Washington Center

Congress In History and In Transition

Term or Semester: 
Day and Time: 
Tuesdays and Thursdays, 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. PT
Quarter Dates: 
March 23 - June 1, 2021
Core Seminar

Congress and other branches of the U.S. government were designed nearly two and a half centuries ago under circumstances and reflecting values and philosophies that bear little relationship to contemporary America. All of these institutions have evolved over time in response to changing conditions domestically and internationally; and the American electorate had undergone significant change as well, especially in the last half century. All of these developments place dramatic and consequential pressures on government, elected officials and voters alike. How are they responding and what can we anticipate, based on historical analysis, will change as a result of these unprecedented, simultaneous crises? What is the appropriate level of idealism, pragmatism and collaboration as ways to govern a diverse and divided democracy?

This course will focus on the performance of Congress, the American government and the electorate during a period in which four historic forces are colliding simultaneously:

  • The coronavirus pandemic and related societal disruptions;
  • The widespread political/social responses to systemic racism affecting policing and other public institutions and policies;
  • The electoral season that elevates partisan anger through the campaigns across the nation; and lastly
  • The diminished confidence of the American people in the structure and performance of their own government.

Remote Syllabus

About the Instructor: Professor John Lawrence served as a senior staff person in Congress for nearly four decades, the last eight as Chief of Staff to Speaker Nancy Pelosi.  He also served as staff director of two committees and on personal staff. He has taught at UCDC since 2013, and at Georgetown University’s McCourt School of Public Policy and has lectured widely on history and contemporary American politics at Columbia, Princeton, Oberlin and other venues.  Professor Lawrence holds a Ph.D. in American History from the University of California (Berkeley), and an undergraduate history degree from Oberlin College.

Course ID: