The Atlantic

Why Can't the Left Win?

Advice and constructive criticism from observers who believe that America would benefit from a healthier opposition to the governing coalition
Source: Mark Kauzlarich / Reuters

President Trump wields great power. Those who believe him to be a cruel, dishonest man who is glaringly unqualified to preside over the executive branch or U.S. foreign policy, should welcome challenges from the left, right, and center to his administration.

But is the American left capable of political success right now?

Its recent win-loss record is poor, whether one begins with the Seattle WTO protests, the anti-war marches of 2003, the push for immigration reform, Occupy Wall Street, or Black Lives Matter. And observing the left during the first 100 days of the Trump administration, I am beginning to despair that its pathologies are growing in strength at the very moment when the worst of the right is ascendant, too.

I am not a Leftist. But I want a country where the best versions of left and right are vying against one another—and one where overdue reforms are made to the immigration, finance, and criminal-justice systems. I believe constructive criticism can improve any coalition. And such criticism is on offer from leftists, liberals, conservatives, and others who believe that a healthy left has something vital to offer America.

What follows is a roundup of critiques offered in that spirit. It is neither exhaustive nor definitive. Bu I hope that it can serve a starting point for an informative conversation.

The Limits of Opprobrium and Stigma

When Abraham Lincoln was 33 years old, he gave a speech inside a Presbyterian church to a temperance society. His message: The assembled ought to be nicer to drinkers and sellers of alcohol, rather than shunning them, or denouncing them as moral pestilences. Indeed, they ought to use “kindly persuasion,” even if a man’s drunkenness had caused misery to his wife, or left his children hungry and naked with want.

For people are never less likely to change, to convert to new ways of thinking or acting, than when it means joining the ranks of their denouncers

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