Understanding the US Government

Rated 5 out of 5 by from A course every American should take. I learned so much more and believe I will be a much better citizen and voter.Professor gave a fairly unbiased view of American politics,Will be much more attuned to current political events after this course.
Date published: 2020-11-17
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great Course to Take Very informative and up to date. Great course to take, especially these days, to better understand how we got to today and why there is such a divide...
Date published: 2020-11-16
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Passed political opinion as fact After listening to about 200 courses, I have found a new low in quality of material. The course should be somewhat mundane because we all know a substantial amount about the workings of the government. After 7 lectures, I found little in the way of new insight that I would classify as value added. By this time, the problems with the actual workings of the government such as greed, political values over representing constituents or good of country had ignored in favor of high-mindedness with a distinctly partisan bias. Consequently I stopped listening to this course, the 4th time this has happened.
Date published: 2020-11-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Propaganda Piece Terrible, the whole thing is leftist bias. Twist many of the meanings of the founding fathers. Very little information given that wasn't used as propaganda.
Date published: 2020-11-06
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Fail! Full of biased opinions An extremely narrow-minded view of the US Gov’t hurt by her inserting biased opinions about current events. It's sad that this was written and presented by a college level professor it sounds more like a poorly written 9th grade paper. I expect more from The Great Courses.
Date published: 2020-10-31
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best course I purchased this course about 2 months ago, and am maybe 1/3 done. In the past I have purchases around 40 courses. This course, Understanding the US Government, is maybe the best course of all of them. The presenter is very easy to understand and knowledgeable. The presentations are very clear. The course was done in the last year (2020) and is up-to-date, given all the crazy stuff going on in this country. The material is presented fairly and does not favour one point of view over another.
Date published: 2020-10-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Well done. As a former civics teacher, I highly recommend this course. Sadly, too many of our Americans get their information from pundits instead of professors. An educated electorate is the best protection for our democracy.
Date published: 2020-10-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great for non-Americans!! As a Canadian, I have long struggled to understand US politics, even though we lived in California for 2 years. I have been very active in Canadian politics and have taken a few political science sources, but I still struggled to understand US politics. Since 2016, I have been searching for an on-line course that would help me to understand the dynamics (from both sides - liberalism and conservatism) . I highly recommend this course! BRAVO, EXCEPTION VALUE
Date published: 2020-10-22
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Understanding the US Government
Course Trailer
Why Have Government?
1: Why Have Government?

As context, begin by looking into the nature of governments, and the major types of government. Consider why governments exist and how major political theorists have viewed the roles of government. Examine the founding of the United States and the creation of the Constitution through the lens of “collective action theory,” which helps explain why the US government is structured as it is.

31 min
The Framework of US Federalism
2: The Framework of US Federalism

Study the system of federalism, where sovereign power is divided between the national and state governments. Trace the history of federalism in the United States, as it protects individual liberties, checks government power, and allows for the resolution of political conflicts. Note how the balance shifted in the 20th century, from greater state authority to a much-expanded power of the federal government.

27 min
Civil Liberties: Freedoms from Government
3: Civil Liberties: Freedoms from Government

Probe the concept of civil liberties, as they delineate restrictions that government cannot impose. Learn about “selective incorporation,” the process through which civil liberty protections at the state level have been guaranteed through Supreme Court rulings. Then look at how the judicial system has interpreted and upheld freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of the press.

33 min
Civil Rights: Fairness under Government
4: Civil Rights: Fairness under Government

Consider how America’s historic record on human rights continues to impact modern politics. Study the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment and how it has been applied. Examine the history and the current landscape of human rights with regard to African-American rights, affirmative action, and women’s rights, as well as Native American, Asian American, and LGBTQ+ rights.

33 min
How a Bill Becomes a Law
5: How a Bill Becomes a Law

Observe how a congressional bill originates, and how legislators formally submit a bill. Then follow the various stages through which a bill is acted upon by the House, the Senate, by presidential review, and the process of ultimate adoption into law. Finally, learn about the “cloture rule,” a mechanism that forces bills to a vote, and the strategic tactic of filibustering in the Senate.

