It's time to flush these 10 meaningless and harmful buzzwords from our politics
Photo by Brian Wertheim on Unsplash

Politics has always been a mixed bag of genuine discussions about governance, inane partisan bickering, and ongoing struggles for power. As much as I wish we could engage in the first more often, it feels like politics in America has become far more of the latter.

Within those partisan power struggles, the language of politics gets skewed and molded to fit specific purposes. Sometimes, phrases are used as dog whistles calling on people's prejudices. Far too often, the manipulation of words and their meanings—political rhetoric—renders certain terms meaningless as they get tossed around without nuance or context. Ultimately, the repeated use of certain terminology ends up destroying discourse instead of adding to it.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, but here are 10 terms I'd love to see us flush from American political discussions:

1. "Real Americans"

There's no excuse for anyone ever using this term. To call certain people "real Americans" implies some kind of defining characteristic that some Americans have and some don't, which is the complete opposite of the country's diverse reality. And who would get to determine that definition, anyway? Do we go by majority? A full 82% of Americans live in urban areas. Does that mean city people are "real Americans" and the rural minority are not? Obviously, that's ludicrous—just as ludicrous as the idea that Americans in diners talking about the Bible are "real Americans." There's simply no such thing.


2. "Identity politics"

It's not that politics based on identity doesn't exist—it's that it has always existed. The entirety of American history is filled with white, land-owning men creating politics around their own identity and excluding people of different identities from the political process in both overt and covert ways. We are where we are because inequality and injustice necessitate pushing for policies based on identity, but let's not pretend that the concept is new. It's just that the identities that are finally getting a voice are those that were kept out by the white, male identity politics that dominated the nation for centuries.

3. "Elites"

This word may have had some meaning at some point, but now it gets tossed around to mean anyone who lives in a city, lives on a coast, has above a certain amount of money, or has a college education. I've also seen it used as a pejorative to describe experts in a field, which is just silly. While yes, there are uber-wealthy people with undue power in politics who can be rightfully scorned as "elites" for snubbing their noses at the concerns of the rest of us, that's a very small group of people. Dismissing the entirety of academia or the entirety of the American coasts or the entirety of people with post-secondary educations as "elitist" is a misuse of the word and needs to stop.

4. "Working class"

On the flip side, the term "working-class Americans" has far too narrow a meaning the way it's usually used. When someone says "working-class Americans" it's usually meant to conjure up images of generally white farm, factory, or mining workers toiling away somewhere in Middle America. Rarely is the term "working class" used to refer to Black or Latino or immigrant workers in big cities, even though they make up a huge percentage of what's technically considered working-class labor. Rarely is the economic anxieties of those urban workers utilized in the same way politically. (The term also makes it sound like only certain kinds of jobs count as "work," which is just weird.)

5. "Blue states/Red states"

The way our electoral system is set up makes the illusion of blue and red states a thing, but it's really not a thing. All states are mish-mosh of people, and all states are closer to 50/50 than 100/0 when it comes to red/blue, Democrat/Republican, liberal/conservative votes. I wish we could do away with those binary political labels altogether, but at the very least we need to stop assigning them to entire states. (And let's ditch the Electoral College that perpetuates the illusion altogether.)

There are lots of different versions of maps that more accurately portray the way the U.S. votes, but the truth is that every place is some shade of purple. And our differences are based much more along an urban/rural divide than a state line one.

6. "Career politician"

Yes, some people make a career out of being in government. Yes, there are some people who stay in politics for the wrong reasons or who have been in their positions for longer than they should. But let's stop saying "career politician" like it's automatically bad. Experience and expertise in any field is generally a good thing, and that's as true for public service as it is for anything else. Newcomers add fresh perspectives and voices to government, but there is also value in putting people who know what they're doing in powerful positions of leadership. We could address the negatives of long-term service by introducing term limits where there aren't any, but let's stop demonizing people who dedicate their lives and careers to public service.

