American democracy is elitist and insular by design. But since the early days of the republic, “populist” movements have mounted vigorous challenges and tried to broaden democratic participation. The buzzword “populism” is thus best understood as a strategy of political mobilization that can encompass a wide range of (progressive or reactionary) political ideologies.
Lumping Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump together as “populists” thus obscures more than it reveals. Democrats and Bernie Sanders are fighting over the political direction of the party, but Republicans are fighting over the direction of the political system and the boundaries of political discourse.
The full text of my essay for the Berggruen Institute and the Huffington Post is here.