29 min
Why Congress Is Such a Puzzle
6: Why Congress Is Such a Puzzle

Explore core issues in the functioning of Congress. First, take account of the inherent tension for legislators between serving their constituents and serving their party. Investigate procedural challenges within this unwieldy organ of government, tasked with solving massive social problems, whose institutional design is in some ways an impediment to progress.

27 min
How Congressional Elections Work
7: How Congressional Elections Work

Learn how congressional elections are structured, and differences between the House and Senate. Examine key factors in the politics of congressional campaigns, such as the high cost of campaigning, the role of incumbency, and how congressional campaigns have become increasingly nationalized. Then delve into the issue of gerrymandering, and the varied record in the United States of the practice of gerrymandering.

31 min
The Powers of the Presidency
8: The Powers of the Presidency

Identify the powers granted to the president by the Constitution, versus other powers that have been implied or have developed over time. Assess the roles of the president as both head of state and head of government, and delve into core topics that include the budget process, the exercise of executive privilege, impeachment, and the president’s role as commander-in-chief of the armed forces.

33 min
How Presidential Elections Work
9: How Presidential Elections Work

Grasp the ways in which presidential elections differ from congressional elections. Take an in-depth look at the Electoral College, and the sometimes odd consequences of the system. Observe how presidential nominations are made, and assess election forecasting and the indicators that are most predictive of election outcomes. Also, examine the phenomenon of “fake news” and misinformation.

36 min
A Road Map of the Federal Bureaucracy
10: A Road Map of the Federal Bureaucracy

Take an overview of how the vast systems of the federal government operate. First, trace how and why the United States developed such a massive bureaucracy. Study how the executive branch is structured, highlighting the cabinet departments, independent agencies, and government corporations. Finally, analyze the theory of the “principal-agent problem,” which gives insights into bureaucratic control.

32 min
How the Judicial Branch Works
11: How the Judicial Branch Works

Investigate the sources of judicial authority that underlie our legal system, and the judicial system’s organization according to three types of legal cases. Learn about the structure of the federal court system, comprising three types of federal courts. Conclude with a detailed look at the Supreme Court, how a case gets to the Supreme Court, and how cases are heard and adjudicated.

26 min
Where the Supreme Court Meets Politics
12: Where the Supreme Court Meets Politics

Follow the very politicized process that takes place when a president appoints a justice to the Supreme Court. Then look at four categories of influences that bear on the Court and its decisions. Examine how the Court plays a role in policymaking through its decisions and precedents. Finally, trace how the Court’s role in politics and government has changed over the course of US history.

30 min
The Challenges of Polling Public Opinion
13: The Challenges of Polling Public Opinion

Define “public opinion,” in its various forms, both individual and aggregate. For the measuring of public opinion, note the difference between the theory of the “wisdom of crowds,” and what’s called “groupthink.” Explore the sources of individual opinion and political identity. Then look at what polls are and what they do, highlighting the polling controversy of the 2016 presidential election.

33 min
How Political Parties Organize Democracy
14: How Political Parties Organize Democracy

Why do political parties exist? Dig into this question, and grasp how parties solve three categories of problems for three different groups of political “actors.” Investigate why it is that the United States has two, and only two, major political parties. And, to better understand how parties operate today, trace the history of political parties in the United States, and how they have changed and realigned over time.

32 min
How Americans Became So Polarized
15: How Americans Became So Polarized

Delve into the factors that underlie the extreme partisan polarization of current US politics. Define what polarization is, as distinct from partisanship. Focus on three main sources of polarization, and explore how and why polarization tends to self-perpetuate. Examine false assumptions about polarization, its dangers, and consider how possible reforms might break the cycle.

