|AMERICAN STUDIES IN THE NEWS | New Berkeley course taught by American Studies Senate Lecturer Michael Mark Cohen examines 2020 election through the lens of American democracy

Excerpted from The Berkeleyan, October 27, 2020

Racial unrest and violence between armed white militias and Black Lives Matter protestors. Millions of acres burned in California wildfires. The appointment of a new Supreme Court justice. A pandemic that has left more than 225,000 Americans dead and over 20 million unemployed. Presidential candidates with vastly different visions for the future.

These are just some of the lofty issues weighing on the minds of American voters casting their ballots on Nov. 3. For first-time voters, many of them college students, confronting all these crises can be quite overwhelming.

But students taking a new UC Berkeley course, “The 2020 Election,” are getting help making sense of it all. They’ve got a virtual front row seat to a real-time analysis of this year’s candidates and campaigns by Berkeley experts and scholars who are examining this unprecedented time in history, as it happens.

Offered through Berkeley’s Department of African American Studies and the Goldman School of Public Policy, the course asks students to analyze how America’s past reflects its current politics and policy by attempting to answer challenging questions such as: How has white supremacy shaped the United States since its founding? Why are there only two political parties in the United States? And how will the future of American democracy be defined by this year’s election?

“In teaching this class, we believe in, and support, democracy,” said historian and African American Studies professor Michael Mark Cohen, who conceptualized the course from his scholarship of how racial formations have changed throughout American history.

“Answering some of these fundamental questions helps when you want students to analyze Donald Trump’s immigration policies, or Joe Biden’s crime bill, because it comes back to the same set of original narratives and the country’s founding documents, which weren’t as democratic as some may think,” he said.

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