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Publisher's Summary

Whether we participate or not, government plays a deeply fundamental role in how we live. By gaining a clear grasp of political institutions, we’re better equipped to engage with government and politics; to be discerning consumers of news, media, and public opinion; and to grasp the deeper content and meaning of the legislation and policies we live with. 

In these 24 refreshingly balanced lectures, Professor Victor presents a comprehensive examination of American politics in which she demystifies its many puzzles and offers a nonpartisan look at the outcomes it produces. You’ll delve into essential topics such as: 

  • How the federal bureaucracy is organized. Learn how our bureaucracy breaks down into the 15 cabinet departments, the many independent governmental agencies, and the government corporations;
  • Intricacies of Congress and the legislature. Across three lectures, study how the House and Senate function and interact, how congressional bills are passed, and how congressional elections operate;
  • The politics of the Supreme Court. Investigate outside influences on the Court’s rulings, take account of judicial ideology within the Court, and witness the political and policy effects of the Court’s actions;
  • The challenge of campaign finance. Observe how organized interests maneuver around campaign finance laws, ensuring that a small group of people finance most of what happens during our elections;
  • Politics and the media. Track the phenomenon of political media as both information and entertainment, and grasp how our media environment is ripe for misinformation and conspiracy theories; 
  • America’s deep political polarization. Take a rigorous look at how the United States has become more politically polarized than at any time in the past 140 years.

In Understanding the US Government, you’ll gain valuable insights for assessing the policies coming out of Washington, the news, the media, and the ongoing political dialogue that moves our democracy and shapes the actions of the United States on the world stage. 

PLEASE NOTE: When you purchase this title, the accompanying PDF will be available in your Audible Library along with the audio. 

©2020 The Great Courses (P)2020 The Teaching Company, LLC

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What listeners say about Understanding the US Government

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

A Tale of Two Courses (Feel a Bit Hoodwinked)

Listening to these 24 lectures was a bizarre journey to day the least. Thirteen of the lectures were excellent and had me wanting more and more (I listened for hours on end unable to stop that Great Courses Plus app). But the other eleven were so intolerable to get through I was wondering if I was listening to the same course. In fact I wasn't. There are two distinct courses here. After reading the description of this course I was left with the conclusion that this is a civics course on how the various branches of the US government are organized, operate, and cooperate together to facilitate our representative democracy. I was impressed by how deep Professor Nicoll Victor covered the following: 1- The branches and institutions of the US government 2- Civil Liberties 3- Civil Rights 4- Political parties 5- Election processes 6- Campaign finance 7- The economy 8- Foreign policy For the record those lectures are 2-5, 7-11, 14, 18, 21, and 23. I expected an overview of each topic but instead the processor provided a deep understanding of not only how and why certain entities were setup but also how they have evolved over the years. This is not just a basic Civics 101 course/overview. The history of these topics (including how the professor sprinkles in brief summaries of the various critical Supreme Court decisions through the years) was fascinating and entertaining to listen to. However, it didn't take long to see that the real intent/purpose of this course was to center on the current polarization and partisanship that characterizes the US government and public in an effort to try to explain why the political climate of today exists. This means the Presidential election of 2016 was a focal point numerous times. While I can appreciate people wishing to understand how we got where we are, I was disappointed this was where the course kept turning towards and ultimately it hit me this WAS the course. I was hoping more for a neutral assessment of US government organization and inner workings of the day to day both through the years and today and would have appreciated if the "politics" were left out in an effort to treat this as a traditional civics course. If I had a strong interest in performing a root cause analysis of how the country has become so divided I'd have looked for a course that presented itself as such. This course should have been named something to the effect of "Understanding how the US government and public have become politically polarized and partisan". And I wouldn't have bothered with it. Deal with this enough day after day. I don't need it invading my learning and entertainment time. While the professor provides good history on the institutions she is covering, there is still a good amount of the context and content of the lectures that are based on current times (2016-2020) as a way for people to make sense of the non-partisanship environment we live in/current times. I would’ve preferred that she stay away from material that can be controversy or will be irrelevant in a few years’ time. As if that wasn't off putting enough there was this: though the professor didn’t deliver the lectures in a blatant partisan manner, she does lean Democratic and it comes out at times as almost side-swipes at Republicans. Too many veiled comments that President Trump and the Republicans are out of touch. For the record I'm an independent. So you can see how I am torn. Its not so much that half the course is excellent and the other half poor but that I was hoodwinked into investing in one course and getting something else. Leaves a bad taste. For this very reason I wouldn't recommend this course to friends. But I would highly recommend select lectures to any and everyone because of how surprisingly useful and in-depth they were.

18 people found this helpful

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Progressive Bias Permeates

Everyone has a philosophical bias, however, professional educators have an obligation to be even handed when producing educational material created for a general audience. This presenter I believe crossed the line several times during the course of an otherwise moderately factual presentation. I am willing to admit to having a conservative bias and identify it as such in the course of political discussions and discourse concerning the structure of government. I only wish that educators would not disguise their opinion as fact. This occurred several times during the course of this presentation and otherwise marred a reasonably complete review of the subject matter

10 people found this helpful

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Very good review of how the US Government works

This is a very good review on how the US Government is structured and how it works within that structure, the structure being the Constitution. At the very beginning and again at the end the lecturer states that she tries to show how politics shapes how the government works and that there have been both high and low points over time. Since at the time that I am writing this review we are in the mist of a general election. We are bombarded with political ads and the lecturer addresses how many of these ads support a candidate without their approval. She also addresses misinformation and bad actors and how to ensure you are getting a balanced viewpoint on current affairs. When taken into account with other lectures on this subject, I think the lecturer has done an excellent job within the space allotted.

6 people found this helpful