Intro to U.S. Politics

Syllabus, Politics 3: Intro to American Politics

Politics 3: Introduction to American Politics
Pomona College, Spring 2020
Prof. David Menefee-Libey

*syllabus revised after March 15 campus evacuation*

Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at 9:00 – 9:50 am in Carnegie 109

Office: Carnegie 4
Office Hours: Mondays 2:00-4:00, Thursdays 3:00-5:00, and by appointment

e-mail: DJML4747(at)pomona(dot)edu, DMenefee(at)pomona(dot)edu, or David_Menefee-Libey(at)pomona(dot)edu (mail sent to any of these ends up in the same account)

Access a live version of this syllabus online at

Find a list of sites with course-related information, data, and research at

Table of Contents for This Syllabus:
Go to Course Requirements, Evaluations, and Deadlines
Go to Class Schedule and Assignments

Course Description and Goals

This is a challenging time for you to be systematically studying US politics for the first time. The American political system is now under challenge, and its future is deeply uncertain. President Donald Trump and his Republican allies have said they want to bring dramatic change to the institutions and practices described in the course readings, and they are having some success. It is sometimes hard to discern the specific intentions of this political coalition, but there can be no doubt they control many American political institutions at every level. Though, in the aftermath of the 2018 midterm elections, they face sharp challenges from elected Democrats, we cannot be sure about what will come next in the United States. As I write this syllabus, the President has been impeached by the House of Representatives, and some kind of trial may begin this week, with uncertain results. There will be a national election this fall, and Democrats will begin voting in Iowa and New Hampshire next month to choose their presidential nominee to challenge Trump.

Most of the practices and institutions described and explained in this course’s core textbook were established by the mid-20th century, and for decades they drew wide acceptance among Americans of most political stripes. The political "establishment" they built was never stagnant, however. Congress and presidents began modifying it rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, and even more rapidly in the 1990s and after the turn of this century. The 2016 election and its aftermath brought a direct assault on it that my own academic training has not prepared me to understand fully, so we will be learning about this brave new world together. We will do the best we can this semester, and I hope you continue your study, discussion, and engagement beyond the walls of this classroom and campus.

This course has three goals.  One is to introduce you to major political ideas, institutions and practices, especially those in the United States. We will talk — and you will read and write — about what they are, where they came from, what they are for, how they have developed, how they work (or don’t), and how we might evaluate them:

  • Liberal and illiberal views about the legitimate purposes of politics and collective action;
  • The constitutional structure and institutions of American governments (primarily at the national level)
  • Different modes of collective action in relation to governments, civil society, and commercial life;
  • Public opinion and voting, campaigns and elections, political parties, interest groups, several public policies, and a number of non-institutional political practices. 

The second goal of this course is to introduce you to several ways scholars of politics analyze American politics.

  • One category of analysis approach will be normative, a systematic consideration of ultimate purposes for Americans’ (or even humans in general) political life together.  For example, ought we to seek freedom or happiness, establish democracy, serve God, make money, favor a particular ethnic or racial group, or pursue other goals by political means? If so, can we agree on what those goals really are and when their conditions are more or less present? Alternatively, are we obligated to create and sustain public institutions and practices which are legitimate when evaluated in relation to these purposes?
  • A second analytic category will be social scientific, searching for clear descriptions of empirical reality and investigating alternative, testable explanations of that reality. For example, we will consider the political behavior of individuals, groups, social movements, organizations, and a variety of institutions and governments.
  • A third analytic category will be legal, exploring the doctrines and rules that guide and constrain political practice in the United States.  For example, most American governments have stable constitutions and charters, and the Krutz textbook tells us that policy makers enact laws and ordinances within their boundaries. We often say that all Americans must abide by “the rule of law,” but what does that mean in real life? The textbook will introduce you to valuable approaches to this and other analytical challenges, and I will regularly supplement that text with additional readings from the political science research literature so you hear a variety of voices in the discipline.

