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Thomas Edsall on Donald Trump, woke culture and the death spiral of American democracy

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Is American politics past the point of no return? Did we cross an event horizon and are now caught in the gravity well of political tribalism, culture war issues and the end game of unfettered capitalism?

If the answer to the question is yes, then the black hole singularity which is the center of our collapse isn’t Donald Trump. Although Trump’s arrival into the political arena did accelerate the demise of our democracy, he didn’t create the hostilities, he only exploited them for his selfish needs.

America crossed the boundary line with the 2016 presidential election of Donald Trump and traveled farther out of bounds during his wrecking ball of an administration that spread misinformation about COVID-19, his failure to win the 2020 presidential election, the January 6 attempted coup, and now, Trump’s renewed attempt to reclaim the White House by again using lies, bullying and a complicit news media.

New York Times columnist and political essayist Thomas Byrne Edsall fears that American democracy may have gone too far off the rails and the old norms of stable, civil politics cannot be restored.

In his new book, Edsall documents how the Trump years ravaged the nation’s politics, culture, and social order. He explains the demographic shifts that helped make Trump’s election possible, and describes the racial and ethnic conflict, culture wars, rural/urban divide, diverging economies of red and blue states, and the transformation of both the Republican and Democratic parties that have left our politics in a state of permanent hostility. The Point of No Return brings together a series of Edsall’s columns, bookended by a new introduction and conclusion, which show how we got to this dangerous point. These dispatches from our new political landscape chronicle the emergence of what Edsall calls “the not-so-silent white majority” and show how Trump deployed fears about race and immigration to appeal to voters.


Thomas Byrne Edsall holds the Joseph Pulitzer II and Edith Pulitzer Moore Professorship in Public Affairs Journalism at Columbia University and is a weekly opinion columnist for the New York Times online. His latest book is “The Point of No Return: American Democracy at the Crossroads.”

Other books include "The Age of Austerity: How Scarcity Will Remake American Politics," “Building Red America: The New Conservative Coalition and the Drive for Permanent Power,” “The New Politics of Inequality” and “Chain Reaction: The Impact of Race, Rights, and Taxes on American Politics.”

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*This interview will be recorded on Tuesday, May 23.

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David Martin Davies can be reached at dmdavies@tpr.org and on Twitter at @DavidMartinDavi