Why you should care
Because to truly understand American politics, you need to speak its language.
In his irreverent 1906 masterpiece, The Devil’s Dictionary, the 19th-century American writer Ambrose Bierce took aim at all manner of human hypocrisies, sins and shortcomings by penning a lexicon of cynical word definitions for a cynical age.
As we enter the epic 21st-century political shitstorm that will be this year’s presidential contest between Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, we at OZY have prepared our own “Devil’s Guide to the 2016 Election” to see you through the heartburn, disillusionment and rampant cynicism that will be your constant news companions during the remainder of this election season. Here are the terms you need to know:
advice and consent, n. Constitutionally derived power under which the U.S. Senate may discourage and reject a Supreme Court appointment made by a president of the opposing party.
American Dream, n. The birthright of every U.S. citizen to lease a marginally better automobile than the one their parents once owned.
Beltway, n. A disenfranchised cocktail community ringed by traffic congestion and poor government, unified only by a love of crabcakes and a disdain for Ted Cruz.
Bernie Bro, n. A principled political theorist who rails against everything his white male predecessors have done to rig the political system by making derogatory Facebook comments about the first woman with a legitimate chance of scaling it.
border, n. An imaginary boundary requiring barbed wire and fence sufficient to keep out hardworking economic migrants but porous enough to allow recreational drugs to reach the suburbs.
brinkmanship, n. A hardball political strategy whereby members of Congress hold the parents hostage in order to pick the child’s pocket.
campaign, n. An expensive, well-orchestrated attempt to persuade your fellow citizens to make your personal ambitions their righteous cause.
Citizens United, n. Shorthand for the U.S. Supreme Court’s belief that money is speech in the same way that a fire hose is a faucet.
Congress, n. The only whorehouse that loses money. — D.C. proverb
conservative, n. One who admires radicals centuries after they’re dead. — Leo Rosten
constitution, n. A loosely worn, conveniently ambiguous foundational undergarment capable of concealing all manner of scars and harms, from firearms to porn mags.
convention, n. An elaborate contraption whereby the will of a political party’s insiders is converted into the will of its members.
debate, n. A nationally televised forum in which moderators provide candidates with alternating, 30-second opportunities to evade questioning.
delegate, n. See elector, One who enjoys the sacred privilege of voting for the man of another man’s choice. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
democracy, n. A system in which you and a person who just wrote an outrageously racist Internet comment containing several grammatical errors are indistinguishable. — Verge’s “The New Devil’s Dictionary”
democratic socialist, n. A socialist with better teeth.
discrimination, n. The act of safeguarding one’s own prejudices about what a normal life entails by preventing others from experiencing one.
donor, n. In a democratic republic, the primary instrument for expressing the will of the people; not to be confused with a voter.
Drudge Report, n. A popular “news” website with the vocabulary of a third-grader and the design aesthetic of a ransom note.
election, n. To paraphrase H.L. Mencken, the process by which jackasses select their favorite jackals.
electoral college, n. A prestigious college that issues no grades to its enrollees but perpetually flunks democracy.
endorsement, n. An act of political symbiosis in which one politician attempts to feed her struggling campaign by allowing a weaker politician to suck its blood.
flip-flopper, n. A politician caught in the act.
Florida, n. Sun-drenched state where America’s elderly, and its electoral democracy, routinely go to die.
freedom, n. My sacred right to be left to my own devices while I am plotting how to interfere with yours.
honest, adj. Among politicians, possessing a sophisticated gift for deception.
hypocrite, n. Critic’s label for the individual gifted in the art of consistent pandering.
inauguration, n. A scepterless coronation with bleacher seats.
lame-duck Congress, n. Where some fellows worked for you and their work wasn’t satisfactory and you let ’em out, but after you fired ’em, you let ’em stay long enough so they could burn your house down. — Will Rogers
liberal, n. A man too broad-minded to take his own side in a quarrel. — Robert Frost
lie, v. What a politician does with his mouth when he is not eating.
marriage, n. For a Clinton, a wife’s stepping-stone to power; for a Trump, a wife’s pathway to citizenship.
Meet the Press, n. Beat the Press.
nominate, v. To offer up a sacrificial political lamb on the altar of public opinion.
October surprise, n. Sudden external circumstance just prior to an election that gives you the cover to vote as your prejudices have dictated all along.
opportunity, n. A chance missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work. — Thomas Edison
party, n. One of only two classes of political restroom available for citizens of a nation founded upon a respect for a spectrum of political identities.
political language, n. Speech designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable. — George Orwell
politician, n. Public official possessing the qualities of a diaper that needs to be changed often, and for the same reason. — Based on the popular bumper sticker
POLITICO, n. TMZ for ugly people.
politics, n. The conduct of public affairs for private advantage. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
president, n. An office for which it necessary to raise and spend a billion dollars for the privilege of being vilified while living and having a high school named after you when you are dead.
public servant, n. A necessary posture or apprenticeship for those striving to become the public’s master.
pundit, n. A huckster of words who sells speculation as if it were wheat and discards facts as if they were chaff.
radical, n. A man with both feet planted firmly — in the air. — Franklin D. Roosevelt
recount, n. A process by which the fruits of a democratic outcome are jettisoned in favor of the pits left over after the lawyers and rented mobs have had a good chew.
religious right, n. The denizens of a moral high ground who want an oppressive government out of their lives as deeply as they desire to have their deity inhabit yours; not to be confused with radical Islam.
running mate, n. A comfortably inferior politician who can complement the shortcomings of your candidacy without compromising your ego.
senator, n. A call center operator with her own driver and stationery.
soccer mom, n. That species of American mother whose onerous after-school schedule can be used to justify everything from censorship to pre-emptive war.
stump speech, n. The political corollary of the The Giving Tree, whereby the candidate can give you nothing but his stump.
superdelegate, n. A peculiar species of elected representative that is neither elected nor representative.
super PAC, n. A constitutionally protected device allowing media companies to sell millions of dollars of air to the nation’s wealthiest individuals, who are allowed to remain comfortably anonymous in their purchasing folly.
swing state, n. The motley, indecisive debutante receiving the multitude of a suitor’s time and money while more attractive and deserving prospects are ignored entirely.
Twitter, n. Popular means for perpetrating short-form, incomprehensible character assassination.
tyrant, n. A man not having control of himself who attempts to rule others. — Plato
vote, n. The instrument and symbol of a freeman’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country. — Ambrose Bierce, The Devil’s Dictionary
voter protection, n. The act of shielding a voter from electoral fraud by snatching her actual vote before a bogeyman can take her theoretical one.
voters, n. Lost souls who repeatedly select the lesser of two evil roads only to find themselves right back in the ditch where they began.
Wall Street, n. Members of a sadistic financial class who pay politicians handsomely for the pleasure of being whipped prior to an election and pleasured after it.