The third goal of this course is to provide an introduction to the study of politics in the United States as a foundation for any number of purposes. The course may among many possible ways you can help empower yourself to participate in public life during this fraught moment in American history. The course may also be a gateway for you into one of several majors at Pomona College. It counts toward the American politics course requirement of a Politics major. It is a required course for several interdisciplinary majors, including Public Policy Analysis (PPA); Philosophy, Politics and Economics (PPE); and American Studies. I encourage students to bring their interests in these majors into our class discussions, and to remember this course as you continue your work in these majors.

Book and Materials:

The only textbook I have ordered for the course is available free online, published by the OpenStax consortium based at Rice University in Houston, Texas. You can read and mark up the text online at the address below, or you can download and mark up PDFs of the chapters on your own computer or on your smart device. You can also order a paper copy of the book at very low cost, if you like:

I will often post supplemental readings (which I’ll mark with an *asterisk) on the Claremont Colleges Sakai site or through web links, and I will continue to adapt the syllabus as the semester goes on.  I will expect you to print out those readings and bring them with you to class to refer to in our discussions.

If they are refereed journal articles, I will show you how to access them using the Claremont Colleges Libraries pages, where you should also download and print them.  All of these materials may be considered by Politics majors as candidates for inclusion in their senior "book lists."

Because we will talk about current politics, it would be helpful to you if you read a good daily newspaper such as the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, or the Wall Street Journal.  You should also track down and read materials on the Internet.  I have also provided some basic links from this course page. If you find something good that isn’t listed here (or if you discover that one of my links has gone stale), please let me know and I’ll update the links.

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Politics 3: Introduction to American Politics
Pomona College, Spring 2020
Prof. David Menefee-Libey

Requirements, Evaluations, and Deadlines

Assignments and Grading: You will have several different kinds of assignments:

1. Class participation (10% of grade). You will get far more out of the course if you do the
readings and prepare yourself to discuss them in class, and I hope you will talk with your fellow students about the substance and ideas of the course. I will especially value contributions that:

  • demonstrate respect for your colleagues (when you’re responding to someone’s comment, refer to them by name!) and what we’re working on;
  • show clear and reflective understanding of the readings and subject at hand;
  • help to make connections among ideas or readings under consideration, or in some other way focus our analysis of the topic under discussion; or
  • help to get us unstuck.

Also, please note: you may bring a laptop, tablet, or smart phone to the classroom, but I want you to use them only for accessing the texts we’re discussing that day. I understand and share the temptation to be distracted when you’re online, but I want you to try hard to avoid distracting yourself and students around you. I’ll ask you to turn off messaging and notifications during class time.

2. Textbook chapter quizzes on Sakai (post-evacuation, drop this to 10% of the total semester grade). I’ll post on Sakai a brief “open book” quiz on each Krutz chapter, to be completed by the start of the class when we first discuss that chapter.

3. One short paper (post-evacuation, drop to a single essay rather than three, and 20% of the total semester grade, rather than 60%).  I will give you prompts to explain what I want you to write about as we go along. I will do my best to be helpful with drafts, but I want to help you to learn to constructively review each other’s drafts, and to make good use of the Writing Center.

Note: since the evacuation, conversations with students have convinced me that many in this class won’t have the private time or work-spaces necessary to write longer essays. As a result, I will only include the single pre-evacuation essay in your semester grade, and I will switch to shorter writing assignments.

4. One-page reading responses (60% of the total semester grade). For weeks 10-14 of the semester, on Fridays by 5:00 pm, you’ll post a simple two-paragraph, under 400-word response to one of the readings from that week. Each response paper should open with one paragraph of “with the grain” summary of a major idea, claim, or theory in one of the readings. In the second paragraph, comment on how your first paragraph relates to something in another course reading, or to a theme we have discussed in class. I will evaluate these response papers simply and generously.

All papers must be submitted on paper in my mailbox in the Politics Department office and in your Sakai “dropbox” by the deadline named. (Please don’t ask Sakai to send me an email notifying me of your submission.) Important: the file name of the paper you post to your Sakai dropbox matters. Format all paper file names like this before you upload them: Intro.Paper# or Week#.LastName.doc, as in Intro.Paper1.Rapinoe.doc or Intro.Week10.Lloyd.docx. This may seem picky and trivial, but I will download literally hundreds of papers this semester and it will be hard to keep track of them on my computer. It’s easier to keep track of papers named this way.

