Politics. Whether you like it or not, this is an incredibly important topic! Today, Paige and Mariah do their best to explain the always entertaining, often confusing United States political system.
Paige: You’re listening to Coffee with Gringos. I’m Paige Sutherland.
Mariah: And I’m Mariah Wika! Welcome back to the show! The theme of today’s episode is politics. Dun, dun, dun… It’s a topic that you either love to love or you love to hate, but no matter what, it’s part of our life, and so… we’re going to chat about it today. And remember, if you get lost along the way, the transcript and the vocabulary guide are right there on our website to help you out.
Paige: Okay, so, to start off… me and Mariah, as you all know, are from the US. And we had quite a big election that happened last week.
Mariah: Yeah, recently we had midterm elections. So, midterm elections, they’re not presidential, they’re basically for some of the seats in Congress in both the House and the Senate.
Paige: And it’s usually a big election because it kind of sways the power.
Paige: So, in the US we have two main political parties. We have the Democrats, which are more liberal, more left-wing. And then we have the Republicans, which is the right-wing, conservative.
Mariah: In Chile, I’ve realized that a lot of people have pretty solid knowledge of the US political system. I’ve been surprised and a little bit humbled because I certainly didn’t have that knowledge of the Chilean system prior to coming here. But for those of you who don’t know, and it’s obviously totally fine if you don’t! In the US, we have the Executive Branch of power, the Judicial Branch of power, and then we have the Legislative Branch, which is our congressional branch and includes two main parts. It includes the Senate, and it includes the House of Representatives. And in the midterm elections, there are usually many, many seats availabe in both the house and the Senate, and depending on what happens, that balance of power between the House of Representatives and the Senate can sometimes change. And when it changes, we call it “flipping the House,” and when it doesn’t change, we call it “holding the House” or “holding the Senate.” So, for example, in the last election, Democrats flipped the House, and they now have control. And the Republicans held the Senate.
Paige: Exactly, so it was a very, very important election for both those political parties. And so in the US, we are federal, but we also have state law. So the midterm elections was federal positions. We’re talking about House Representatives, we’re talking about Senators. So, to break that down too, each state gets two senators and the House of Representatives depends on the size... the population of your state. So, a state like Rhode Island that is very small has fewer House Representatives than a state like California. So, it’s really based on size when it comes to your House Reps. And that’s federally. This is talking about in Washington DC. But each state has their own laws.
Mariah: Right, and I’m glad that you brought that up Paige because I think people often forget about the major importance of local politics, and elections like these… for United States citizens, they’re a huge opportunity to vote on local politics and vote for politicians that will change things in your own community because obviously federal law is not as personalized to the things that you are your family experience on a day-to-day basis.
Paige: No, and some of the big elections that happened in the midterms were races for governor. So, a lot of states had those seats open, and a governor is basically a president of a state. He is the executive branch of that state.
Mariah: Or she!
Paige: Or she, sorry! So, that person basically maintains that state. They oversee the laws that are passed in that state. The enforcement. They’re basically, like I said, the president of that state. So, very important. And like Mariah said, it’s more personal! The laws that each state have touch your life a little bit more, than say, a federal law does.
Mariah: Right, exactly. Yeah, you’re voting for somebody that intimately knows and can represent your district for example. And that, that’s different than voting for a senator that will serve you nationally.
Paige: So, like Mariah was saying, federally we have House Reps and Senators. And each state has their own House Rep and Senator as well. And so, if you live in a state like say, Minnesota, you have your state House Rep, and you have your State Senators. And then you have your Federal Senators and your Federal House Reps.
Mariah: It’s a little complex. There’s a lot going on. I know that something that people know more about here, especially because when a president is elected of any country in the world, it has global shockwaves, right? And, something that Paige and I have talked about is that in the United States, presidents can serve… they serve a four year term, but then they can run for re-election and serve another four-year term. But consecutively. This is different than in Chile because I learned, we both learned, that here, you can serve a four-year term, then you have to stop, and then you can run for re-election! I was completely surprised by that. It’s a really fascinating system.
Paige: And it’s interesting that the past two presidents have done so.
Mariah: Right! Right, it was Bachelet, Pinera, Bachelet, Pinera.
Paige: So it’s not only the law, but it seems like it’s very normal here.
Mariah: Or, it has been!
Paige: It has been, at least recently. I wish I was here during the election, the most recent election. But I do know from research that it is very different. The US itself is just very different, where in 2016, when that election was over, people were already considering and looking at 2020, which is the next presidential election. In the US, it’s like this non-stop election campaigning period, where even the day after an election, people are already looking to the next one. It’s constant fundraising, campaigning, advocacy...
Paige: Where in most countries, there’s laws where you cannot campaign until a certain amount of time before the election. In the US, it’s like years… people just constantly campaign.
Mariah: Right, it feels like the political machine never rests in the United States. That’s what I would say.
Paige: The other thing I noticed was you can walk by La Moneda… and you can be, I mean, what… 300 feet away from the building? Where in the US, our La Moneda is the White House, and there’s a huge fence with military security… you can barely poke your eye in to see the White House. You can get nowhere near. Where here, there’s even a street that goes behind La Moneda that you can drive by.
Mariah: Right, so access to government buildings is really, really different. Didn’t you go to La Moneda the other day?
Paige: Yeah! Besides teaching, I also am a reporter, and I was interviewing someone there. I set up the interview the day before, I just showed my ID, I walked in, and I was inside La Moneda, and I was in someone’s office interviewing them. Where in the US, I’ve done interviews in the White House, but you need to be pre-screened, I need to show my passport, I need to do this a week before before I can even get near the gate.
