By Rick Salutin, in the Toronto Star, February 27
Is the era of political parties nearing its end? In the U.S. neither Donald Trump nor Bernie Sanders has a history in the parties they’re vying to lead. They’re recent arrivals. It doesn’t seem to matter; in fact, it might help. Their lack of party connectivity may embody the movement of history.
Take Trump. It’s not just that what he says isn’t remotely Republican or conservative; he doesn’t even try. He’s effectively “left” in opposing free trade, which has been the Republican brand since Reagan. He denounced the Republican-instigated invasion of Iraq and did so almost casually, as if it came to him in mid-debate. Can you picture the Clintons (party creatures to their core) agonizingly trying to “triangulate” over such risky stances? It’s unthinkable that any normal party hack (i.e., all Trump’s opponents) could trash party war heroes like John McCain and get away with it. But Trump is home free because he’s not playing the party game, though the game he’s playing is happening in a party.
His positions don’t so much challenge party culture as ignore it. It’s less like he’s taken over the Republican party than rented it for an election and plastered the Trump name on it as he does on buildings he didn’t build (The Trump Power). This isn’t party politics in any familiar sense.
Sanders is similar. He hung around with Democrats, nothing more. Now he’s the only challenger to Hillary. Barack Obama, by contrast, eight years ago, arrived through the usual party initiation process. He started off in the state Democrats, got invited to donor cocktail parties and eventually joined the club….
One redemptive element in the Trump nexus is that he seems uninterested in building a party apparatus. That’s what makes him not quite a fascist, though he has the racism, demagoguery, etc. Fascism requires its own party along with militias or brownshirts to enforce its political vision. But Trump seems largely oblivious to politics; he’s a guy with a limited attention span who mainly wants everyone else to look at him. So he’s content to inhabit the moribund corpus of the GOP. If we’re really at the end of the era of parties, then this unconcern with party building works for him along with almost everything else he touches….