A Trump-Sanders election would destroy our politics

The two sides are not morally equivalent. Only one is subverting our constitutional order on a daily basis. Only one leader is regularly fanning flames of racial division. Only one leader has separated migrant families and abused migrant children. Only one leader has authoritarian pretensions and regularly uses his office to facilitate corruption.

But Trump and Sanders practice a similar type of politics, described with typical brilliance in Yuval Levin’s new book, “A Time to Build.” Levin argues that political institutions — say, the presidency or Congress — were once seen as formative institutions. People within them were expected to uphold certain standards and develop certain skills. Politicians wanted to be recognized for excelling at the profession of politics, which includes mastering detail, building consensus and cooperating in spite of differences.

Politicians such as Trump and Sanders, however, want to be seen as outsiders overturning a discredited establishment. Trump, for example, has continued to criticize elements of his own administration on Twitter as though he were an outside observer. In this political approach, the purpose of institutions has shifted. “We have moved, roughly speaking,” writes Levin, “from thinking of institutions as molds that shape people’s characters and habits toward seeing them as platforms that allow people to be themselves and to display themselves before a wider world.” Political institutions are no longer seen as “formative” but as “performative.”

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