unit 1: foundations
01 introduction to ap us government and politics
Before we begin studying the American political system, it’s important to know a.) some classroom procedures, and b.) some tools necessary for making sure we all play by the same rules. So for our first lesson, we’ll discuss the best way for you to navigate the course. But also equip you with some tools that will help you dive into the material in a meaningful way. It’s important to keep in mind this is not a history course. It’s a political science course. So we will be dealing with real world issues in real time.
02 constitutional underpinnings and political ideology
Before we can really dig into the text of the Constitution of the United States, we must first understand the environment in which it was conceived and written. Also, before political debate can really occur in the course, we must have some sort of framework to discuss within. This framework is called “political ideology” in which we use a spectrum of “left” and “right” to place our ideals.
03 the constitution
All of American law, policy, structure and politics is built entirely on the Constitution of the United States of America. Therefore, any conversation about American politics and law must be had in the context of this constitution. Of course, the American public is fantastically ignorant about the Constitution, so having that conversation is difficult. This lesson is about diving deep and making real attempts to understand what the Constitution says, what it means, and how it has historically been interpreted.
04 voting, demographics, and citizen participation
Demographics are an important issue to discuss with politics, because we need a way to measure people’s opinions. Understanding public opinion helps make decisions about policy, strategy and where to allocate resources. But this is much more difficult then it might seem at first. Making generalizations helps, but they can be misleading in their own way.
unit 2: the government
05 the legislature
The Legislative Branch of the American government has the most real estate in the Constitution. This is due in large part to the intentions of the framers, who envisioned the Legislative branch as being the most important and most powerful. They create laws, oversee executive actions & bureaucracies, and are also the branch most accountable to their constituents.
06 the executive
The most visible branch of the government is tasked with carrying out and “executing” the laws set forth by the Legislature. The head of this branch, the President of the United States, has a number of mechanisms with which to carry this task out. However, some of these mechanisms come with political costs, making the job a difficult thing to navigate.
07 the judicial
The Judicial branch is essentially the constitutional litmus test for every law passed by congress, every law enforced by the executive, and every executive action taken by the President. The court system is in place to protect the rights in the Constitution, while also ensuring that law & order is maintained. Citizens are much more likely to participate in our system, if they can rest assured that the courts will see justice done.
08 the bureaucracy
Bureaucracies are created to make sure that tasks can be accomplished in an orderly and timely fashion. They usually make attempts to place expertise in the right positions to do the most good. Understanding these bureaucracies can be critical to navigating them. And navigating them can be difficult. Because the irony is that unchecked bureaucratic growth can lead to sluggish and bloated monstrosities, completely incapable of accomplishing tasks in an orderly or timely fashion.
unit 3: the people
09 civil liberties
The public at large usually uses civil liberty and civil right interchangeably. But these terms have very specific meanings in the context of political science. A civil liberty is a protection the individual has against government action. A civil right is a protection minority groups have against the majority. In this lesson, we will discuss the numerous protections citizens have from the government, as laid out in the constitution, and various other laws and court cases.
10 civil rights
Gary Strand said “Democracy is two wolves and a sheep, trying to decide what to have for dinner.” If Civil Liberties protect citizens from the government, Civil Rights protect citizens from one another, or as Thomas Jefferson put it, “the Tyranny of the Majority.” Civil Rights assure that the majority is not allowed to infringe upon the rights of the minority, or pass laws attempting to marginalize or disenfranchise them.
unit 4: the politics
11 interest groups
Individuals have a very limited impact on the government as a whole. This means that issues important to a single citizen might not ever be discussed. However, once individuals begin to link arms with other individuals with similar interests, their ability to influence the government increases dramatically. As a result, citizens tend to organize themselves into interests groups, in an attempt to have more influence.
12 political parties
The Constitution is noticeably and intentionally silent about political parties in the American political system. George Washington even urged against the formation of political parties in his farewell address. However, since then, it seems that no one has ever gotten large scale democracies to work without parties. It might be possible, but there is evidence to support the idea that parties are an inevitable consequence of a democratic system.
13 the media
The media is something known as a “linkage institution”. That is, the media “links” the public at large to the political system by informing, educating and engaging. However, it is important to remember that the media’s number one goal is to make money. This goal is sometimes in direct conflict with its function as a political linkage institution.
14 money in politics
Fiscal policy is a fantastically boring issue for most Americans. As a result, Americans tend to be largely disengaged from these issues. But this is at our own peril, because when fiscal policy is left to a small group of elites that understand the system, it becomes fantastically easy to rig the system in their own personal favor. Understanding the government’s role in the economy can empower citizens to exploit advantages and keep greed in check.
15 political campaigns
The very foundation of democracy begs the need for elections. But elections cannot be won without some sort of attempt to convince the public at large to vote for either you or your candidate. That is where political campaigns come in. A political campaign is an attempt to convince an entire electorate that you are the best choice. This has had some interesting consequences for our democracy.