7. "Socialism"

This word has a meaning, and it's not what the vast majority of Americans mean when they use it these days, on either side of the aisle. Socialism is a "social and economic doctrine that calls for public rather than private ownership or control of property and natural resources." Practically no one is advocating for actual socialism in the U.S. Some people think anything having to do with equality or equity is synonymous with socialism, but that's not anywhere close to true. Some people think universal healthcare is a slippery slope to a socialist state, even though they'd never think of public education in the same way. Some people just hear "radical socialist agenda" and start foaming at the mouth, even if what's being described as radical socialism would be considered center-right ideology in most democratic nations we consider our peers. And on the same note...

8. "Radical"

What is often called "radical" isn't really radical these days. The only reason that some things seem radical—as defined by advocating a sweeping change—is because of how long certain things have been allowed to remain status quo. The idea that anyone who works a full-time job should be able to afford to live is not a radical idea. It's just common sense. The idea that no one should go bankrupt or die because they have a medical issue isn't radical—it's the way people in almost every other country live. The idea that people should be able to live free from discrimination for being who they are is not a radical idea—it's simply freedom. The word "radical" is used to make any idea sound out-there, no matter how reasonable it might be in reality.

9. "Fascist"

Not everyone who enacts legislation we don't like is a fascist. Not everyone who pushes nationalism is a fascist. Not even everyone who uses prejudice and fear to drum up populist support is a fascist. Like socialism, this word has been thrown around so often as to have virtually no real meaning anymore. Fascism was a specific form of rule during a specific time and place in history, and though we can point to some similarities of thought or action between politicians now and then, they're not the same. It's not likely that an autocrat dictator would find success with actual fascist practices here, and labeling everything that smacks of authoritarianism or demagoguery as fascism muddies the waters. Authoritarianism and demagoguery are problematic enough on their own, and jumping straight to "Fascism!" enables people to dismiss legitimate concerns over them.

10. "Patriot"

A patriot is someone who loves their country and is willing to defend it. A patriot is not someone who terrorizes their own seat of government because they reject reality and don't like the way the voting went. A patriot doesn't defend an attack on our Capitol or the attempted overturning of an election. A patriot doesn't fly the flag of a defeated country that fought with the United States over the right to enslave Black people and nearly split the nation in two. A patriot doesn't try to keep Americans they disagree with or don't like from voting. A patriot doesn't accuse half of their fellow Americans of being demonic pedophiles. If the people who do any or all of those things are the ones calling themselves patriots, then the word is useless.

Words and their actual meanings matter. Let's discuss ideas. Let's debate policy. But let's do so without slinging around buzz words and phrases that oversimplify positions, play on people's prejudices, and remove the nuance necessary for reasonable discourse.

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan
True

Growing up in Indonesia, Farwiza Farhan always loved the ocean. It's why she decided to study marine biology. But the more she learned, the more she realized that it wasn't enough to work in the ocean. She needed to protect it.

"I see the ocean ecosystem collapsing due to overfishing and climate change," she says. "I felt powerless and didn't know what to do [so] I decided to pursue my master's in environmental management."

This choice led her to work in environmental protection, and it was fate that brought her back home to the Leuser Ecosystem in Sumatra, Indonesia — one of the last places on earth where species such as tigers, orangutans, elephants and Sumatran rhinoceros still live in the wild today. It's also home to over 300 species of birds, eight of which are endemic to the region.

"When I first flew over the Leuser Ecosystem, I saw an intact landscape, a contiguous block of lush, diverse vegetation stretched through hills and valleys. The Leuser is truly a majestic landscape — one of a kind."

She fell in love. "I had my first orangutan encounter in the Leuser Ecosystem," she remembers. "As the baby orangutan swung from the branches, seemingly playing and having fun, the mother was observing us. I was moved by the experience."

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

"Over the years," she continues, "the encounters with wildlife, with people, and with the ecosystem itself compounded. My curiosity and interest towards nature have turned into a deep desire to protect this biodiversity."

