Walking a mile in a Congressman’s shoes

Walking a mile in a Congressman’s shoes

Sixth-formers studying Politics enjoyed a rare opportunity to question former Congressmen during a conference on American politics held at the British Library.

The Year 13 boys had the chance to quiz two recently retired members of the House of Representatives, Dan Benishek, a Republican who represented Michigan, and Democrat Sam Farr, from California.

Head of Politics Liam Hargadon said: “This was a worthwhile and valuable conference, which gave our Politics students exposure both to the latest academic discourse on American politics and to the insights of those who have actually served as politicians.”

Reflecting afterwards on an “intriguing” occasion, pupil Eddy Burchett said: “It is difficult to study American politics if you are not able to put yourself in the shoes of those who are experiencing it. Seeing the ex-members of Congress helped to bring life to my studies – it helps you to appreciate the differences in culture between Britain and the United States.”

The day-long event featured talks by a number of leading academics, each of which was followed by opportunities to hear the opinions of the Congressmen and question them:

    • The Party-Political Balance in Washington – Professor Philip John Davies, Director of the British Library’s Eccles Centre for American Studies, covered: the political geography of recent presidential elections; current disputes within the Democratic party, and forthcoming mid-term elections in 2018
    • Whether the 115th [current] Congress is an effective legislature – Dr Ross English, of King’s College London, explored themes including: checks and balances performed by Congressmen; the current restrictions on the Trump administration (despite its having a Republican Congress), and the politics of filibuster
    • American foreign policy in an age of chaos? Dr Andrew Moran, of London Metropolitan University, spoke on: the American foreign policy of exceptionalism; America’s previous experience of being an ‘indispensable nation’, and an analysis of the ongoing America-North Korea dispute
    • President Trump and the Supreme Court – Professor Robert McKeever, of University College London’s Institute of the Americas, looking at: the shifting political balance of the Supreme Court, the influence of the moderate Justice Anthony Kennedy, and forthcoming Supreme Court cases of interest (Gill vs Whitford, Masterpiece Cake shop vs Colorado Civil rights)
    • The Trump Presidency: An interim assessment – In this concluding talk of the day, Professor Iwan Morgan, also of the Institute of the Americas, centred on: a severe lack of legislation, given the advantage of a unified Government; Trump’s approval rating being the lowest of any president ever in the first 100 days in office, and Trump’s ever-changing administration personnel.

After the formal event had finished, QE pupil Rehaan Bapoo had the chance to question ex-Congressman Benishek regarding the relevance of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution in a modern society. The Second Amendment protects the right of Americans to bear arms and was originally drawn up with a view to the importance of militia as a protection against overweening government authority.

The Congressman replied: “There could still be a militia today – that’s from 200 years ago: if we were to rebel today it would be against the army of the United States. If we were to rebel, we would need to form a militia, and one which is effective is one which has the right arms. Restricting that would leave us helpless to the Government.”