POLI Professor John Aughenbaugh concludes fifth season of "Civil Discourse" podcast

January 5, 2021

POLI professor John Aughenbaugh and research librarian Nia Rodgers recording an episode of

Civil Discourse podcast concludes fifth season with episodes on wagging the dog, presidential transitions, election certification, and NORAD’s Santa Tracker

In 2019, political science professor Dr. John Aughenbaugh and VCU public affairs research librarian Nia Rodgers joined forces to produce the Civil Discourse podcast.  Over the course of each podcast episode, which generally run between sixty and ninety minutes, the pair riff on current events, take playful jabs at one another, and drop a whole lot of knowledge on their audience about the inner workings of the U.S. government.  Dr. Aughenbaugh, who teaches classes on judicial politics, the federal bureaucracy, and administrative law, draws on primary sources to bring these issues to life and assist the listener in understanding some of the more confusing issues we hear about in the news; issues that maybe their listeners have heard of, but which were short shrifted in their high school civics course or their university political science curriculum.

In their opening segment, during Season 1, Episode 1, Aughenbaugh and Rodgers’ banter briefly takes a detour into discussing the role of the comptroller general, a position that few Americans have heard of, let alone understand in any real, meaningful way.  The detour paints a clear picture of how many of their discussions over the podcast’s five seasons will unfold -- organically, with just the right balance of humor and scholarship.  After Rodgers explains to the audience that she asked Aughenbaugh to be her co-host because he’s been teaching politics since “dinosaurs roamed the Earth”, and he corrects her that it’s only been about twenty years, Rodgers jokes that she’s always been bad in math, but perhaps would like to be a comptroller general some day.  This ad lib leads Aughenbaugh to comment that the comptroller general is actually a “fascinating position” and to explain that he first got interested in the comptroller general because “there’s a Supreme Court case about this,” to which Rodgers replies, “of course there is; there’s a Supreme Court case for everything isn’t there?”

And it certainly seems like that might be true!  Over the course of five seasons, totaling sixty-seven episodes and counting, Aughenbaugh and Rodgers take listeners on a guided tour of government documents that contextualize a wide range of political issues and current events.  In Season 5, alone, the podcast tackles the following topics:

Season 5, Episode 6:  Wagging the Dog is a reference to creating a distraction in order to draw attention away from a politician’s behavior. In this episode, several examples of events designed deliberately to distract are discussed, as are the potential ways that these events can backfire on a politician. (transcript available)

Season 5, Episode 7:  After the 2020 presidential election in November, many Americans realized, for the first time, how fragile our electoral democracy is.  We’ve long assumed that the process of certifying elections in this country is a mere formality, but in this episode Aughenbaugh and Rodgers discuss possible problems that occur within the election certification process and also some possible solutions. (transcript available)

Season 5, Episode 16:  Discussion in this episode turns to the importance of presidential transitions to the smooth running of government, especially in the area of security.  Recent headlines about pandemic response, the federal budget, and NATO highlight that the lack of cooperation between Trump’s outgoing administration and Biden’s incoming administration is as relevant now as ever. (transcript available)

Season 5, Episode 20:  Have you ever wondered how NORAD (the North American Aerospace Defense Command) tracks Santa Claus?  In this episode, Aughenbaugh and Rodgers turn their attention to the funding, staffing, and marketing of NORAD’s Santa Tracker, the most magical bureaucratic program in the country.  Note: Do not listen to this episode with young children. (transcript available)

You can also follow the Civil Discourse podcast on Apple Podcasts and on Spotify.