So, she began working for a government agency tasked to protect it. After the agency dismantled for political reasons in the country, Farhan decided to create the HAkA Foundation.

"The goals [of HAkA] are to protect, conserve and restore the Leuser Ecosystem while at the same time catalyzing and enabling just economic prosperity for the region," she says.

"Wild areas and wild places are rare these days," she continues. "We think gold and diamonds are rare and therefore valuable assets, but wild places and forests, like the Leuser Ecosystems, are the kind of natural assets that essentially provide us with life-sustaining services."

"The rivers that flow through the forest of the Leuser Ecosystem are not too dissimilar to the blood that flows through our veins. It might sound extreme, but tell me — can anyone live without water?"

Courtesy of Farwiza Farhan

So far, HAkA has done a lot of work to protect the region. The organization played a key role in strengthening laws that bring the palm oil companies that burn forests to justice. In fact, their involvement led to an unprecedented, first-of-its-kind court decision that fined one company close to $26 million.

In addition, HAkA helped thwart destructive infrastructure plans that would have damaged critical habitat for the Sumatran elephants and rhinos. They're working to prevent mining destruction by helping communities develop alternative livelihoods that don't damage the forests. They've also trained hundreds of police and government rangers to monitor deforestation, helping to establish the first women ranger teams in the region.

"We have supported multiple villages to create local regulation on river and land protection, effectively empowering communities to regain ownership over their environment."

She is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year. The donation she receives as a nominee is being awarded to the Ecosystem Impact Foundation. The small local foundation is working to protect some of the last remaining habitats of the critically endangered leatherback turtle that lives on the west coast of Sumatra.

"The funds will help the organization keep their ranger employed so they can continue protecting the islands, endangered birds and sea turtle habitats," she says.

To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen. Do you know an inspiring woman like Farwiza? Nominate her today!

Here are some things new parents need to know.

Parenting is as old as time, but there's never been a time in history when we've talked about it more. If you go into any bookstore, you'll find shelf after shelf filled with books about how to raise your kids. If you have questions about any element of parenting, there are countless websites and online groups you can consult.

And yet, most of us still go into it unaware of the reality of it, because let's face it, there's no way to adequately prepare for parenthood. No matter what you picture it being like going in, parenting will yank that image right out of your head, smash it into the ground and grind its heel right into the heart of it.

Okay, that's a bit dramatic. But only a bit. Parenting is the hardest, most rewarding job on earth—a thrill ride that takes you on the highest highs and plunges you to the lowest lows. Up and down you go, over and over again, sometimes squealing with delight, sometimes thinking you might puke and sometimes screaming "Stop the ride, I wanna get off!"

While it's not possible to truly prepare, it's good to hear from experienced parents what you might expect. Every kid, every parent, every family is different, but there are some near-universal things that people really should know going in.

A user on Reddit asked, "What is something nobody warns people about enough when it comes to having kids," and the answers didn't disappoint. Here are some highlights:

You have less control over how your kids turn out than you think.

"There's a very good chance they won't turn out like you think," wrote one commenter. That's not to say that you have no influence whatsoever, but each kid is their own unique person with their own individuality, and they also change as they grow. If you're too attached to an idea of how they should be, you may not fully appreciate who they are.

"People seem to often forget that they're raising people," shared another commenter, "as in, independent-thinking individuals whose actions, values, personalities, interests, and capabilities will potentially be completely unlike yours. I've seen a lot of parents struggle hard with that, and frankly, that's a possibility you should have made your peace with before you became a parent, imo."

Another person added:

"This is why many parent/child relationships are so strained. Many parents have a child thinking they are programming a perfect human being. Many are disappointed when the child is not the exact person they hoped (or worse, the polar opposite). Perfectly normal children grow into resentful, tired adults because of their parents' unrealistic expectations that have nothing to do with them."

