Harriet Lonka 2017

I had the pleasure and honor to participate the SUSI Scholar program, US Politics and Political Thought after a four-year-absence of a Finnish Participant. The course was organized by the University of Massachusetts (UMass) in Amherst.

I didn’t quite know what to expect. And yet, this experience exceeded all possible expectations. The quality of the lectures, the atmosphere, the general organization was breathtaking.

One can also thank the timing. I doubt that there will ever be a moment in the US politics which would provide as much material for both academic and general human considerations as the summer of 2017. It is not only about the president who has, admittedly, an unusual background for his position as the leader of the United States. It is also about the general political atmosphere, the crisis of the US congress in decision making, the extraordinary tensions in the world politics.

The specific strength of the SUSI program is the idea of gathering people from all over the world for the US studies. Our group consisted of 18 participants from 18 different countries and 4 different continents. The broad knowledge base, experience of scientific thinking and wide experience of national as well as global politics of the group ensured academically ambitious, entertaining and inspirational discussions. A highly inspirational learning experience!

The structure of the program led us all the way from the life of the first colonies to the creation of the constitution and to the history of the US political system. This gave us a firm basis to understand the present politics and the framework of political decision making.

For myself as a researcher of legislative studies the architecture of the program provided excellent basis for further studies of the US politics and US legislative system. The most impressive feature of the US politics and political history is the strong position of the Constitution. The influence of the Constitution stretches from American everyday coffee table discussions to the highest level of decision making in the Congress. During summer 2017 constitutional considerations - especially the question of separation of power and the roles of the legislature, the executive and the court - was a regular topic in practically every morning tv show.

A central common interest of the researchers in our group was to better understand the electoral system of the US. This was clearly an interesting topic when taking into account also the results of the most recent presidential elections. The feeling of unfairness of a candidate winning the Electoral College, yet losing the popular vote is, of course, understandable. However, the Electoral College has provided similar surprises many times during the US history. And this specific electoral system is also keenly anchored to the US Constitution.

The US Constitution is not easy to amend. To renew the trust to the political system and to democracy might be easier tasks. Not effortless, though.

Harriet Lonka

Photo: The highlight of our course was the meeting with Senator Elizabeth Warren and the opportunity to present to her the song of our Presidential Election Simulations 2020 promoting her candidacy.