THE LANGUAGE OF POWER

White House Lingo: 10 Essential Political Terms Decoded


Published on July 7, 2024


Credit: Harold Mendoza

Politics can sometimes feel like a maze of jargon and buzzwords (almost as if it were designed to obfuscate newcomers). The truth is that even seasoned journalists and experts can get confused sometimes , so feeling lost in this linguistic mess is nothing to be ashamed of!

To help navigate this complex landscape, we've decoded 10 essential political terms that will help you engage more meaningfully with the complex world of politics.

1

Caucus

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A caucus is a meeting of members of a political party or movement to discuss and deliberate on issues, select candidates, and determine policy positions. While the exact etymology of the word is not known, it is speculated that it could have been derived from the Algonquian word for "counsel."

Unlike primaries, caucuses involve open discussions and multiple rounds of voting , making them a more interactive and participatory form of democratic decision-making. In some special cases, voters aren’t even required to register with a political party to take part in the caucus.

2

Donkeys and Elephants

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Donkeys and elephants have been iconic symbols of the Democratic and Republican parties, respectively, at least since the 19th century.

The donkey was first associated with the Democrats during the presidency of Andrew Jackson , while the elephant became linked to the Republicans thanks to a political cartoon by Thomas Nast. Today, these two symbols are widely recognized and used to represent the two major political parties in the United States.

3

Gerrymandering

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Gerrymandering is the controversial practice of manipulating the boundaries of electoral districts to favor one party over another. By strategically redrawing district lines, politicians can dilute the voting power of certain communities or consolidate their own support base.

The term is a portmanteau of the word salamander and Elbridge Gerry , a politician who - during his tenure as governor of Massachusetts in 1812 - signed a bill that created a partisan district in the Boston area, at the time compared to the shape of a salamander.

4

Filibuster

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Another highly controversial figure, the filibuster is a tactic used in legislative bodies to delay or block a vote on a proposed bill. It involves a member of the assembly speaking for an extended period, often on unrelated topics, to prevent the bill from reaching a vote.

The stalling practice is as old as democracy, and one of its first recorded practitioners was the Roman senator Cato the Younger. Extensively used in the United States Senate, the only current way to effectively end a filibuster is a procedure called "cloture," though a minimum of 16 senators must sign the petition.

5

Lobbying

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Lobbying refers to the efforts of individuals or groups to influence government decisions , typically by advocating for specific policies or legislation. Lobbyists often work on behalf of corporations, interest groups, or nonprofits to sway lawmakers in their favor.

There are even professional lobbyists , hired by various organizations to aid their cause. Though the practice of lobbying is not illegal per se, it is often considered controversial as it can lead to elected officials failing to serve the public interest in favor of special interest groups.

6

Bipartisanship

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Bipartisanship is the cooperation or agreement between two opposing political parties. It often involves compromise and negotiation to achieve mutually beneficial outcomes, even in the face of ideological differences.

As a phenomenon, it mostly applies to countries with a strong two-party system, such as the United States , though it can rarely be applied to different political scenarios.

7

Grassroots

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Grassroots movements are organized efforts by ordinary citizens to promote social or political change from the bottom up. These movements often mobilize local communities to advocate for specific causes or influence public policy.

Though the origins of the word are obscure, an early reference to the term was used by Senator Albert Jeremiah Beveridge of Indiana in 1912, who said of the Progressive Party that "(it) has come from the grass roots. It has grown from the soil of people's hard necessities."

8

Checks and Balances

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Checks and balances refer to the system of separate powers within a government that ensures one branch doesn't become too powerful. This principle, integral to many democracies, helps maintain accountability and prevent abuses of power.

The French philosopher Montesquieu is often attributed with one of the first proposals for the separation of powers through a tripartite system that provided mechanisms to fight the centralization of power in one branch of government.

9

Soft Power

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Soft power is the ability of a country to influence others through cultural, economic, or diplomatic means , rather than through coercion or force. It's about winning hearts and minds , fostering goodwill, and shaping global perceptions.

Political scientist Joseph Nye was the first to popularize the concept of "soft power" in the late 80s, arguing that - in contrast with "hard" or coercive power - it aims to get others to want the same outcomes one is looking for.

10

Bellwether State

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A bellwether state is one that can purportedly predict the outcome of a presidential election through its electoral results. This might happen due to its electorate closely matching the patterns of larger areas, for various demographic reasons.

These states are often seen as indicators of national trends and can play a pivotal role in predicting the outcome of elections. Ohio is often cited as a bellwether state due to its historical tendency to vote for the winning presidential candidate.


THE CRADLE OF CIVILIZATION

All The Ways Ancient Greece Influenced The Modern World


Published on July 7, 2024


Credit: Aleksandar Pasaric

Ancient Greece stands as a beacon of civilization, a cradle of democracy, philosophy, arts, and more and it continues to blow our minds centuries later.

This captivating country has come a long, long way, and it has evolved over thousands of years influencing the world as we know it today in more than one way: political structures, sports events, scientific discoveries, everything we take for granted today was once a breakthrough made by this civilization.

Read on and delve into some of the most influential aspects of Ancient Greece!

1

Democracy and government

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Democracy is probably among the most important contributions from Ancient Greece. Even if it was exercised differently, the essence of democracy still remains.

According to its Greek roots, democracy means "government by the people" and it is a form of government by means of which the power is vested in the people who, directly or indirectly, choose their representatives through elections.

The difference between democracy then and democracy as we know it today, is that only a small portion of the population was allowed to participate . In Ancient Greece, the democratic government consisted of an assembly of 6,000 adult male citizens who voted on all kinds of issues. Similar to today’s system, a majority of votes were needed for laws to be passed.

Thanks to the evolution of societies and the system itself, men and women from all walks of life are allowed to vote and contribute to democratic governments today.

