This course will introduce you to the institutional, formal, and informal elements of American politics, while exploring the nature and varieties of American democracy. After spending the first few weeks becoming (better) acquainted with the American political system – the Constitution, Congress, Presidency, political parties, judicial branch, federalism, and the role of money and media – we will focus on particular issues and case studies in order to examine how Americans go about addressing the challenges facing their society. Case studies that we discuss vary year by year, depending on current events and student interests, but could include the following: growing disparities between rich and poor, conspiracy theories, animal rights, gun control, environmental degradation, race, gay and transgender rights, abortion, immigration, education and debates about the political system itself. Comparisons with the Dutch system and history of democracy will be made along the way.
In the second half of the course students will also work in groups to develop their own project focused on one of these issues, combining research with direct contact with American organizations, politicians and individuals. These projects will allow you to develop an engaged understanding of the complexities of American democracy – and of the nature of justice, freedom, agency, (in)stability and welfare more generally – while thinking through your own democratic vision.