Two Videos of State Legislative Speeches that Can Provoke Discussion of Religious Freedom and Discrimination



A useful case study for discussing civil liberties: Nurse refuses blood test on unconscious patient; gets cuffed

This incident can be used to illustrate a lot of core concepts, including government use of force; rule of law / limited government / constitutional government / securing rights; separation of powers; and the Fourth Amendment.

Link to article

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


The purpose of government as articulated in Obama’s Inauguration Day letter to Trump

I  think the entire letter would be useful when teaching the Presidency (e.g., the awesome responsibility of the office and the difference between the office and the person of the President), but I especially like the third point made by President Obama as a way to talk about fundamental principles of American government. And notice, also, the purposes of government Obama seems to assume he and Trump share in the first paragraph: “prosperity and security” are closely related to happiness/welfare and the securing of rights.

Read the Inauguration Day letter Obama left for Trump‘-CNN

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


Article: The American Way of Government: Plutocracy or Democracy?

Another insightful analysis of the current plutocratic tilt of the American regime. This would be a great counterpoint to discuss when covering the American Form of Government. It also covers themes relevant to sections on interest groups, lobbying, and the bureaucracy and Supreme Court as Countermajoritarian.

America Is Not a Democracy‘-The Atlantic

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread

Article: Democratic cynicism among America’s younger generations

Young people demonstrate in Lyon

I wonder how many of these millennials have heard about the empirically demonstrated advantages of living under democratic, rather than authoritarian, governments? I wonder if they would still be convinced? This could be a great way to provoke discussion when teaching the American Form of Government, particularly the section on the advantages of democracy.

Have millennials given up on democracy?

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


Video: American Democracy and the Specter of Authoritarianism

This would run the risk of appearing partisan, but I think there’s a lot in this video to facilitate class discussion. I’d probably use it during a unit on public opinion and media, with an emphasis on how (and why) would-be authoritarian rulers seek to discredit the media, and also the part about why our traditional media is not well suited for demonstrating something like “democratic backsliding.” It could also be used for discussing “freedoms necessary for democracy” in Ch. 2 of Understanding American Government and Politics…”

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread


Exploring some of the bizarre local laws that result from Federalism

This might be kind of fun for discussing basic concepts about laws, the legislative process, and judicial review. I’d consider doing it early in the semester as an overview of basics of government or perhaps specifically when discussing judicial branch. The fact that it’s focused on Georgia and features an interview with a professor at GSU College of Law makes it particularly appealing.

Why Can’t Georgians Live On A Boat For More Than 30 Days? And Other Odd State Laws

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread

Interesting thread on the emergence, evolution and nature of political norms

This obviously isn’t anything we’d try to use or discuss in introductory American Government courses, but this is interesting nonetheless for thinking about and understanding emerging politics on the left and the nature and origin of political norms…

Corey Rubin’s thread on norm erosion

Link to US Civitas Facebook Discussion Thread

Teaching the Principles of American Government with China’s “Charter 08”

News of the tragic death of Nobel Laureate Liu Xiaobo–who was serving an 11-year prison sentence for his role in the writing of the democratic reform document called “Charter 08“–led me to read an English translation of that remarkable expression of yearning and advocacy for liberal democracy. Charter 08–publicly released in China on the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (on December 10, 2008)–begins by identifying “democracy and constitutional government” as “the fundamental framework for protecting” the “universal values” of “freedom, equality, and human rights.” It then goes on to advocate for the establishment in China of laws, practices, and institutions that have long been hallmarks of the American system of government and politics. Among other things, it advocates for rule of law and constitutionalism; the separation of powers (especially an independent judiciary); free and open elections; protections for the freedom of speech, Continue reading

Disturbing American (and Global) Decline in Support for Democracy

Polyarchy, a political science blog now at, recently summarized data showing a disturbing decline in support for democracy in the United States and around the world. Younger Americans are less likely than older Americans  to say that living in a democracy is “essential.” Americans overall (but particularly those who are among the top 15% of income earners) are increasingly likely to agree that Americans would be better off with “a strong leader” instead of “elections.” Americans, and democratic citizens throughout the world, have become more likely than in the past to say that “army rule” would be a good way to run the country. Clearly, education about the advantages of democracy, and the abundant disadvantages of nondemocratic alternatives, needs to become a top priority of civic educators.



The Road Ahead?

Last week, Ezra Klein wrote an interesting column for Bloomberg News in which he argued American national politics is entering a relatively “dull” era, at least compared to the past thirteen years (since 9/11/2001). He argues that this most recent era in which the “federal government mattered more than at any time since at least the 1960s — perhaps the 1930s” is giving way to one in which Washington D.C. “just isn’t where the action is.”

Klein may or many not be correct in this assessment — and he admits that an unforeseen event could “upend the country” and bring the federal government back to center stage — but what I found most intriguing in his article was his concise but powerful overview of several interesting and important developments around the world in which the U.S. national government currently does not play a prominent role. Since most of these are of great import from a broader civic education point of view (regardless of the U.S. federal government’s centrality to them), I highly recommend reading the entire column. Here are the highlights:

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