tool. Skillfully done, such as at the birth of the climate change crusade: opening the windows in the Senate hearing room to produce sweltering heat (see the story here).

Now much of that project lies in ruins, along with much of the Left’s credibility. They put much of their remaining resources — financial and political — on the climate change crusade. This seemed like a sure things, based on the public statements of some scientists (but not the peer-reviewed literature). But nature has disappointed them, and the public support is fading (see poll results here, and more here).

What next?

Major political movements do not die. But they can lose influence for generations, until either they reform or circumstances change. That appears to be the fate of the Left.

Tomorrow we ask how the Left maintains its internal cohesion while losing, and fights off internal pressure to change (e.g., adopt new and potentially more successful policies and methods).

For more information

(a)  Other posts in this series:

  1. Nate Silver goes from hero to goat, convicted by the Left of apostasy, 25 March 2014
  2. The Left stages a two minute hate on Nate Silver, Roger Pielke Jr (& me), 29 March 2014

(b)  Posts about America’s move to the Right:

  1. The evolution of the Republican Party has shaped America during the past fifty years, 8 May 2010
  2. The good news: America’s politics are neither polarized nor dysfunctional. That’s also the bad news., 16 November 2011
  3. Remember the old days, when the GOP and Dems advocated different policies? No longer, since the conservatives won., 5 August 2012
  4. The hidden major party, the key to political control of America, 9 November 2012
  5. The world of wonders: Democratic Party takes center, pushes GOP right to madness, 19 February 2013
  6. Recommended: Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013
  7. Look in the polls, as in a mirror, to see America drift to the Right, 31 January 2014

(c)  Posts about ways to reform America:

There are other ways to reform America. More difficult, but at least offering the potential to win.

(d) Reference pages about American politics:

  1. Posts about politics in America
  2. How can we stop the quiet coup now in progress?
  3. Posts about reforming America

(b)  Posts about solutions to reform America:

  1. Learning skepticism, an essential skill for citizenship in 21st century America, 1 December 2012
  2. Remembering is the first step to learning. Living in the now is ignorance., 29 October 2013
  3. Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America, 24 November 2013

(c)  Steps to reforming America:

  1. The sure route to reforming America
  2. A third try: The First Step to reforming America
  3. The second step to reforming America
  4. The third step to reforming America, with music
  5. How to recruit people to the cause of reforming America
  6. Swear allegiance to the truth as a step to reforming America
  7. Today you can take the first step to reforming America, 6 February 2014

(d)  Other posts about reforming America:

  1. Fixing America: the choices are elections, revolt, or passivity, 18 August 2008
  2. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
  3. The project to reform America: a matter for science or a matter of will?, 16 March 2010
  4. Can we reignite the spirit of America?, 14 September 2010
  5. Should we despair, giving up on America?, 5 May 2012
  6. We are alone in the defense of the Republic, 5 July 2012
  7. Thoreau reminds us about one of the few tools we have to control the government, 24 June 2013
  8. The bad news about reforming America: time is our enemy, 27 June 2013
  9. Why the 1% is winning, and we are not, 26 July 2013
  10. Understand our problem before you prescribe a cure for America. We’ve gone mad., 17 September 2013
  11. In “Network”, Howard Beale asks us to get mad and do something. He’s still waiting., 19 October 2013
  12. The missing but essential key to building a better America, 21 November 2013
  13. How can we arouse a passion to reform America in the hearts of our neighbors?, 20 December 2013
  14. Is grassroots organizing a snare or magic bullet for the reform of America?, 26 December 2013
  15. Should we risk using anger to arouse America?, 16 January 2014

(e)  Posts about protests:

  1. How to stage effective protests in the 21st century, 21 April 2009
  2. Occupy Wall Street, another futile peasants’ protest, 5 October 2011
  3. Thoreau reminds us about one of the few tools we have to control the government, 24 June 2013
  4. Look at the protests in Wisconsin to see how America has changed, 31 August 2013
  5. Martin Luther King Jr’s advice to us about using violence to reform America, 20 January 2014

(f)  Posts about using music as a tool to revitalize America:

  1. A great artist died today. We can gain inspiration from his words., 26 June 2009 — About the Man in the Mirror
  2. The New America needs a new national anthem! Here’s my nomination., 24 November 2012
  3. Listen to hear the state of America (and its cure) explained in song, 8 February 2013
  4. The third step to reforming America, with music, 3 September 2013



8 thoughts on “America swings to the Right. The Left loses. How has the Left dug itself into this hole?”

  1. Richard Porter

    Demographic and economic trends are two key factors working against the right. Only the increasing wealth and influence of the 1% is a primary supportive factor of the right. Seems to me that at some point, there may be a collision between these opposing factors. Will it be a big bang, a little bang or just a gradual change in the trajectory of American society?

    1. Richard,

      Am familiar with that theory, but am skeptical. Here are 2 posts somewhat relevant, which you might of interest:

      My wild guess is that the current party structure — coalition alignments, policy demarcations, etc — is breaking down. Parties in America have a history of reconfiguring themselves. The GOP has done so at least twice in its long history.

  2. Two points about Left judicial activism.

    We can never know for sure whether the left could not gain public support for they would not. They did not try. Your point about lack of grassroots organizing supports this.

    Second, we must be careful what we mean by “the Left.” Just because one supports Roe v Wade, gay marriage, and sundry similar social causes does not make one part of the Left. Only support for some reasonable definition of economic justice does. And that support, once established, should suffice – even if one also vigorously opposes social issues.

    The reverse has been the case.

    1. Duncan,

      What is the Left? I used the term thinking of it as moderately cohesive movement. But, as you point out, that might not be so.

      It is an important point. I have several posts about the Left coming out, so I’ll note this question. I don’t know enough to attempt an answer.

  3. Class has got to come first in a definition of the “Left”. All 6 of FM’s discussion points relate to the 0.1÷ struggle to keep the upper hand. A 7th point would be health. When I first looked for work in the 70’s, average job had good coverage free with no copays.

    1. Socialbill,

      I agree with you and Duncan. But I think the defining issue of the Left today is climate change. Catastrophic anthropogenic climate change is the one doctrine of the Left on which they tolerate no dissent. It provides their energy — they’re saving the world! It allows them to demonize their opponents.

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