“The people who turn up at Sanders and Trump rallies are wed, across the aisle, in bonds of populist unrest”

The people who turn up at Sanders and Trump rallies are wed, across the aisle, in bonds of populist unrest. They’re revolting against party élites, and especially against the all-in-the-family candidates anointed by the Democratic and the Republican leadership: Clinton and Bush, the wife and brother of past party leaders. (More attention has been paid to the unravelling of the G.O.P.; the Democratic Party is no less frayed.) There is, undoubtedly, a great deal of discontent, particularly with the role of money in elections: both Sanders and Trump damn the campaign-finance system as rigged and the establishment as corrupt. But to call the current state of affairs, in either party, a political revolution isn’t altogether accurate. The party system, like just about every other old-line industry and institution, is struggling to survive a communications revolution. Accelerated political communication can have all manner of good effects for democracy, spreading news about rallies, for instance, or getting hundreds of thousands of signatures on a petition lickety-split. Less often noticed are the ill effects, which include the atomizing of the electorate. There’s a point at which political communication speeds past the last stop where democratic deliberation, the genuine consent of the governed, is possible. An instant poll, of the sort that pops up on your screen while you’re attempting to read debate coverage, encourages snap and solitary judgment, the very opposite of what’s necessary for the exercise of good citizenship. Democracy takes time. It requires civic bonds, public institutions, and a free press. And in the United States, so far, it has needed parties.

Jill Lepore, “The Party Crashers”, The New Yorker (22 February 2016), 23-24.