Glossary of Political Terms and Phrases

Disclaimer: All of these terms have kernels of truth in them. The purpose of this list is to understand what these terms mean as they are used in political discourse, what they explain well, and what they explain poorly.

Abolish/Defund the Police: This term is variable in its use. Sometimes it refers to actual abolition or slashing funds of police departments. Sometimes it refers simply to firing the current police, hiring people to do the same law enforcement work, and then calling them something other than police. It can also refer to restructuring budgets without overall cuts. In general, it provides no sense of direction on police reform.

All Cops Are Bastards: This is a blanket statement that all policemen are, without exceptions, bad individuals. It does correctly identify how police who do not break the rules or engage in harmful behavior may overlook such behavior in their colleagues, but this lacks nuance in the hiring practices across multiple jurisdictions and seemingly ignores clear examples of honorable policemen who defy the conventional narratives against them.

All Lives Matter: For some, this a literal statement, intending to include black lives. For others (especially on the far-right), it is meant to deflect attention from black lives lost due to problems in the criminal justice system, as well as general poverty.

Ally: An ally is a person aligned with causes intended to aid some kind of minority. While allies are often supporters of a cause in principle, other allies may join due to guilt and manipulation, making the nature of an alliance, which typically has mutual goals among members, making the use of the term controversial in some contexts.

Black Lives Matter: As a phrase, this means the literal statement, as well as implied statements. For example, the idea that non-black lives matter is sometimes excluded. Others contend that “too” is implied at the end. The context of the value of black lives (when taken by black person vs. by police) may also matter. Nevertheless, the term is at least true that black Americans suffer in the criminal justice system disproportionately, due to the echoes of Antebellum Slavery and Jim Crowe, as well as by other measures of suffering (i.e. infant mortality rates).

Blue Lives Matter: This is a more obvious response to “Black Lives Matter.” It is meant to indicate that policing is a dangerous, but essential role and that police have few natural advocates, due to being the “hall monitors” of society. Sometimes it can be used to deflect attention, in a similar manner to ALM.

Body Shaming: This refers to the harm to reputation that people suffer for being fat or overweight. The movement against body shaming correctly tries to discourage mistreatment over this, but it often conflates healthy advice about proper, human fitness with shaming and bullying.

Communism: This refers not only to the economics of Soviet-style economic policy but sometimes even to public programs in general, even programs that assume markets and some level of free trade. To an extent, this is confusion. To another extent, it is a bad-faith description of the role of government in an economy.

Cultural Appropriation: This refers to the inappropriate stealing of cultural practices or icons by outsiders to the culture. Often folks disrespect the originators in how they treat the cultural material, either through denigration or profiteering, but many leftists sometimes forget that culture is also freely shared and spreads, like an information germ, particularly as globalization increases.

Deep State: This refers to elements of the American, federal bureaucracy held by public employees, particularly across multiple presidencies. Many conservatives have come to distrust this and to treat as an untouchable fourth branch, attributing many conspiracy theories to it. The influence, extent, and dangers of the deep state are not well known.

Diversity: When coming from the left, this is often not referring to diversity in any intuitive sense. In this manner, it usually refers to non-European peoples and cultures.

Empathy: This is similar to the usual sense, but liberals may contrast with perceived callousness of the political right. At times this is an accurate characterization of the right, and genuine caring informs the more liberal mindset, but there is a tunnel-vision in empathy that can cause liberals to disregard the feelings of other groups or conservatives. It also often means that one only has empathy if they agree with a solution of a problem, not that they might know another’s pain and prefer other solutions.

Equity: In common parlance, this refers to equality. Lately it has come to refer to absolute, material quality in a Marxist vein. How this is to be measured remains unclear.

Family Values: This can refer to the happy home life that many Americans know and the solidarity is provides. Some data indicate that nuclear households tend to be the most stable or produce the most financially successful and psychologically healthy children. Having said that, it can also brush aside its more negative elements, such as abuse and manipulation within families, or detract from alternative systems for children in bad families.

Freedom: This is often a very enlarged sense of freedom. From the right, it can comes with a resentment of anything done by the government, whatever that might be. For some, freedom means being free from mechanism of accountability.

Gender Pay Gap: This notes that technically women earn 70% to 80% as much as men overall. It mistakenly considers this to be true for every form of employment. The weight of misogyny (while very real) as a variable is unknown, especially when considering how men currently prefer trades that are in higher market demand and are more likely to negotiate harder for better contracts.