Academic collaboration and academic honesty: I hope you study with other people in the class, and discuss the substance of the course with them.  As you do that, I encourage you to read each other’s paper drafts and to give advice to each other.  When you do that, acknowledge in a footnote those who have helped you.  If you draw on a specific idea from someone else (or from me!), cite them specifically in a footnote, just as you would cite any source you find helpful.

I also encourage you to read Pomona College’s Academic Honesty Policy, which Pomona students learned about in your ID1 class and which you can find online in the college catalog. We actually do have an honor code, and it’s important.


Paper 1 due: Friday, February 28
Week 10 short response due: Friday, April 3
Week 11 short response due: Friday, April 10
Week 12 short response due: Friday, April 17
Week 13 short response due: Friday, April 24
Week 14 short response due: Friday, May 1

Grace Days: These deadlines are real and I will penalize late papers one grade per day unless I announce otherwise in class.  I am generous with extensions, but I will only grant them in advance, so if you need an extension, ask for one. Beyond that, you have three grace days this semester.  That is, you have three extension days (including weekend and break days) to use at any time during the term (except for seniors’ Paper 3).  These will operate on an honor system: I will trust you to tell me when you are taking a grace day, and to keep track yourself of how many you have used.


1. The Library: Though most students do most of their research online, alone, unassisted, the Claremont Colleges actually has a library with amazing resources and a staff of trained research librarians who can be of tremendous assistance to you in your work. One of these librarians, Mary Martin, has kindly created an entire resource page on U.S. government at
, another on public policy at
, and a third for political science courses at I urge you to start there, and to make an individual appointment with Ms. Martin or one of her colleagues. They can help you find things you would never otherwise find, and they can save you countless hours of unnecessary wandering on the Internet. Librarians can also help you with Zotero and with citation challenges.

2. The Writing Center: All writers need support and feedback on their work in progress. All of us in the Claremont Colleges faculty and staff strongly recommend that each of you — whether you consider yourself a struggling writer or an expert — seek that support and feedback as you complete writing assignments for your courses. Each of the colleges has a Writing Center which provides students a community of experienced readers and writers, offering free, one-on-one consultations at any stage of the writing process – from brainstorming ideas to fine-tuning a draft. They also help with oral presentations.

3. The Quantitative Skills Center: Like the Writing Center, the QSC can be very helpful to PPA students. QSC peer tutors can help students across projects that involve data gathering and statistical analysis. They can help with many aspects of your project: research design, methodological issues, data sets, data analysis, and presentations of data through visuals, in writing, and in presentations.

4. Accommodations: Pomona College is committed to complying with the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 by providing reasonable accommodations for students who are disabled. Students requiring specific accommodations for a physical, psychological, medical, or learning disability should contact the Dean of Students office at (909) 621-8017. The Dean will review your concerns and determine, with you, what accommodations are necessary and appropriate. All information and documentation of disability is confidential.

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Politics 3: Introduction to American Politics
Pomona College, Spring 2020
Prof. David Menefee-Libey

Class Schedule and Assignments

Note: Readings for each day are listed after the date. Readings with an *asterisk are posted on the course Sakai site. Refereed journal articles should be accessed through the Claremont Colleges Library web pages, where you should download them (and enter them into your Zotero bibliographic database!).
Note also: I may modify this schedule as we go along.  If I do, I will post updates online, so you should always check the online syllabus before you start reading.

