Sanders’s persistently surprising popularity shows that the Democratic establishment grasped the deep alienation of its voters no better than its Republican counterpart did. The energy of this campaign has been generated on the margins, by two kinds of Americans: younger, better-educated, more urban ones on the Democratic side; older, more working-class, whiter ones on the Republican side. As with the Progressives and Populists of a hundred years ago, both groups harbor a sense that their country has been taken away from them. Neither has traditionally been oppressed, which makes the sense of disenfranchisement all the more acute, and they assert increasingly extreme views against the powers they see concentrated against them—big business, big government, big media, big globalization.
That was the original purpose of direct primaries—to force the parties to answer to the voters. But Senator Norris was mistaken about one thing: the voters turn out to be more partisan than the bosses. Primaries drive politicians toward the extremes, and neither side is willing to acknowledge the legitimacy or, in a sense, the existence of the other. Sanders Democrats cheer his proposals for higher taxes, single-payer health care, and free college education without demanding that he explain how he’ll get those proposals through a highly ideological Republican Congress. Trump just tells his faithful to give him the power and he’ll make everything right, and they believe him.
George Packer, “Living On The Edge”, The New Yorker (8 & 15 February 2016), 36.