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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.

In the lead-up to the last presidential election, thousands upon thousands of people begged Joe Biden to run. And after Donald Trump was elected, even more people demanded that Biden, who was then seen as America's kooky but competent uncle/grandpa, take a stab at the presidency. After all, a guy who was the right-hand man to (arguably) one of America's most respected presidents had to be the best choice, right?

Well, things are a little different in 2019. Even though Biden's been polling well, his campaign has been plagued with controversy — he's been accused of sexual harassment and has ignited ire due to his positive statements about working with segregationist— and at last night's debate, he took another hit when Kamala Harris rightfully confronted him about past statements and stances.

Kamala Harris Confronts Joe Biden On Race | TIMEwww.youtube.com


Harris, a former prosecutor from California, the second black woman to ever be elected to the senate, and the only black woman vying for the presidency, turned her focus to Biden after telling the audience that she "would like to speak on the subject of race." Then, she said she was going to direct her next comments "at Vice President Joe Biden."

"I do not believe you are a racist, and I agree with you when you commit yourself to the importance of finding common ground," Harris said before revealing Biden's past work in opposing integration. This, she said, was "personal."

"It was hurtful to hear you talk about the reputations of two United States senators who built their reputations and career on the segregation of race in this country. And it was not only that, but you also worked with them to oppose busing," Harris added.

"And, you know, there was a little girl in California who was part of the second class to integrate her public schools, and she was bused to school every day. And that little girl was me," Harris revealed before stating that the subject of race can't be "an intellectual debate among democrats. We have to take it seriously. We have to act swiftly."

Biden responded by saying that Harris has mischaracterized him, noting his past as a public defender (and "not a prosecutor") and Vice President to Barack Obama before stating that everything he'd done in his career was in service to civil rights. Perhaps, in other cases, this would have been enough to get him back on even footing, but Harris, who continues to prove she's a formidable opponent and a strong candidate, shot back with a question about integration.

"Do you agree today that you were wrong to oppose busing in America then? Do you agree?" she asked.

"I did not oppose busing in America. What I opposed is busing ordered by the Department of Education. That's what I opposed. I did not oppose ——" Biden said.

"Well, there was a failure of states to integrate public schools in America. I was part of the second class to integrate Berkeley, California public schools almost two decades after Brown v. Board of Education," Harris shot back.

Biden and Harris face off on second night of debates | ABC Newswww.youtube.com

Biden's response that Harris' experience was a failure of local government landed flat, with Harris saying that the federal government must step in when states fail to support and protect civil rights.

"That's why we have the Voting Rights Act and the Civil Rights Act. That's why we need to pass the Equality Act. That's why we need to pass the E.R.A., because there are moments in history where states fail to preserve the civil rights of all people," she said.

Though Biden tried to fight back, it was clear that no prepared answer would work. And while many might still see his performance at the debate as solid — especially in comparison to freshly-minted viral sensation Marianne Williamson — his responses are a reminder that we must hold those who seek power accountable for their actions.

Will Harris win the nomination? That's still to be seen. But last night's performance sent the message that she's not going down without interrogating the decisions her opponents have made.

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This Australian nailed why churches should stop fighting gay marriage.

A comedian and archbishop walk into a bar to chat politics, and what happened next was no laughing matter.

On a recent episode of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation's "Q&A," actor and comedian Magda Szubanski (Mrs. Hoggett in "Babe") debated Anglican archbishop of Sydney Glenn Davies on the merits of same-sex marriage — a hot-button issue currently being voted on in Australia.

Szubanski and Davies were there representing opposing sides of the heated issue. Szubanski, who is openly gay, supports the country's "yes" campaign in favor of legalizing same-sex marriage, while Davies has been rallying the country to vote "no."


In an emotional plea with Davies that has since gone viral, Szubanski passionately explained why the church should have much more limited influence in shaping public policy.

Same-sex marriage: Magda Szubanski nails it on Q&A

Magda Szubanski nails it on Q&A: "You won't even let me marry outside the Church … Why should you have the right to tell me or any other person, straight or gay, what they do in the civil domain? That's not your domain."

Posted by Guardian Australia on Monday, October 23, 2017

"Now, I accept that the church will never marry me. That grieves me in ways that you will never know," Szubanski began, her voice tight.

But, she said, that's something she's come to accept:

"I’m less of an atheist than people would think. 74.9% of people in Australia get married outside the church. Now, I accept that the church will never marry me. That grieves me in ways that you will never know. I’m the one in my family, when I buried my parents, I organized every detail of the requiem masses, I wrote the orders of service, I put the pall over my mother’s coffin."

