Understanding the US Government

Watch Understanding the US Government

  • 2020
  • 1 Season

In this series, you'll explore essential topics such as how the federal bureaucracy is organized, the intricacies of Congress and the legislature, the operations of the Supreme Court, the challenge of campaign finance, the media and politics, and America's deep political polarization.

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Seasons
The Changing State of American Democracy
24. The Changing State of American Democracy
September 11, 2020
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.
The Major Shifts in American Foreign Policy
23. The Major Shifts in American Foreign Policy
September 11, 2020
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.
How the US Social Safety Net Works
22. How the US Social Safety Net Works
September 11, 2020
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.
How Government Affects the Economy
21. How Government Affects the Economy
September 11, 2020
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.
Politics and the Media
20. Politics and the Media
September 11, 2020
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.
The Pros and Cons of Organized Interests
19. The Pros and Cons of Organized Interests
September 11, 2020
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.
The Ins and Outs of Campaign Finance
18. The Ins and Outs of Campaign Finance
September 11, 2020
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.
How Does American Democracy Work?
17. How Does American Democracy Work?
September 11, 2020
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.
The Fundamentals of Elections and Voting
16. The Fundamentals of Elections and Voting
September 11, 2020
Look first at 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.
How Americans Became So Polarized
15. How Americans Became So Polarized
September 11, 2020
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.
How Political Parties Organize Democracy
14. How Political Parties Organize Democracy
September 11, 2020
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, trace the history of political parties in the United States, and how they have changed and realigned over time.
The Challenges of Polling Public Opinion
13. The Challenges of Polling Public Opinion
September 11, 2020
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.
Where the Supreme Court Meets Politics
12. Where the Supreme Court Meets Politics
September 11, 2020
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.
How the Judicial Branch Works
11. How the Judicial Branch Works
September 11, 2020
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.
A Road Map of the Federal Bureaucracy
10. A Road Map of the Federal Bureaucracy
September 11, 2020
Examine 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.
The Powers of the Presidency
8. The Powers of the Presidency
September 11, 2020
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.
How Congressional Elections Work
7. How Congressional Elections Work
September 11, 2020
Learn how congressional elections are structured. 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.
Why Congress Is Such a Puzzle
6. Why Congress Is Such a Puzzle
September 11, 2020
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.
How a Bill Becomes a Law
5. How a Bill Becomes a Law
September 11, 2020
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.
Civil Rights: Fairness under Government
4. Civil Rights: Fairness under Government
September 11, 2020
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.
Civil Liberties: Freedoms from Government
3. Civil Liberties: Freedoms from Government
September 11, 2020
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.
The Framework of US Federalism
2. The Framework of US Federalism
September 11, 2020
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 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.
Why Have Government?
1. Why Have Government?
September 11, 2020
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. #History
Description

In this series, you'll explore essential topics such as how the federal bureaucracy is organized, the intricacies of Congress and the legislature, the operations of the Supreme Court, the challenge of campaign finance, the media and politics, and America's deep political polarization.

Understanding the US Government is a series that is currently running and has 1 seasons (23 episodes). The series first aired on September 11, 2020.

Where to Watch Understanding the US Government

Understanding the US Government is available for streaming on the The Great Courses Signature Collection website, both individual episodes and full seasons. You can also watch Understanding the US Government on demand at Amazon Prime and Amazon.

  • Premiere Date
    September 11, 2020