The books aren't all that helpful.

We all want to look to "the experts" when raising our kids, and some things we find in parenting books can be marginally helpful. But they certainly aren't the be-all-end-all of good parenting.

"The books are fine for ideas, your experience, friends thoughts, paediatricians, therapists," wrote one commenter. "But at the end of it all you have this complicated little person you're in charge of with their own preferences, feelings, insecurities, abilities, and you have to do what works for them and your family and, of course, also raise someone who isn't a blight on humanity or menace to society."

Another wrote:

"As my mum says: 'The kid hasn't read the book.'

"Her parents tried to do everything by the book with her and she hated it. She was supposed to have pigtails, wear dresses, learn piano and not go climb trees and play soccer/football. She saved pocket money to get her hair cut short and her dad almost hit her for it. Did she stop pushing to be herself? Nope. She is a strong woman, but boy, does she have some scars on her soul.

"With her own three kids she watched what interests they developed and then helped them explore it further and to not forget to keep an open mind about other possible hobbies, sports, arts etc. I have no idea how to thank her properly for this."

It doesn't go by fast—until suddenly it does.

"The days are loooong and the years are so very short," wrote one person. It's true. When you're in the thick of parenting and someone tells you how fast it goes, you might feel like strangling them. But then you look at your child who has changed so much and it does feel fast in hindsight.

"I've heard older people say this or the equivalent all my life," wrote another. "I always thought I understood. And then I had children. Now I understand. I keep looking at my kids and can't believe how much time has passed. I'll look at them doing something new and just be amazed. Seems like yesterday that my youngest couldn't lift her own head and now she's doing tuck rolls across the house."

"This is it!" shared a parent of young adults. "Mine are 18, 19 & 20. Empty-nest syndrome is a REAL thing. I always look back and think… How the hell did it go by so quick? I used to roll my eyes at people who would say stuff like this when they had 3 different practices, in 3 different places at the same time. It really goes by so quickly."

Your time—and sleep—are no longer yours.

When they're babies, they wake up in the night for all kinds of reasons—to eat, to practice crawling, to say hi, to wail inconsolably for no explicable reason, and so on. When they're older, they wake up because they need to go to the bathroom or a drink of water or they're scared. Then, when they're much older, they suddenly stay up late and want to have deep, heart-to-heart talks at 10 p.m. Most of us expect the baby sleep deprivation stage, but there are sleep disruptions throughout a child's entire childhood.

"When they grow older, you don't have a private life anymore," wrote one commenter. "They stay awake longer than you."

"Never thought of this. The later part of the evening is my time usually," someone responded.

"Used to be my time as well," shared another commenter. "Since becoming a parent, my time is 4-6am. One reason why you start waking up early once you're older, probably."

I have a young adult, a teen and an almost-teen, and I can attest to waking up extra early simply to have uninterrupted time to myself.

You will miss being able to think clearly.

"For me, I stopped having a chance to think anything through without interruption," wrote a commenter. "I had a very hard time with that. I couldn't remember anything, couldn't make decisions, etc because every thought seemed to get interrupted.

"I'd just sit in my car alone sometimes so I could think."

Ah, the beautiful, quiet solitude of the car. Every mother I know enjoys a good "car bath" once in a while.

"I am so glad somebody said this," someone responded. "I was starting to worry I was getting early onset dementia, because my mind just feels like mush all the time. I can't remember things, I start sentences and can't finish them, I forget common words....my mind rarely gets to switch off because someone is always interacting with me or calling my name."

Part of the brain mush is because kids need things all the time. And part of it is that you now have an entire other person's life (multiplied by however many kids you have) to think about. Their health and well-being, their education, their emotional state, their character—it's a lot. So much more than you can really imagine until you're in it.

Take advantage of the middle years.

