American Democracy Will Remain A Mirage Without A Dramatic Overhaul Of The Political And Economic System

CJ Polychroniou

The progressive forces fighting for a democratic future have a truly herculean task ahead of them.

It is no longer an unknown fact or a view propounded by a handful of radical historians and political scientists: the American political system has such severe structural flaws that it is potentially antithetical to democracy and surely detrimental to the promotion of the common good.

Consider the following stark realizations about the condition of American democracy as evidence of the changing times:
The United States has been rated for a number of consecutive years by the Economist Intelligence Union as a “flawed democracy.”

Scores of highly respected mainstream scholars have analyzed massive amounts of data showing that public opinion counts very little in US policymaking (see, for example, Larry Bartels, Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age; Princeton University Press, 2nd ed., 2016) to conclude that the American political system works essentially in a manner that actually subverts the will of the common people.

Others, like Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, have argued that, because of rules set in the political system, the American economy is rigged to favor the rich, a view that is obviously wholeheartedly endorsed by Kishore Mahbubani, Distinguished Fellow from Asia Research Institute, at the National University of Singapore, when he declares that the US functions like a democracy but is actually a plutocracy.

And Timothy K. Kuhner,  Professor of Law at the University of Auckland, has gone even further by arguing most convincingly in King’s Law Journal that the United States isn’t only a plutocracy, but the only plutocracy in the world to be established by law.

To a large extent, of course, the structural flaws in the American political system have their origins in the many anti-democratic elements found in the Constitution. This is the view of eminent constitutional scholars such Erwin Chemerinsky, Dean and Distinguished Professor of Law at Berkeley Law School, and Sanford Levinson,  W. St. John Garwood and W. St. John Garwood, Jr. Centennial Chair in Law at the University of Texas Law School, and author of Our Undemocratic Constitution (Oxford University Press, 2006).

Let’s start with one of the basic principles of democracy which is “one person, one vote.” It is not applicable to the case of American “democracy” where US presidents are chosen by electors, not by popular vote. Hence the “democratic” anomaly of a candidate elected to become the 45th president of the United States after having lost the popular vote by a bigger margin than any other US president. Indeed, Donald Trump was elected president by trailing Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes.The same thing happened in 2000, when Al Gore won nearly half a million more votes than George W. Bush, but it was Bush who won the presidency by being declared winner in the state of Florida by less than 540 votes.

In any other modern democratic system, such electoral outcomes would be imaginable only if democracy was crushed by some kind of a military coup with the aim of installing in power the “preferred” candidate of the ruling class.
To be sure, there is nothing in the Constitution that grants American voters the right to choose their president. When American voters go to the polls to vote for a presidential candidate, what they are essentially doing is casting a vote for their preferred party’s nominated slate of electors.
The electoral college system is democracy’s ugliest anachronism. It was designed by the founding fathers in order to prevent the masses from choosing directly who will run the country, and it’s simply shocking that it still exists more than two hundred years later.

The existence of the electoral college system also helps to explain why voter turnout for the presidential elections in the world’s most outdated democratic model is consistently disturbingly low. More than 90 million eligible voters did not vote in the 2016 presidential election, in what was considered to be one of the most important elections in many generations because of the inflammatory and racist rhetoric of Donald Trump, and while there was a bigger turnout in 2020, the US is still incredibly low compared with other advanced democratic nations around the world when it comes to electoral participation, ranking 31st out of 35 developed countries in 2016, and 24th in 2020, respectively.

The existence of the two-party system (yet another “democratic” anomaly), and even the fact that elections are being held on a day when most people work, are also reasons for the low voter turnout in the US.
In addition, one could also argue that the reason why so many Americans are abstaining from voting, a cornerstone of democracy, is intrinsically related to the long-stemming pathologies of the American political culture, namely due to the manufacturing of a highly individualistic and consumer-driven society intended to promote conformism, ignorance and apathy about public affairs all while the rich and powerful control policymaking.

However, an even bigger “democratic” anomaly than the presence of the electoral college system revolves around US senate representation. A tiny state such as Wyoming, with barely 600,000 residents, has the same number of Senators on Capitol Hill as does California, with nearly 40 million residents. This translates, roughly, to Wyoming voters having 70 times more Senate representation than California voters. Moreover, since most of the smaller states have overwhelmingly white residents, it also means that whites have much larger representation in the Senate than Black and Hispanic Americans.

