o Navy Yard Shooting
o Colorado – flooding; millions of dollars worth of repair needed.
Obama administration is prolonging action. World is awaiting
Syria’s handing over of chemical weapons. Originally all of the
weapons were all in one spot, but they are being dispersed
making it more difficult for UN inspectors to keep tabs; stall
o Costa Concordia
Attempting to raise this cruise ship out of the water (after
approximately 20 months). Many families of those killed are
hesitant as they don’t want to find remains.
What is America?
September 16, 2013
Four Guiding Questions
1. Who governs?
2. How does American politics work?
3. What does government do?
4. Who are we?
Or, where’s the power at?
o Realistically speaking, who’s in power? Multi-national corporations
(MNCs), federal reserve (whoever controls money controls power).
“We, the people.”
o Originally, if you weren’t rich white male, you had no say and no vote.
o This has changed by the struggle to live up to this ideal. Conflict in the
US’s history has been an attempt to attain this ideal of “We the people.”
A continuous struggle to realize this ideal.
Occcupy Wall Street v. Tea Party
o The “1%” control everything, and the 99% want to bring the power back
to the people.
o The Tea Party argues that the government is way to vague and much
larger than the founding father intended – too much power, too
dispersed, too wealthy, taxes too high, etc.
Three Theories of Power
The people via interest groups can have a piece of the power.
o Elite Theory
The wealthy and powerful. o Social Movement Theory
Change via mass popular uprising.
Foreign example: The Arab Spring.
How does American politics work?
o Defined by the book: How a society makes collective decisions (or the
struggle for power).
America’s four “I’s”
These are the four ideas that guide the decision-making process in the US –
varies by government/countries.
Political influence via culture, discourse, etc.
Organizations, norms, and rules that structure political action
(and behavior in general).
Whatever the institution (not necessarily governmental) it is run
organized behavior, norms, and standards (often unconscious).
The problem is that these institutions and their norms are not
necessarily objective. Thus, politics can also be a way of
changing these institutional norms.
Can favor or disadvantage.
The pursuit of self-interest.
Not necessarily beneficial for the greater good.
Maximize self-interest. Everyone acts with the intent of
maximizing their self-interest. This allows people to
guess what decisions will be made by different people.
Greatest good for the greatest number.
Instead of promoting self-interest, we should promote a
utilitarian approach. However this is very difficult to do
in a diverse country such as the US.
People can make/shape politics.
Julian Assange, Edward Snowden.
Snowden confirmed that the CIA would tap into phone
lines – leaked it to the media. Obama and the NSA have
been forced to change their policies.
Assange dropped all of the WikiLeaks.
What does government do?
Social Contract Theory o Argues that individuals agree – explicitly or not – agree to give up some
of their freedoms and submit to a ruler by the decision of the majority.
Natural rights vs. Legal rights.
o Natural rights are key and should be protected. Legal rights are those
given to you by the state.
o At what point does the government interfere too much?
o Robust civil society in America refers to different groups. As they get
together, mutual problem solving and effective citizens are created.
This is way totalitarian governments do not like the internet and the
open communication that comes with it.
Three Spheres of Society:
o Private Life – school, family, work, walk the dog.
o Civil Society – rugby club, volunteer, recycling committee, etc.
o Government – voting, attending ralies, political campaign, calling
Establishing the boundaries of these three spheres is very difficult.
America’s civil society
o Fuels democracy
America hates the government, but love its programs (e.g. health programs).
o Financial woes.
The government spends way more than it takes in. The government is
forced to spend money on these programs, leading to deeper and deeper
Who are we?
America’s composition (the people – ethnicity, sexual orientation,
o Directs change.
“City on a hill.” – The Puritans started this trend.
o Celebrating values
o Demonizing foes
E.g. Native Americans as savages. Seen with the Soviets in the
Cold War, as well as Islam with the War on Terror – the
o Still exists, especially in the War on Terror.
“The US is the best.”
Define and redefine the nation. Canadians define themselves as “not” – as in,
we are NOT American. American politics is largely about defining who
Americans are. It is very difficult to answer because of its vast diversity. This
makes representation in Congress very difficult.
American and the 7 Ideas
Ability to pursue one’s own desires without interference from
others, including the government. Differing views
Negative Liberty: absence of constrains; act as you want
Positive Liberty: Freedom to pursue one’s goals;
justifies government social programs (e.g. education).
These liberties are imposed on you, so as to allow you to
continue to pursue your pursuits. E.g. You must attend
school until you are 16 so that you will have a sufficient
education to support yourself later in life.
How does America stand up? Steady progression of liberty? Or
is it a zero-sum game?
Many argue that it is a steady march to more freedom. Others
argue that while more freedoms may be granted, it just creates
more flaws (e.g. institutionalized racism).
o Self-rule (democracy)
Power flows from the people.
Enshrined in the US Constitution
“We, the people…establish this Constitution for the
United States of America.”
What’s the best way (or system) to achieve self-rule/self-
Two views: democracy vs. republic.
o A government in which citizens rule directly and
make government decisions for themselves.
o Still exists (e.g. referendums, initiatives, and
sunshine laws – allow any citizen to see what’s
inside government such as transcripts).
o Legacy of demonstrations, rallies