NYT Columnist Thomas B. Edsall Gives a Lecture About American Politics on Campus

Melina Korfonta ‘25

Executive News Editor

Receiving the Moses Berkman Memorial Journalism Award in recognition of his work as a political reporter and columnist, New York Times writer Thomas B. Edsall visited Trinity College on October 6th to give a lecture on the recent increase of polarization within American politics and how it threatens democracy. 

According to Edsall, as voters have become more clearly divided, most notably between Republicans and Democrats, many of these individuals now associate politics as a sense of identity and feel that they lose a piece of themselves as their party loses.

Covering an array of topics from American politics and inequality, to campaign strategy and demographics, Edsall is employed as a contributing op-ed writer and weekly columnist for The New York Times and a correspondent for The New Republic. Previously, Edsall wrote about similar topics at The Washington Post.

During his lecture to the Trinity community, Edsall presented and analyzed various charts and graphs displaying data that represented America’s increasing political polarization which, Edsall said, may threaten democracy, adding,  “Elected officials and voters have become increasingly consistent with the party…Partisanship has become an expression of the self.”

Further discussing the topic of voter division and identity, Edsall said, “The country is divided into two…We’ve long had ideological polarization, where people differ over policy, but what’s happened most recently is a different kind of polarization which political scientists call affective polarization. It’s much more personal, with support for one side but really a hatred of the other side.”

According to Edsall, beginning around the 2008 recession, voter polarization has greatly accelerated, heavily impacting Republican counties in particular. Edsall also explored the possible different experiences and political perspectives based on factors such as location, district, race, class, and levels of education, further explaining, “Democrats win healthy states (depicted by various data sets) and Republicans win unhealthy states, which is a reversal of 50 years ago.” 

Diving deeper into his conversation on the country’s divisions, Edsall produced his recent publication in the New York Times, “There Are Two Americas Now: One With a B.A. and One Without.” In addition to scribing five books, Edsall has been published in various magazines, and  has also been a contributor to various broadcasting entities including CNN, CSPAN, PBS, and FOX. For close to a decade, Edsall has taught at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, collecting the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Chair awards during his stay.

Edsall further explored the threat to democracy saying, “The threat to democracy is that a large body of people who are not doing well in the system, who are experiencing downward mobility and downward socioeconomic status … become disenchanted with the political system…They have the sense that the system has stolen our opportunity as Americans to move up the ladder and see our children do better. This becomes a threat to democracy because you don’t need a majority [in order] to be disruptive to the process. The failure of government to do something to change the direction of life for that whole class of people has endangered democracy itself. I think both parties are responsible for that.”

Although adamant about this threat to democracy, Edsall  believes there are ways to ease this polarization among voters saying, “Put as much focus as possible on policies that benefit all people, that do not divide one group from another.”

As awarded to Edsall, The Moses Berkman Memorial Journalism Award honors the successes and extensive careers of journalists. This award is made possible by The Moses and Florence Berkman Endowed Fund at Trinity College, in tribute to the late Moses Berkman, Class of 1920. Moses Berkman was a political correspondent, columnist, and editorial writer for the Hartford Times from the early 1920s-1956. Recent recipients of The Moses Berkman Memorial Journalism Award include CNN legal analyst Joan Biskupic, tech writer Kara Swisher, and E. J. Dionne of The Washington Post and Brookings Institution.

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