Throughout most of the 2016 presidential primaries, the media focused on the noisy and reactionary rift among Republicans. Until the battle between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders turned acrimonious in the home stretch, far less attention was paid to the equally momentous divisions within the Democratic Party. The Clinton-Sanders race wasn’t just about two candidates; instead, it underscored a series of deep and growing fissures among Democrats, along a wide range of complex fault lines — from age and race to gender and ideology. And these disagreements won’t fade with a gracious bow-out from Sanders, or a victory in November over Donald Trump. For all the talk of the Democrats’ need for “unity,” it would be a serious mistake to paper over the differences that came to the fore in this year’s primaries. More than ten million Democrats turned out in force this year to reject the party establishment’s cautious centrism and cozy relationship with Wall Street. Unless Democrats heed that message, they will miss a historic opportunity to forge a broad-based and lasting liberal majority.
To help make sense of what’s causing the split, and where it’s headed, we turned to 23 leading historians, political scientists, pollsters, artists, and activists. Taken together, their insights reinforce the need for a truly inclusive and vigorous debate over the party’s future. “There can be no settlement of a great cause without discussion,” observed William Jennings Bryan, the original Democratic populist insurgent. “And people will not discuss a cause until their attention is drawn to it.”