Week 1: January 23-25
Wednesday: Opening day: Overview of the course & assignments
>> Readings: this syllabus
Friday: Introductions and class norms
>> *Bartholomae & Petrosky, “Reading With and Against the Grain,” Adapted from David Bartholomae and Anthony Petrosky, eds., Ways of Reading, 8th ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2008. 10-12.
>> *Class discussion norm sheet
Week 2: January 27-January 31
Monday: This course is a “general education” course. What does that mean?
>> *DML, “Intro to American Politics, Opening Day” PowerPoint, January 2015
Wednesday: The textbook authors, laying out some of the theoretical approaches political scientists use to investigate politics, government, and the possibility of democracy
>> Krutz, chapter 1, “American Government and Civic Engagement”
>> Before class, do the chapter quiz on Sakai
Friday: Politics and power
>> Krutz, section 1.2, “Who Governs? Elitism, Pluralism, and Tradeoffs”
>> *John Gaventa, “Power and Participation,” ch. 1 of Power and Powerlessness: Quiescence and Rebellion in an Appalachian Valley (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois Press, 1980), especially pp. 3-20.

Week 3: February 3-7
Monday: Case study 1, Government and politics in Ferguson, Missouri as context for the 2015 killing of Michael Brown.
>> Civil Rights Division, “Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.” Washington, DC: United States Department of Justice, March 4, 2015. Available online at
Wednesday: Case study 1, continued
>> Civil Rights Division. “Investigation of the Ferguson Police Department.”
>> Coy, Peter. “The County Map That Explains Ferguson’s Tragic Discord.” BloombergView, August 15, 2014. Available online at
>> Smith, Jeff. “In Ferguson, Black Town, White Power.” The New York Times, August 17, 2014. Available online at
>> The Editorial Board. “Racial History Behind the Ferguson Protests.” The New York Times, August 12, 2014. Available online at
>> Jim Salter and Eric Tucker, “Ferguson Missed Deadlines in Deal with Justice Department,” The Associated Press, January 27, 2017. Available online at
>> Adam Kelsey and Mike Levine, “Sessions questions Justice Department reports on Ferguson and Chicago policing,” ABC News, February 27, 2017, online at
>> Katie Benner, “Sessions, in Last-Minute Act, Sharply Limits Use of Consent Decrees to Curb Police Abuses,” New York Times, November 8, 2018. Available online at
Friday: The Constitution as one *chosen* set of organizing rules
>> Krutz, chapter 2, “The Constitution and its Origins”
>> Before class, do the chapter quiz on Sakai

Week 4: February 10-14
Monday: Thinking about the origins of the United States compared to other countries.
>> *J. Tyler Dickovick & Jonathan Eastwood, “The State,” chapter 3 of Comparative Politics: Integrating Theories, Methods, and Cases, Second Edition (New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016).

>> Krutz, chapter 3, “American Federalism”
>> Before class, do the chapter quiz on Sakai
Friday: Federalism in practice in the United States
>> Krutz, chapter 14: State and Local Government
>> Before class, do the chapter quiz on Sakai

Week 5: February 17-20
Monday: Thinking about politics as strategic: people solving problems or seeking goals (but pay attention to *which* people)
>> *E.E. Schattschneider, “The Contagiousness of Conflict,” ch. 1 of The
Semisovereign People
(Hinsdale, IL: Dryden Press, 1960). [If you want more, chapter 4, “The Displacement of Conflicts,” is also famous.]
>> *Gerardo R. López, “The (Racially Neutral) Politics of Education: A Critical Race Theory Perspective.” Educational Administration Quarterly 39, no. 1 (February 2003), especially pp. 77-82.
Wednesday: Thinking about politics as relational, as collaboration among people
>> *Mancur Olson, The Logic of Collective Action (selections)
Friday: On writing papers
>> no readings assigned
>> Hand out Paper 1 prompt today.

Week 6: February 24-February 28
Monday: Empirical social science as one tool for investigating politics
>> David M-L, “Social Science and Its Assumptions”
Wednesday: Liberalism and limits on government
>> Krutz, chapter 4, “Civil Liberties”
>> Before class, do the chapter quiz on Sakai
Friday: Obligations of government
>> Krutz, chapter 5, “Civil Rights”
>> Before class, do the chapter quiz on Sakai
>> Paper 1 due on Sakai by 5:00 pm today.