2

Trial by Jury

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The institution of trial by jury is a cornerstone of modern legal systems, but it can be traced back to the democratic principles discussed before. This concept back then was not so different from today’s: it was a judicial process that aimed to provide a resolution to conflicts and justice in civil and criminal matters.

The jurors were chosen through a random allocation among the citizenry and they were in charge of hearing the evidence, assessing the testimonies, and determining the innocence (or not) of the accused.

This breakthrough shaped legal systems and principles that are still set in stone today and it remains a fundamental way to cherish the principles of justice and democracy.

3

The Olympics

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No Gods are honored in the present, but we still hold some of the traditions of this ancient sports event. The Olympic Games, which receive their name after the city they were held in, Olympia, were much more than just a sporting event back then.

First and foremost, the Olympics were a sacred ritual to honor Zeus , the God of the Sky and Thunder, they were held every four years and all kinds of (sometimes dangerous) sports were played. Swimming, gymnastics, and "pankration" a hybrid between wrestling and boxing, that could turn the place into a bloodbath in a matter of minutes.

Today, the Olympics aim to bring the nations together to feature their sports stars , but some traditions are still displayed: the olive leaf crowns, the opening and closing ceremonies, and, of course, the great lightning of the flame.

4

Mythology

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Zeus, Hercules, Hera, Hades, you probably know all of these names. That is because Greek mythology and its stories are some of the best-known in the whole world. Not only served us with legendary myths of every topic we can imagine, but it has inspired thousands of versions of those myths and their main figures.

Greek mythology inspired iconic pieces of art, like The Birth of Venus, a painting by Sandro Botticelli that depicts the Roman equivalent of the Greek goddess Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, sex, and desire.

On the other end of inspiration, Greek Mythology made it all the way to Disney movies , considering that their version of "Hercules" is one of the most famous adaptations of the myth.

The variety of universal topics dealt with in Greek mythology has permeated and there is no sign this will stop anytime soon.

5

Modern Medicine

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Ancient Greece contributed to medical advancements that represented a pivotal moment in the evolution of healthcare practices. Medicine as a discipline was already a common practice in places like China or Egypt, but the standardization of it can be attributed to the Greeks. In this sense, modern medicine is very similar to ancient medicine since it consists of a diagnosis and a consequent treatment .

Moreover, Hippocrates, a well-known physician of the time, made contributions in terms of work ethics. For this reason, he is known as the "Father of Medicine" and his name is still honored with the title of the oath made by doctors today, the Hippocratic Oath. We have him to thank for the categorization of diseases and the use of prognosis too.

6

Architectural Marvels

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The concept of beauty and proportion of the ancient Greeks is probably one of their most characteristic features. Even if we think of the time, the architectural achievements are a true testament to the artistic prowess of this civilization.

At the heart of this field, we will find Doric, Ionic, and Corinthians orders . Each of these had distinctive features and proportions and they all exemplified different things. The Parthenon, a masterpiece of Doric design, for example, was praised for its harmonious proportions and mind-blowing craftsmanship .

Temples, theaters, stadiums, agoras, and all kinds of civic buildings were just the beginning of architecture as we know it today. Together with democracy, the principles embodied in their view of architecture can be easily considered to keep inspiring us centuries later.

7

Philosophy

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Ancient Greece and philosophy are one and the same. And that is because the philosophical heritage of the Greeks was a true cradle of civilization.

This doesn’t mean they invented "thinking," but they surely came up with a name for the art of it. Philosophy comes from two Greek words, philos, which means "love" and sophia ****, "wisdom." In essence, the discipline was in the quest for knowledge and tried to systematically answer existential questions.

Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle are the fathers of philosophy, responsible for laying the foundations of a comprehensive system. Their work has shaped thousands of studies and sciences around the world and throughout history offering deep insights on the human condition and reality itself. Academic knowledge as we know it today, especially in the Western world, wouldn’t exist were it not for these key figures.

8

Linguistics: Language and Literature

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This ancient civilization has left a mark also through words and lexicon. Fields like mathematics, astronomy, medicine and, as we said, philosophy are full of terminology with roots in the Greek language .

The ancient Greek language is unparalleled in terms of precision and clarity, and its grammar had a profound impact on the development of linguistic theories and analysis of today. Needless to say, our understanding of language structure, morphology, and syntax wouldn’t be the same without the influence of the ancient Greeks.

In the same way, literary contributions were the way to preserve all these cultural elements we discuss today. Books like the Iliad and the Odyssey, which depict the Homeric epics, laid the groundwork for narrative conventions that are still present in Western literature today.

9

Art and Aesthetics

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Ancient Greek art stands today as a testament to their ceaseless pursuit of beauty, symmetry, and the human form. The art of this civilization encompassed a wide range of media including pottery, painting, and sculpture.

The most iconic features were the mastery of technique and, again, an acute sense of proportion which was an innovation back then. And quite impressive today when you come across any of their sculptures. In terms of topics, the Greeks were concerned with universal themes in all fields: human nature, beauty, and truth.

They have undeniably influenced all kinds of artistic movements throughout history and this is a legacy that continues to inspire artists and art lovers today.

10

Naval Innovations

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The naval innovations of the ancient Greeks are also a defining chapter in maritime history. At the forefront of this revolution stood the trireme warship which, as its name indicates, was powered by three rows of oarsmen arranged in tires. This ship boasted unparalleled speed and agility and enabled the Greeks to assert control over strategic points and trade routes in the Mediterranean.

Their expertise showcased a sense of innovation and they became pioneers in shipbuilding which ultimately shaped the evolution of sea voyages and traditions to come.

Looking for an extra scoop of literary fun?

Learn more with our Word of the day

quibble

/ˈkwɪb(ə)l/