"How important the years between 7 and 12 are for building a bond (one that lasts into the teenage years)," wrote a commenter. "They are so hard to listen to at that age with all the starts and stops in conversation and they talk about the most boring thing's BUT it is so important to listen and converse at those ages. They will grow into teenagers that will talk to you, and be fun to talk to, but only if you can get through long boring conversations about Minecraft or whatever thing they are currently into."

Having teens and young adults, I have seen the truth of this advice play out. If you want your teens to talk to you, you have to listen well before they get to that age.

Another user shared what it meant to them when their mother did just that:

"I can remember being about 12 and wanting to share my biggest interest at the time with my mom, that being Bionicle, by reading to her all the books I had been collecting with my allowance. Sometimes she would involuntarily fall asleep, but my God she tried so hard to show an interest. I really didn't appreciate it at the time, focused on all the times she yawned or fell asleep, but now (16 years later) we both remember it fondly as the bonding time it really was."

And another shared just the opposite:

"My god, what an amazing mom you have. I vividly remember coming home from school around 12-13 yo, super excited to tell my mom all about my day, and she's sitting there reading her book, as always. No problem, I'm just telling her my stories while she's reading. Then that one time, I wondered is she actually listening? So I stopped mid-sentence and she didn't notice. I remember my heart just sank, and after that I never told her anything ever again. I don't think she noticed."

Diapering a doll isn't going to prepare you for wrangling a baby.

"Practicing diapers on a doll doesn't count," wrote one commenter. "You're ready when you can do it on a cat."

HA. So true. Others shared their diaper wrangling woes as well:

"My first daughter was patient and would just let us change her. My second daughter wants nothing more than to roll over and crawl away. There's nowhere for her to go but she wants to go anyway."

"It's like, I am physically orders of magnitude stronger than her, how the hell does she still win?"

"My daughter has just perfected the alligator death roll technique when she doesn't want to be changed or put pants on lmao. And because she's 2 and a bit she laughs the whole time cause it's hilarious."

Don't even get me started on trying to get an unwilling jellyfish toddler buckled into a carseat.

All parents are winging it.

"I stupidly thought once I had a child I would automatically 'know' how to parent," wrote one commenter. "You're the same dummy before and after having a child, and you realize how much your parents were winging it."

"Leaving the hospital with that tiny fragile little being was terrifying," wrote another. "C-section delivery so they kept us a couple days longer. Lots of help from the amazing maternity ward, to the moment you realize you and your spouse are alone and now solely responsible for keeping this little baby alive."

"Yeah, it's like: "We can just leave? WITH the baby? Who approved this?" added another.

"The panicked looks my husband and I exchanged the first time we were left alone with our newborn will live forever in my mind," wrote yet another.

It really is surreal that you're just, like, handed a newborn baby and that's it. A whole life in your hands, and you're supposed to just figure out what to do with it. Good luck!

The relentlessness is real.

"Nothing prepared me for the sheer 'unrelentingness' of parenting," shared one parent. "Every day for many years has to be finished with a dinner/bath/bed routine that takes two hours, regardless of how tired, upset or unwell you are. Difficult enough if you've been at work all day, yes. But also if you're on holidays and got a little bit sunburnt, or been to a family wedding and overeaten, or spent the day assembling Ikea furniture and are just exhausted.

"As a childless adult you could occasionally say 'I'm just having takeaway tonight', and flop in front of the TV until bedtime. As a parent, that's not an option."

This is a truth that's hard to fathom but oh so real. Parenting never ends. You don't ever really get a break, even when you're lucky enough to kind of get a break. Your kids' well-being is always on your mind, even when you're not with them.

And it doesn't end at 18, either. Many commenters talked about how parenting is forever. You worry about your adult kids, too, just in a different way than when they were young and you were fully responsible for raising them.