32 min
The Fundamentals of Elections and Voting
16: The Fundamentals of Elections and Voting

Look first at suffrage (the right to vote) in the United States, including the history of women’s suffrage, African-American suffrage, and suffrage for 18 year olds. Study voter turnout in elections, and how we can account for consistently low voter turnout. Consider what determines a person’s likelihood to vote, the gender gap in voting, and the need of candidates to be appealing to median voters.

28 min
How Does American Democracy Work?
17: How Does American Democracy Work?

In assessing the US democratic system, dispel the common myth of a single “will of the people.” Grasp how institutions such as Congress provide stability and an agreed-upon procedure for making major group decisions. Review several fully democratic ways of counting votes, which provide different outcomes, and look into the use and possible benefits of ranked-choice voting in the United States.

26 min
The Ins and Outs of Campaign Finance
18: The Ins and Outs of Campaign Finance

Witness how campaigns have been financed throughout US history. Trace the many campaign finance reforms enacted since the 1970s, which aim to curb corruption and unequal influence on elections. Take account of the problems that arise when sources of campaign funding do not represent the broader population, and the repeating cycle of reforms followed by attempts to work around campaign finance limits.

30 min
The Pros and Cons of Organized Interests
19: The Pros and Cons of Organized Interests

Revisit the theory of collective action as you chart the seven types of organized interest groups that figure in American politics, and the huge proliferation of interest groups since the 1960s. In grasping how interest groups form and operate, and the problems they address, weigh the valuable things these groups can do for society against the tendency for the power of organized interests to be skewed toward the wealthy and privileged.

31 min
Politics and the Media
20: Politics and the Media

To better understand the complex relationship between media, politics, and government, investigate public trust and distrust of journalism, and the ideological positions of news sources themselves. Note how social media can exacerbate political polarization. Finally, grasp the ways in which the political environment is ripe for conspiracy theories and misinformation, and how we can best respond.

29 min
How Government Affects the Economy
21: How Government Affects the Economy

Examine the US system of free market economics, and the fiscal and monetary policies our government employs to correct for market failures. Learn how Congress and the president address problems such as high unemployment and inflation through government spending and taxation, and how the Fed uses interest rates and the sale of treasury bonds to stimulate or de-stimulate the economy.

33 min
How the US Social Safety Net Works
22: How the US Social Safety Net Works

The federal social safety net is designed to alleviate poverty among the elderly, needy families, and the disabled. Learn about the TANF program, or “welfare,” and the institutions of Social Security, disability insurance, Medicare, and Medicaid. Take account of the financial strains on these programs, questions of their future solvency, and the political controversies that surround them.

33 min
The Major Shifts in American Foreign Policy
23: The Major Shifts in American Foreign Policy

Trace the history of the United States in international politics, from early isolationism through America’s global role in the 20th century, to today’s post-9/11 political climate. Observe US participation in international institutions aimed at peacekeeping, trade, and economic growth, and note current US policy trends regarding trade conditions and the negative effects of globalization.

35 min
The Changing State of American Democracy
24: The Changing State of American Democracy

Conclude with a look at the biggest challenges that American politics and government will face in the coming years, such as racial, environmental, and economic justice. Assess possible reforms for greater income and racial equality, and the benefits of a stronger role for political parties. Consider the dangers of the current degradation of democratic norms, and how they might be restored.

35 min
Jennifer Nicoll Victor

By learning about the US government, you’ll have a much richer appreciation for our government, the trials we’ve faced as a nation, and the challenges that are yet to come.

ALMA MATER

Washington University in St. Louis

INSTITUTION

George Mason University

About Jennifer Nicoll Victor

Jennifer Nicoll Victor is an Associate Professor of Political Science at George Mason University’s Schar School of Policy and Government. She holds a PhD in Political Science from Washington University in St. Louis. She is a coeditor of the Oxford Handbook of Political Networks and coauthor (with Nils Ringe) of Bridging the Information Gap: Legislative Member Organizations as Social Networks in the United States and the European Union. She also serves on the board of directors of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics.

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