The undemocratic nature of Senate representation might not have been such a huge problem if its powers were similar to those of upper houses found in many other countries in the world, which tend to be overwhelmingly less than those of the lower houses. In the US, however, the Senate is far more powerful than the House of Representatives as it has virtually complete control over federal legislating and acts as the gatekeeper on treaties,  cabinet approvals, and nominations to the Supreme Court.

Yet, perhaps an even bigger insult and injury to the body politic and the promotion of the common good in the U.S. is the privatization of democracy through the role of money in campaigns and elections. Campaign finance laws in the U.S. always posed at least an indirect threat to democracy by allowing private money to play a very prominent role in the financing of elections, but the 2010 Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United vs Federal Election Commission, which shifted even further the influence of dark money on politics by reversing whatever campaign finance restrictions were still in place and essentially declaring that corporations were effectively citizens and thus could spend unlimited funds on elections, robbed America of whatever hopes and aspirations it may have had of attaining a somewhat well-functioning democratic political system.

Taking everything into account, it is clear that, even though the United States remains a free and open society, conditions which have allowed greater exposure and by extension more public awareness of the structural flaws in the country’s political system, the progressive forces fighting for a democratic future have a truly herculean task ahead of them.
While changing the constitution, creating  a multiparty system, and fighting the corrupting influence of money in politics are absolute necessities for democracy to function—just as surely as a Green New Deal is an absolute must to protect the environment and save the planet —the anti-democratic forces of this country are working even harder these days to destroy whatever is left of American democracy.

Republicans are bent on restricting voting rights as part of a concerted effort to change the rules in a way that they will impact on the demographic shifts favoring the Democrats. The campaign for restrictive voting legislation goes all the way back to the end of the 20th century, so what we are witnessing today is just a new wave of intensification to roll back decades of progress on voting rights.

The thoroughly anti-democratic and racist mindset of Republican Senators could not have been more glaringly revealed than with their recent use of a Jim Crow relic—the filibuster—to block the most extensive voting rights bill in a generation.  Now, activists are concentrating on eliminating the filibuster, which, naturally, should have no place in a normal democracy.

Yet, eliminating the filibuster while everything else stays the same in connection with the workings of the American political system and its institutions carries certain undeniable risks given that the most reactionary and outright proto-fascist forces in today’s political universe are feverishly working on retaking power—first in the 2022 midterm elections, and then in 2024, in the presidential elections. As such, progressives should never lose sight of the importance of always maintaining a multi-level strategy for addressing and hopefully fixing the nation’s outdated political system and rigged economy.

Indeed, the American political system needs a dramatic overhaul due to its many structural flaws. Without one, American democracy will remain a mirage.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States.  He has published scores of  books and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers, and popular news websites. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books;  Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors);  and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change, an  anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books (scheduled for publication in June 2021).

Chomsky: Republicans Are Willing To Destroy Democracy To Retake Power

Noam Chomsky

Today’s Republican Party is an extremist force that no longer qualifies as a mainstream political party and is surely not interested in participating in “normal” politics. In fact, today’s GOP is so wrapped around extreme and irrational beliefs that even Europe’s far-right parties and movements, including Marine Le Pen’s National Rally, seem conventional in comparison.

The GOP’s political identity has been dramatically shaped by former President Donald Trump, but these recent shifts would not have been possible if there weren’t already an array of groups across U.S. society and culture (including white supremacists, right-wing Evangelical Christians and Second Amendment activists, to name just a few) that have long embraced extremist and “proto-fascist” views about the way the country should be governed and the values that it should hold. For them, Trump was and remains America’s “great white hope.” In this context, Trump’s voting base — which continues to believe in the idea of a stolen election and to support Trump-led GOP efforts to stamp critical race theory out of schools and restrict voting rights — speaks volumes about the anti-democratic and threatening nature of today’s GOP.

In the interview that follows, world-renowned scholar and activist Noam Chomsky explains what has happened to the Republican Party and why even more than democracy is at stake if the “proto-fascist” forces inspired by Trump return to power.