This list might lead people to believe that parenting sucks, but it doesn't. I mean, sometimes it can, but that's true of anything in life. If you're fortunate and put in your best effort, the joy and fulfilment of parenting hopefully outweighs the hard parts. Getting a realistic picture of what it entails—both the delights and the challenges—can help people temper their expectations and take the roller coaster of parenting as it comes.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez
True

Marcella Lopez didn't always want to be a teacher — but once she became one, she found her passion. That's why she's stayed in the profession for 23 years, spending the past 16 at her current school in Los Angeles, where she mostly teaches children of color.

"I wanted purpose, to give back, to live a life of public service, to light the spark in others to think critically and to be kind human beings," she says. "More importantly, I wanted my students to see themselves when they saw me, to believe they could do it too."

Ms. Lopez didn't encounter a teacher of color until college. "That moment was life-changing for me," she recalls. "It was the first time I felt comfortable in my own skin as a student. Always remembering how I felt in that college class many years ago has kept me grounded year after year."

It's also guided her teaching. Ms. Lopez says she always selects authors and characters that represent her students and celebrate other ethnicities so students can relate to what they read while also learning about other cultures.

"I want them to see themselves in the books they read, respect those that may not look like them and realize they may have lots in common with [other cultures] they read about," she says.

She also wants her students to have a different experience in school than she did.

When Ms. Lopez was in first grade, she "was speaking in Spanish to a new student, showing her where the restroom was when a staff member overheard our conversation and directed me to not speak in Spanish," she recalls. "In 'this school,' we only speak English," she remembers them saying. "From that day forward, I was made to feel less-than and embarrassed to speak the language of my family, my ancestors; the language I learned to speak first."

Part of her job, she says, is to find new ways to promote acceptance and inclusion in her classroom.

"The worldwide movement around social justice following the death of George Floyd amplified my duty as a teacher to learn how to discuss racial equity in a way that made sense to my little learners," she says. "It ignited me to help them see themselves in a positive light, to make our classroom family feel more inclusive, and make our classroom a safe place to have authentic conversations."

One way she did that was by raising money through DonorsChoose to purchase books and other materials for her classroom that feature diverse perspectives.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

The Allstate Foundation recently partnered with DonorsChoose to create a Racial Justice and Representation category to encourage teachers like Ms. Lopez to create projects that address racial equity in the classroom. To launch the category, The Allstate Foundation matched all donations to these projects for a total of $1.5 million. Together, they hope to drive awareness and funding to projects that bring diversity, inclusion, and identity-affirming learning materials into classrooms across the country. You can see current projects seeking funding here.

When Ms. Lopez wanted to incorporate inclusive coloring books into her lesson plans, The Allstate Foundation fully funded her project so she was able to purchase them.

"I'm a lifelong learner, striving to be my best version of myself and always working to inspire my little learners to do the same," she says. Each week, Ms. Lopez and the students would focus on a page in the book and discuss its message. And she plans to do the same again this school year.

"DonorsChoose has been a gamechanger for my students. Without the support of all the donors that come together on this platform, we wouldn't have a sliver of what I've been able to provide for my students, especially during the pandemic," she says.

"My passion is to continue striving to be excellent, and to continue to find ways to use literature as an anchor, depicting images that reflect my students," she says.

To help teachers like Ms. Lopez drive this important mission forward, donate on DonorsChoose.

Courtesy of Ms. Lopez

This story was originally published on The Mighty and originally appeared here on 07.21.17


Most people imagine depression equals “really sad," and unless you've experienced depression yourself, you might not know it goes so much deeper than that. Depression expresses itself in many different ways, some more obvious than others. While some people have a hard time getting out of bed, others might get to work just fine — it's different for everyone.

Keep Reading Show less

Dog groomer, librarian and knight.

Blink 182 said it best: Work sucks, I know.

When we're kids, we dream of becoming astronauts, marine biologists, firefighters … only to discover that these jobs are nowhere near what we imagined them to be. As it turns out, all jobs require work, sadly.

A recent Reddit thread asked: "What is an overly romanticized job?" And though the answers are blunt, they do reveal another side of these so-called "dream jobs."

Keep Reading Show less