Debunking Commonly Misused Political Terminology

We’re less than a month away from one of the most contentious elections in living memory.

Because of modern functions like social media and instantaneous news, we’re all expected to be political scientists and grassroots activists.

The stakes seem to be so high, we’re all left feeling like we’re doing too much, not doing enough, or shouting into the void. 

Social scientists and documentarians have long warned about the divisive effect of social media. The predictive analysis mechanisms of our feeds are capable of showing you news articles and updates curated just for you… based on what you’re likeliest to click on.

It’s a total mess. 

That’s where part of the righteous rage comes from when we gasp in disbelief at people who don’t feel the same way that we do – how can we all be coming to different conclusions based on the same information unless there’s a basic difference in our moral make-ups?

Well, we’re not all looking at the same information.

So what’s true? What’s real? How can we tell the difference between fact and fiction if we can’t all agree on a collective truth?

Even our network news is so deeply divided and addicted to dog whistles and buzzwords, the citizens of this country feel they can’t trust mainstream media to report accurately and without bias.

Not to mention, if you say the wrong thing in the wrong crowd, look to the ground and you’ll find little pieces of sky all around your feet – you just capsized yourself. 

And as we become more radical in our opinions, we tend to interpret the same vocabulary we hear over and over again completely differently from our neighbors on the other side of the aisle. 

The words themselves are losing meaning.

That’s done on purpose – the more confused and angry you are, the better customer you make, to either political party.  

By taking these terms and changing their meaning depending on the speaker, today’s politicians have their marketing work cut out for them. They can inflame you with a misapplied word, bait you with fake rhetoric, and snag your vote.

Our best weapon against mass manipulation?

Personal education.

Let’s take a look at what some of these commonly misused terms actually mean…

Communism: This theory, developed by Karl Marx, advocates for power and property to be distributed equally among the people, and not the ruling class – whether governmental or corporate. It’s an ideology in which there would be no social class. It is considered intrinsically at odds with a democratically-run government, as authoritarianism is necessary for the means of production to be taken from the ruling class and given to the people.   

Democracy: This kind of government reflects the responsibility of the people to choose their elected officials, most commonly through the popular vote. It focuses on compartmentalizing powers through different departments. It doesn’t inherently imply one system of economic organization over any other. 

Fascism: It is a style of government adopted by far-right movements. Its main tenets include authoritarianism, hypernationalism, and forcible government suppression of opposition. It came to prominence in the early 20th century in Italy and has appeared in many places since. It is usually anti-liberal, anti-communist, and anti-conservative. 

Socialism: This is mostly an economic theory based on common or public ownership of the means of production, as well as common and scaled investments in social programs such as healthcare and public transit, but with severe government oversight. In this system, property and economic resources belong to the people and not the state. It is often thought of as a less extreme form of communism. (Think Cuba.)

Capitalism: It is a mode of economic governing in which a country’s industry and finances are controlled and grown through the private sector for profit and not by the government itself. It is characterized by minimally regulated businesses, the frequent development of monopolies, and strong economic opportunities for intrepid citizens. 

Democratic Socialism: This is an economic theory meant to operate alongside a democratic government. It affects how public services are funded by way of regulating businesses more heavily and creating social safety nets baked into taxes. Universal healthcare and strong public transit are commonly associated with this economic system. (Think most European countries.)

Universal healthcare: Universal healthcare is a system in which the federal government offers health care to all of its citizens regardless of income. It is usually funded through taxes paid by the citizens and funds set aside in the government’s budget. It does not prevent the existence of private healthcare. 

Mail-in ballots: Ballots automatically mailed by states to registered voters that will be filled out and sent back in through the mail. Five states already engage exclusively in mail-in ballot practices, known as all-mail voting – Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. It operates in those five places mostly without incident. 

Absentee ballots: Ballots specifically requested by the voter to the federal government because they either will not be in their state at the time of an election or because of illness or disability preventing them from physically appearing at a polling location. They are effectively the same thing as a mail-in ballot, except that they are requested by the voter. 

Now, everyone is entitled to their own feelings regarding any of those terms. This is America, and that is every citizen’s right.

But those are their definitions. Political theory is complicated, and these are all condensed explanations.

If you hear these terms being misapplied, use that opportunity to consider who is using them, and what they might be trying to get you to do or think.

We’ll all need to be clear-headed and deliberate in our choices this election season. 

Stay vigilant about thinking for yourself – and remember that these words have fixed meanings in the real world, beyond our own insular political leanings.

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