Gender Theory: This is a wider framework by which individuals claim to have transgender or non-binary identities. It appears to deviate from the older concept of transexualism, which is empirically associated with neurocogntive patterns, and intersexuality (sometimes known as hermaphroditism). While these are rooted in genotypic and phenotypic causes, Gender Theory claims similar, causal mechanisms, despite appearing to have more of an origin in postmodern memetics.

Government: Usually this refers to the American federal government (frequently, with negative connotations by conservatives). When people talk about “government” being the solution or problem, they often do not mean state or local authorities.

Justice: This is distinct from notions of law and order. It refers to fairness, being partially synonymous with “equity.” On the left, its applications can be more fluid and harder to decipher, meaning that it might be a placeholder as a noun with positive connotations in leftist parlance (i.e. criminal justice vs. environmental justice).

Late-Stage Capitalism: This observes the socioeconomic failures of an under-regulated market system, particularly that of the United States, with record levels of income inequality and a large influence of money in politics. The “late-stage” feature implies a Marxist concept of an upcoming correction to communism.

Liberal Media: This can refer to any media organization that is not right-wing. Many of them are liberal, but many of them are not. In recent years, liberal media have shown higher levels of bias, making the connotations increasingly negative.

Lived Experience: This is a term used in intersectional circles to denote that an aggrieved identity group has a history that cannot be understood by outsiders. This is essentially true, but the term also implies that experiences that cannot be understood are to believed, while also overlooking that this is true, to various degrees, of all human interaction and communication.

Make America Great Again: Borrowed from Ronald Reagan by Donald Trump, this is a reference to the economic boom following World War II in the 1950s. It arguably ignores racial and sexual inequality in that period, among other injustices. MAGA has since morphed into nationalist rallying cry for supporters of Trump.

Morality: This is usually referring only to the morality of Protestant Christians. This term is losing prevalence since the rise of New Atheism. Its application is often not consistent and can be used in spite of political corruption.

Mostly Peace Protests: This is a term, frequently used by the media. Its apparent function is to diminish the relevance at a protest/rally that had incidents of violence.

Oppression: This refers less to premeditated abuse or exploitation (although this is encapsulated) but also extends to any perceived inequality (Gender Pay Gap), as well as general denials of gratification (transwomen not romantically pursued by other men).

Patriarchy: This correctly notes that most power structures, in the West or even globally, have been headed by men more often than women. This has also presented challenges to the equal enjoyment of human rights by women, but it is often exaggerated in egalitarian cultures or treated as a conspiracy by all males.

Patriotism: This is often merely means agreeing with a right-wing vision for America. In the far-right it is a cover word for outright nationalism. In some cases, though, it notes that a general love of the country is more common among the right than the left.

Privilege: This expands beyond usual notions of privilege (which are like perks in life), often treating the lack of human rights violations (such as murder by police) as privileges.

Racism: This represents a shift from negative, race-based attitudes and ideologies, held by individuals, toward a system of which individuals, whether or not they choose, are a part. The systemic model, seeing macro-level effects, is a valuable tool for grading a society. While this term technically disassociates the personal culpability of personal attitudes, the term is usually employed with intended effect of reputational harm and confusion to targeted individuals that the traditional use carries, even if the individual has very cosmopolitan, pluralistic attitudes.

Redpilled: A reference the The Matrix (1999), it refers to the awakening the hero Neo experienced after choosing a red pill over a blue pill, which took him out of the Matrix and into the real world. This term is used by many young conservatives who grew up during this film’s release, but it more accurately refers to those who used to be liberal and now feel like that they know reality better. The use of the term is evidence of the user’s confident, new opinions but may refer to beliefs that are extreme or ill-supported, making the label controversial at times.

States’ Rights: States in America have constitutional protections against the federal government, per the Bill of Rights. At times, this is the basis for the violation of individual rights through state authorities, in order to prevent federal intervention (slavery, Jim Crowe). In other instances, it refers to uncertainty about efficient taxing structure for public programs and whether they should be scaled federally or micro-managed more locally. It also offers no input on the current arrangement of the state structure and its ability to function in the Twenty-First Century.

Trump Derangement Syndrome: This refers to the overreaction to the candidacy and subsequent victory of Donald Trump in the 2016 election by Democrats and liberals. Trump is often blamed for things he has not done or said. In other cases, TDS is a term used cynically by supporters to dismiss valid criticisms as derangement.

Violence: This notes that, in the big picture, certain failures can amount to physical harm for an identity group, thus amounting to violence of a sort. It encounters problems when used to describe decisions whose consequences are yet unclear or are straightforwardly peaceful. It also seems to be inapplicable to physical aggression by leftists, making its use more suspicious than other terms.

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