Category Archives: Politics

The Erosion of Democratic Values and Practice

Many observers believe we need to grapple with challenges arising from the many well-established laws, regulations and policies which have been ignored or violated over the past four years.

Janet Napolitano, UC Berkeley Goldman School of Public Policy faculty member and former UC President and former Secretary for Homeland Security, is in conversation with Leon Panetta, former Secretary of Defense, former Director of the CIA, former White House Chief of Staff, former Director of the Office of Management and Budget, and former U.S. Representative from California; L. Song Richardson, Dean of the University of California, Irvine School of Law; and Eric Swalwell, U.S. Representative for California’s 15th congressional district.

These experts tackle the impact on American society and democracy and voice concerns that the nation may have to grapple with a challenging period before it can begin to implement reforms to strengthen the system.

They explore the possibility of a transfer of power and the need to shore up democratic institutions to make our democracy stronger and better.

They each have ideas on a practical, yet ambitious, roadmap for reform focused on combatting the erosion of democratic values and practices in Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court and law enforcement.

Watch American Democracy: Needed Reforms.

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Big Ideas: Election 2020

This fall we have the quadrennial opportunity to study American politics during a presidential campaign. Combining real-time analysis of the election campaigns, an in-depth study of the relevant historical context, and a lively roster of guest speakers from academics and social movements, this twice a week class taught by two UC Berkeley professors provides an interdisciplinary introduction to American politics in a time of unprecedented crisis and possibility.

Michael Mark Cohen, American Studies and African American Studies, and Saru Jayaraman, Goldman School of Public Policy, take you through the day-to-day flow of the 2020 campaign, taking on everything from polling data and social media coverage, the COVID-19 pandemic and the waves of social protests, to the presidential debates and the final vote tallies. While the presidential election will hold center stage, they will also explore politics from a local, state wide and international level.

New programs are added every Monday and Wednesday evening. Each session begins with a lively, up-to-the-minute discussion of the latest events in the race. From there, delve into the sources of these current events. Each Wednesday features a guest speaker; specialists, academics and social movement leaders from across the campus, the Bay Area and the world offer their expert insight into our political system.

This election, and this moment of crisis, will define the future of American democracy. And in this class, we will examine this turning point as it happens.

Browse more programs in Big Ideas: Election 2020.

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Surveying the Body Politic: The 2020 Election

Newly-eligible young voters are in the news and on the minds of politicos this year. States of Change, a nonpartisan project studying shifts in the electorate, estimates that Millennials presently constitute 34.2 percent of eligible voters while Post-Millennials make up another 3.4 percent. These two groups combined will virtually equal the share of eligible voters composed of Baby Boomers and the Silent and Greatest Generations; by dint of sheer numbers they could easily determine the election’s outcome – should they register and vote, which is not a given based on historical data. Eligibility and participation are very different questions.

UC San Diego Alumni brings together two commentators to provide context and insight into what is shaping up to be one of the most contentious elections in American history. Moderator Jerri Malana ’86 welcomes political expert and author Thad Kousser, Chair of the Department of Political Science at UC San Diego. They are joined by José Luz González ’20, a Chancellor’s Associates Scholar and UC-DC alumnus who graduated with a degree in Public Health. In a lively conversation the two men offer varied but complementary perspectives on the upcoming election.

Kousser, a seasoned political researcher and pundit, outlines the demographic, economic, and ideological shifts that have occurred since Barack Obama’s election in 2008, and discusses how politicians and various components of the electorate have responded to those changes. González offers observations about one increasingly important component in particular, the under-25 voter. He notes that young people coming of voting age this year have recently exhibited a greater interest in politics than the previous generation or two, but stresses that it’s impossible to predict by fata alone whether that interest will translate into an increased presence at the polls in November.

Both Kousser and González also stress the outsized influence of social media on the body politic, and the difficulty in identifying reliable news sources. Other topics discussed include the influence of numerous special interest groups and the voting process itself, including the Electoral College’s role. Throw in such wild cards as deliberate misinformation, extreme partisanship, gerrymandering, voter suppression, and possible foreign meddling, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed when contemplating the 2020 Presidential Election. Fortunately, experts like Kousser and González help to guide us through the thicket.

Watch Tritons Tackling the 2020 Presidential Election.

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Innovating Democracy

What is the current state of American democracy, and what can be done to improve it? Three legal and political experts weighed in on those questions during a recent panel discussion at UC Berkeley.

Steve Silberstein is a member of National Popular Vote, a nonprofit that aims to work within the confines of the electoral college to ensure the presidential candidate who earns the most votes wins the presidency. Bertrall Ross teaches election law, constitutional law and legislation law at Berkeley Law. Steven Hayward is a senior resident scholar at Berkeleys Institute of Governmental Studies, and well-known conservative commentator.

The panel focuses on three key issues: voter participation, gerrymandering, and the electoral college. Silberstein begins by discussing the plan to switch to a national popular vote system without amending the constitution or passing congressional legislation. His group’s plan is to get states to agree to give all of their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. The total of electoral votes would need to be at least 270 for the plan to effectively sidestep the electoral college. As of now, enough states have agreed to bring that total to 194 electoral votes.

Silberstein argues this would change the way presidential campaigns operate, and force candidates to focus on issues that matter to the entire country, not just voters in swing states. Hayward cautions that while that may be the intent, there will likely be some unintended consequences. Hayward urging caution before pushing reform emerges as a theme throughout the night as the panel discusses redistricting, campaign finance, and universal basic income.

Watch — Innovating Democracy: Key Issues for the 2020 Election and Beyond

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The Great Immigration Debate

Is immigration an overall benefit, or burden to society? That’s was the central question posed at the 2019 Arthur N. Rupe debate at UC Santa Barbara. Rubén Rumbaut, Distinguished Professor of Sociology at UC Irvine, takes the position that immigration is not only good, but necessary for the success of the United States. Taking the stance that immigration needs to be scaled back and tightly controlled is Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, a controversial organization that has been designated an anti-immigrant hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The participants began by laying out their visions for the hallmarks of good immigration policy. Rumbaut leans heavily on the ideas that the population of the United States is aging, fewer children are being born, and our pension and social security systems will fall into crisis without an influx of new workers. Thus, he argues immigration is necessary to prop up those systems, strengthen the labor force, and repopulate shrinking towns across the country. Krikorian’s central idea is the polar opposite. He argues the United States is in good shape, and has no need for new immigration. Therefore, he says immigration policy should seek to have a net zero impact on the economy. He proposes updating the system to only accept immediate family members of current US citizens, and set the bar for skilled immigration to “Einstein” levels, meaning only people at the top of their fields.

Both debaters address several aspects of immigration policy, from big picture concepts like measuring success, to details such as how many people from any given group should be granted citizenship each year. While their differences of opinion are clear throughout the debate, they do find agreement on one issue: the current long-term population of undocumented immigrants in the United States should be granted amnesty.

With a topic as complex and divisive as immigration, it is not surprising to see more disagreement than agreement. But, finding some common ground is essential if any real progress is to be made. Whatever your stance, this debate provides some insight into the other side of the argument.

Watch — Immigration: A Boon or Burden to U.S. Society? – 2019 Arthur N. Rupe Great Debate

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