Week 7: March 2-6
Monday: In comparative terms, is our Constitution “normal?” Unusual?
>> *Dickovick & Eastwood, chapter 8, “Constitutions and Constitutional Design”
Wednesday: The US Congress as a representative assembly: popular sovereignty?
>> Krutz, chapter 11, “Congress,” sections 11.1, 11.2, and 11.3.
>> Before class, do the chapter quiz on Sakai
Friday: Congress as a governing body
>> Krutz, chapter 11, “Congress,” sections 11.4 and 11.5.

Week 8: March 9–13
Monday: Case study: Congress in action (inaction) on climate change
>> *Ryan Lizza, “As the World Burns,” The New Yorker, Oct. 11, 2010, pp. 70f. Available online at
Wednesday: Planning to go online for the rest of the semester
Friday: class canceled

SPRING BREAK: March 14 through 22

Week 9: March 23-27
Monday: class canceled
Wednesday: class canceled
>> Post Paper 2 prompts today.
Friday: Cesar Chavez Day: no class meeting
>> Go read about Cesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers.

Week 10: March 30-April 3
Monday: Getting away from the elite-focused analysis of legislation and policy change
>> *Megan Ming Frances, “The Strange Fruit of American Political Development,” Politics, Groups, and Identities, Vol. 6, No. 1, pp. 1-10.
Wednesday: The Presidency in the U.S. political system
>> Krutz, chapter 12, “The Presidency,” sections 12.1 and 12.2.
Friday: Presidential power
>> Krutz, chapter 12, “The Presidency,” sections 12.3, 12.4, and 12.5.
>> Don’t forget to upload your Week 10 reading response by 5:00 today.

Week 11: April 6-10
Monday: The claim that Trump and Trumpism are illiberal
>> Serwer, Adam. “The Nationalist’s Delusion,” The Atlantic Monthly, November 20, 2017. Online at
Wednesday: Nationalisms in a global context
>> *Dickovick and Eastwood, chapter 13, “Nationalism and National Identity,” pages 305-middle of 307, then 311-320.
Friday: Much of the “permanent government” and “deep state” are in the executive branch
>> Krutz, chapter 15, “The Bureaucracy”
>> Don’t forget to upload your Week 11 reading response by 5:00 pm today.

Week 12: April 13-17
Monday: The Judiciary in the U.S. political system
>> Krtz, chapter 13, “The Courts,” sections 13.1 and 13.3.
Wednesday: What is a court, and how do courts work?
>> Krutz, chapter 13, “The Courts,” sections 13.4 and 13.5.
Friday: Where do the textbook authors think ordinary people fit into this political system?
>> Krutz, chapter 6, “The Politics of Public Opinion,” sections 13.1 and 13.3.
>> Don’t forget to upload your Week 12 reading response by 5:00 today.

Week 13: April 22-24
Monday: Public opinion, continued: what is “ideology?”
>> *Christopher Ellis and James A. Stimson, “The Meaning of Ideology in America,” chapter 1 of Ideology in America (New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 2012), pp. 1-13.
Wednesday: Collective action through electoral politics: voting
>> Krutz, chapter 7, “Voting and Elections,” sections 7.1 and 7.2.
Friday: Campaigns and elections in the US
>> Krutz, chapter 7, sections 7.3 and 7.4.
>> Don’t forget to upload your Week 13 reading response by 5:00 today.

Week 14: April 27-May 1
Monday: Collective action through party politics
>> Krutz, chapter 9, “Political Parties,” sections 9.1 and 9.2
Wednesday: Polarization as a major problem of our time
>> Krutz, chapter 9, sections 9.3 and 9.4.
Friday: Collective action through groups and organizations
>> Krutz, chapter 10, “Interest Groups and Lobbying”
>> Don’t forget to upload your Week 14 reading response by 5:00 today

Week 15: May 4-6
Monday: Reflections on the Trump era, in the context of this course
>> Krutz, chapter 8, “The Media”
Wednesday: Reflections on the semester, and how to make the course better next time?
>> Readings: this syllabus

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Last modified: April 7, 2020