Third, it is foolish to equate authenticity with dogged consistency. When Sanders recently praised the “massive literacy” of Cuba under Fidel Castro, some defenders explained that this was nothing new. He had said similar things before. But finding the bright side of brutal authoritarian rule is not the kind of judgment that improves with age. One would have hoped that an early infatuation might have given way to more mature discernment. In the case of both Sanders and Trump, being true to themselves seems to preclude important learning.

Finally, it is dangerous to identify authenticity with being a disruptive outsider. Trump’s lack of governing experience did not provide him with fresh perspective; it led to governing incompetence. His disrespect for institutions led to an assault on essential institutions, including the FBI, the Justice Department and the intelligence services. The promise by a politician to burn down the house is visceral and emotional. That does not make institutional arsonists more sincere or wise. It is possible to authentically love American institutions while seeking their renovation.

In the upside-down world of American politics, Sanders and Trump are given credit by their followers for vices that corrupt democracy. Meanwhile, grace, careful rhetoric, learning and governing skill have few practitioners and few defenders.