[rebelmouse-image 19532375 dam="1" original_size="500x275" caption="GIF via "Q&A."" expand=1]GIF via "Q&A."

Growing frustrated, Szubanski pointed out how outrageous it is that the church should have any authority to also decide who can get married outside of its doors:

"Now, I accept that the Catholic church will never marry me. But you won’t even let me marry outside the church. … Fair enough, in your domain, you do what you like. We live in a 'live and let live' society. I don’t want to tell anyone else what to do."

Szubanski's brief but powerful argument was met with loud cheers from the live audience. A "yes" vote to legalize same-sex marriage in Australia, however, is far from assured.

The vote over gay marriage is heating up.

A mail-in, voluntary survey — which began in September and will close on Nov. 7 — will prompt the Australian parliament to debate and vote on the issue, should the "yes" campaign garner more votes. That will likely lead to a change in public policy. If "no" wins out, however, the status quo — which gives no legal right for same-sex partners to wed — will remain. (It's a ... complicated process.)

Australians overwhelmingly support same-sex marriage, public polling has shown. But as the end to the mail-in vote draws nearer, advocates for the "yes" campaign have become increasingly concerned with low voter participation among key groups, particularly younger Australians, who they see as crucial to changing the law in favor of LGBTQ rights.

A "yes" victory might seem inevitable, which could be contributing to lower turnout, some have said noted — but it's anything but. And if voters don't decide at the ballot box, the church will, as Szubanski noted.

"Why should you have the right to tell me — or any other person, straight or gay — what they do in the civil domain?" Szubanski asked Davies, as the audience cheered. "That’s not your domain."

Preach.

Margaret Marshall and Rachael Kauffung have found a delightful way of dealing with all the negative news from the past 12 to 18 months.

The two friends, who first met as co-workers at Amazon, have a major yen for games of all kinds and began holding weekly game nights as a way to de-stress.

In looking for new games to play, however, they noticed a lack of options that left everyone feeling good at the end of the night. Popular indie card game Cards Against Humanity brands itself "the party game for horrible people" while other games like Risk or Monopoly pit players against each other. Even games like Pandemic that require player collaboration to win can be kind of a downer at a time when Zika and Ebola have been part of the global conversation.


So the friends created a brand new game, one designed to make people feel good.

They called it Sway: A Game of Debate and Silver Linings.

Unlike other games, where players weigh worst-case scenarios or fight over hypothetical boardwalks while trying not to go broke or land in jail, players win Sway through the power of positive thinking.

Photo via Sway, used with permission.

In each round of the game, players go head-to-head in 30-second debates on various topics (both silly and serious) and win if they can “sway” the judge for the round. The twist? Players can only use positive arguments.

Oh, and occasionally players are challenged to present their arguments in Scottish accents or while doing a challenging yoga pose to get extra points. And when you win, you do a happy dance.

Just kidding. Dancing is totally optional. Photo via Sway creators, used with permission.

In the spirit of positivity and silver linings, Kauffung and Marshall have also decided to donate part of the game's profits to a charitable cause.

Image via B+ Foundation.

Kauffung's father, who recently lost his own battle with cancer, had always been passionate about fighting pediatric cancer. So for every game purchased, Silver Linings Games (the company that makes Sway) will donate $1 to B+ Foundation, an organization that supports families of kids with cancer.

Marshall and Kauffung hope playing Sway helps people remember that there's more to life than winning or being right — and that there's a silver lining to everything.

"[Sway is] not about winning or being right," Marshall and Kauffung explain in an email. "It's about silliness and silver linings and having a good time with people you care about (even if you disagree with them)."

As someone who recently played Sway for the first time, I can honestly say it's super easy to learn, definitely challenging, and filled with unexpected hilarity. It's a great way to dissolve tensions that may have built up between families and friends without letting competitive gameplay bring out the worst in you.

Not to mention, there was a study conducted at the University of North Carolina that found consistent positive thinking can make you happier, healthier, and more productive.

Photo via Sway creators, used with permission.

Whatever your way of reflecting on the positive things in life may be, it's important to remember how many reasons you have to laugh, cheer, and embrace the people around you. After all, it's hard to be mad when you're watching your friend try to explain the benefits of arachnophobia in a thick Boston accent — because that is not easy, but it is hilarious.

Want to learn more? Here's a fun video from the creators about Sway: