What to teach?

When people ask me what I do I cycle through some long answers like; “I work with the State Department on grant funded programs for international visitors on short term programs”. Almost nothing in this sentence is understood so I generally default to what is probably a better answer; “I teach politics”.


This also leads to some confusion. “How can someone get paid to do that?. You must not be doing a very good job. Well, well, that is an interesting topic now.” Sometimes people want to jump right to an argument about why the government, or press, or people, or, well, someone else not them, should be doing things “differently”. I never get into this argument with a plumber at a cocktail party. It never goes;

PLUMBER: “I’m a plumber”

ME: “Why the hell do you use pipes? Isn’t there a better way to do that?”

So for the rest of the summer I am going to talk about teaching. But a very specific type of teaching — an entire program of teaching — with 130 people from 28 different countries on 5 different programs with totally different topics. How does that get done? What comes of it? As a start, here is an outline for a seminar on US Politics I’m doing in Buenos Aires AFTER THE SUMMER PROGRAMS but there will be some overlap. It is written as an email to Norma Gonzalez, Director of the Argentine Fulbright Commission.

Thanks for the chance to work on the seminar again. I think that as a overall theme, from the political side: “Ideas and Institutions: Current US Battle Lines” The purpose of the talks will be to describe the current divides in the United States and how those divides both structures  institutions as well as are shaped by them.  I also hop to tie much of what is going on the the US to some larger trends such as a rise in authoritarian governments and a weariness with Democracy.


  1. US Political and Demographic Update

Set the context for where the US currently is politically and discuss major elections that are coming up and the impact of demographic change.

  1. Enduring Debates

Using short readings and a selection from “Hamilton: The Musical” we will discuss the development of long term divisions within the US policy 3. Getting to Office

We will discuss the structure and activity of congressional and Presidential Elections elections with a focus on the role of money, parties, and ttechnology 4. Being a Congressman

Using readings and Charlie Wilson’s war we will discuss the day to day motivations and activities of a congressmen. Special attention will be paid to conflicts with the President and the role of oversight.

  1. Being President

Using the movie “All the Way” about Lyndon Johnson and Martin Luther King we will examine the structures and institutions of presidential decision making 6. Making Policy: The Case of Foreign Policy

Building on the previous talks we will discuss the role of the President, the Bureaucracy, and the Congress in the making of Foreign Policy 7. The Role of the Courts

We will use the dual themes of Executive Power and Free Speech to illustrate how the courts work and, at the same time, explore these key topics.

  1. The Role of State and Local Governments

Using case studies we will explore the alternative centers of power presented by State and Local governments. We will also focus on their degrees of independence and the mix of local tax resources.

  1. Truth, the Media, and Conspiracy Theories

We will explore common conspiracy theories in the United States as well as the structure and reliability of the media.

  1. The Other America: Trump voters and rural conservatives

We will close by exploring some of the values first discussed in the second talk through the medium of popular country songs.

More to come on all of these.

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