Mariah: Probably intense security once you enter…
Paige: Yeah, it was liberating! It was nice that, it was like the people have access. You walk by La Moneda… people are outside having picnics and hanging out with friends and enjoying the green space right in front of it. Where in the US, it’s like, we’re a democracy but we’re caged up!
Mariah: Right, you can look at the home of the United States’ democracy behind a very large and imposing fence.
Paige: With huge rifles!
Mariah: Yeah, I like that too. Spaces are important, and when a government building feels like it belongs to the people, I think that that’s a really cool element of a country’s politics.
Paige: The biggest thing that I’ve realized too when I’ve talked to a lot of my students about politics, and I think that you will take this away from this episode is that it’s confusing. The US politics are complex because we are this federal government that is state-run as well. So, when people talk about “Oh, this is going on in the US!” It’s like…oh, that’s actually a Texas law. I don’t have that law in Massachusetts! Or, I heard about this law in California… well, we don’t have this law in Minnesota. So, it’s very, very…
Mariah: Convoluted. Totally. I agree.
Paige: So we talked about how important the midterm elections were, but did you vote in the midterm elections, Mariah?
Mariah: Absolutely. Absolutely. Voting, to me, is a really important way to participate in the political process. And I feel really lucky because Minnesota is a state that tries really hard to make voting accessible, and so for example, if you’re in the state, you can do same-day registration. You can register to vote, vote that day, awesome. And, in terms of voting from afar, I sent an email requesting an absentee ballot with a form with some of my information, they emailed me a ballot, they emailed me a PDF of my ballot, I printed it, I voted, and then I mailed it right back. It was a painless process. It was easy. And, it felt good to have my vote counted. How about you? Did you vote?
Paige: I did! I went home in October, and so I did a similar process, but I actually went in and got the absentee ballot and just filled it out and sent it in right then when I was home. But no, like you said, I think that we are abroad, we are living in Chile, but the politics that are still going on in our homes are important, and we should have a voice in it!
Mariah: Totally, and I know that in some countries, it’s not possible to vote from a distance, and so I feel fortunate that we’re able to do that in our country. Voting’s good. Make your voice heard.
Paige: So, even though, we were talking about politics today, I hope that this didn’t feel too political.
Mariah: Or too boring!
Paige: We just felt like it was good to…
Mariah: Politics are talked about everywhere! They’re talked about in the United States, they’re talked about here, and as the world becomes more and more globalized, these are conversations that are just going to keep happening more and more.
Paige: So these are good tools for your toolbox.
Mariah: Exactly. Thanks for listening, and we’ll talk to you soon!
KEY VOCABULARY, PHRASES, AND SLANG
Love to love or love to hate (phrase) - something that you truly enjoy or that you enjoy having negative feelings about
Example: Politics is a topic that you either love to love or love to hate.
Start off (phrasal verb) - to begin
Example: To start off, Mariah and I are going to talk about the recent midterm elections that happened in the United States.
Midterm elections (noun) - in the United States, the general elections that happen two years into a president’s four year term
Example: The midterm elections happy halfway through a presidency. In the midterms, citizens vote for federal, state, and local officials.
Seats (noun) - available positions
Example: During the midterms, many congressional seats are open.
Sway (verb) - to move from side to side
Example: And it’s usually a big election because it sways the power.
Political parties (noun) - an organized group of people with similar views
Example: In the US, we have two main political parties.
Democrats (noun) - the left-wing, liberal political party
Example: In 2016, Hillary Clinton was the candidate for the Democrats.
Republicans (noun) - the right-wing, conservative political party
Example: In 2016, Donald Trump was the candidate for the Republicans.
Humbled (adjective) - to feel less proud
Example: In Chile, I’ve realized that a lot of people have pretty solid knowledge of the US political system. I’ve been surprised and a little bit humbled because I certainly didn’t have that knowledge of the Chilean system prior to coming here.
Branch (noun) - in the political context, a large section or part
Example: The United States government has three main branches.
Executive Branch (noun) - the part of the US government that is administrative, includes the president
Example: The Executive Branch implements the laws passed by Congress.
Legislative Branch (noun) - the part of the US government that makes laws
Example: The Senate and the House of Representatives are part of the Legislative Branch.
Judicial Branch (noun) - the part of the US government that interprets the law and administers justice
Example: The Supreme Court is part of the Judicial Branch.
Senate/Senators (noun) - the upper section of the United States Congress, the people who serve in the Senate
Example: Each state elects two senators to serve in the Senate.
House of Representatives/House Reps - the lower section of the United States Congress, the people who serve in the House of Representatives
Example: House Reps work together in the House of Representatives to create laws for people in the United States.
Flip (verb) - in a political context, when the power changes
Example: In the most recent midterm election, Democrats flipped the House of Representatives.
Hold (verb) - in a political context, when the power doesn’t change
Example: In the most recent midterm election, Republicans held the Senate.
Federal (noun) - the national level of government in the US
Example: The United States is governed at a federal level and a state level.
Term (noun) - the amount of time a politician can serve
Example: In Chile, the president can serve four-year terms non-consecutively.
Convoluted (adjective) - confusing or unclear
Example: In general, politics can be very convoluted.
Fundraise (adjective) - to raise money for something
Example: Politicians are often fundraising non-stop in the United States.
Ballot (noun) - the document you complete when you vote
Example: Since I’m in Chile, I had to mail my ballot to Minnesota. That’s called an absentee ballot!
Same-day registration (noun) - when a state allows voters to register on the day of the election
Example: Minnesota makes voting very accessible because it has a same-day registration law.