Professor Edsall of Columbia University opened his discussion on a rather somber note when he asked: “Do I have good news for America?” He followed with a blunt and definite “no.” He then unpacked his answer
through his lecture on political polarization in American politics.
Approximately 60 students, faculty, and Colorado Springs residents attended the lecture. Edsall is the second speaker in the Colorado College 2018 Midterm Election Symposium which began on Sept. 24 and will conclude on Nov. 29. Mr. Edsall joined the Columbia school of Journalism in 2006 after a 25-year career at the Washington Post where he wrote about different aspects of national politics, including presidential elections, the House and Senate, lobbying, tax policy, demographic trends, social welfare, the politics of race and ethnicity, and organized labor. In addition to teaching at Columbia University, Mr. Edsall has been an op-ed contributor for the New York Times since 2011.
In his lecture, Edsall noted that increasing polarization in American politics has created a political era of unprecedented national division. He lists the surging gender gap, white nationalism, authoritarianism, and politics of hate and anger as the contributing factors. Mr. Edsall believes that the greatest cause of the divisiveness in the United States is President Donald Trump, who is perhaps, the embodiment of all the aforementioned factors.
In the case of the widening gender gap, Edsall mentioned the significant difference between Trump’s approval ratings for women and for men. The Pew research center found that 63 percent of women disapprove of our president, while 47 percent of men disapprove.
Additionally, Americans were bitterly divided on the controversial Supreme Court nominee, Brett Kavanaugh. Edsall credits the energy behind the MeToo movement in contributing to the spectacle of Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination. Edsall brought up another poll which pointed to a clear disconnect between Democrats and Republicans. 56 percent of male Republicans would vote for a candidate who has been accused of sexual harassment and/or sexual assault, while only 19 percent of male Democrats would.
Changes in demographics in the United States have led to white identity becoming a focus for many American voters. Edsall discussed yet another poll — a common theme in his lecture — which stated that 48 percent of white Americans do not feel like a stranger in their own country. This statistic indicates that the increase in diversity in the United States has made a significant number of white residents worried about their place in the country. Esdall reasons this is why white Americans found Donald Trump, a self-proclaimed nationalist, as an attractive option.
In order to wake up the audience that appeared to have a difficult time following the numerous polls and definitions that Edsall projected on the screen, he brought up a topic that seemed relevant to the college crowd, alcohol. Campaign polls show that Democrats tend to drink clearer spirits such as gin or vodka, while Republicans enjoy hard liquor. Edsall decided to bring alcohol into the conversation to prove his point. Even something as minuscule and mundane as what kind of alcohol one enjoys has a clear partisan divide.
These divisions shape a mindset of “us versus them.” That the primal sense of “us versus them” results in fixation on the goal of defeating and even humiliating the opposition at all costs. His examples of this include President Trump, Roy Moore, and other politicians who have made questionable decisions in their private lives and have been accused of sexual misconduct. In those cases, Republicans decided that voting for the candidate despite their faults and egregious wrongdoings was worth the ambition of remaining in power. Luckily, the people of Alabama narrowly decided that Roy Moore was unfit for office. However, it has been shown that sometimes when party affiliates will do anything to take power, the result is President Donald J. Trump.