C.J. Polychroniou: Over the course of the past few decades, the Republican Party has gone through a series of ideological transformations — from traditional conservatism to reactionism and finally to what we may define as “proto-fascism” where the irrational has become the driving force. How do we explain what has happened to the GOP?

Noam Chomsky: Your term “neoliberal proto-fascism” seems to me quite an accurate characterization of the current Republican organization — I’m hesitant to call them a “Party” because that might suggest that they have some interest in participating honestly in normal parliamentary politics. More fitting, I think, is the judgment of American Enterprise Institute political analysts Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein that the modern Republican Party has transformed to a “radical insurgency” with disdain for democratic participation. That was before the Trump-McConnell hammer blows of the past few years, which drove the conclusion home more forcefully.

The term “neoliberal proto-fascism” captures well both the features of the current party and the distinction from the fascism of the past. The commitment to the most brutal form of neoliberalism is apparent in the legislative record, crucially the subordination of the party to private capital, the inverse of classic fascism. But the fascist symptoms are there, including extreme racism, violence, worship of the leader (sent by God, according to former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo), immersion in a world of “alternative facts” and a frenzy of irrationality. Also in other ways, such as the extraordinary efforts in Republican-run states to suppress teaching in schools that doesn’t conform to their white supremacist doctrines. Legislation is being enacted to ban instruction in “critical race theory,” the new demon, replacing Communism and Islamic terror as the plague of the modern age. “Critical race theory” is the scare-phrase used for the study of the systematic structural and cultural factors in the hideous 400-year history of slavery and enduring racist repression. Proper indoctrination in schools and universities must ban this heresy. What actually happened for 400 years and is very much alive today must be presented to students as a deviation from the real America, pure and innocent, much as in well-run totalitarian states.

What’s missing from “proto-fascism” is the ideology: state control of the social order, including the business classes, and party control of the state with the maximal leader in charge. That could change. German industry and finance at first thought they could use the Nazis as their instrument in beating down labor and the left while remaining in charge. They learned otherwise. The current split between the more traditional corporate leadership and the Trump-led party is suggestive of something similar, but only remotely. We are far from the conditions that led to Mussolini, Hitler, and their cohorts.

On the driving force of irrationality, the facts are inescapable and should be of deep concern. Though we can’t credit Trump entirely with the achievement, he certainly has shown great skill in carrying out a challenging assignment: implementing policies for the benefit of his primary constituency of great wealth and corporate power while conning the victims into worshipping him as their savior. That’s no mean achievement, and inducing an atmosphere of utter irrationality has been a primary instrument, a virtual prerequisite.

We should distinguish the voting base, now pretty much owned by Trump, from the political echelon (Congress) — and distinguish both from a more shadowy elite that really runs the Party, McConnell and associates.

Attitudes among the voting base are truly ominous. Put aside the fact that a large majority of Trump voters believe that the elections were stolen. A majority also believe that “The traditional American way of life is disappearing so fast that we may have to use force to save it” and 40 percent take a stronger stand: “if elected leaders will not protect America, the people must do it themselves, even if it requires violent actions.” Not surprising, perhaps, when a quarter of Republicans are reported to believe that “the government, media, and financial worlds in the US are controlled by a group of Satan-worshipping pedophiles who run a global child sex trafficking operation.”

In the background are more realistic concerns about the disappearance of “the traditional American way of life”: a Christian and white supremacist world where Black people “know their place” and there are no infections from “deviants” who call for gay rights and other such obscenities. That traditional way of life indeed is disappearing.

There are also elements of realism in the various “great replacement” theories that seem to consume much of the Trump base. Putting aside absurdities about immigration and elite plotting, a simple look at distribution of births suffices to show that white domination is declining.

It’s also worth remembering the deep roots of these concerns. Among the founders, there were two distinguished figures of the Enlightenment, one of whom hoped that the new country would be free of “blot or mixture,” red or black (Jefferson), while the other felt that Germans and Swedes should perhaps be barred entry because they are too “swarthy” (Franklin). Myths of Anglo-Saxon origin were prevalent through the 19th century. All of this is apart from the virulent racism and its horrifying manifestations.

Concerns about satanic cults are dangerous enough, but other deeply irrational beliefs are far more consequential. One of the most threatening revelations of recent days was a scarcely noticed observation in the latest report of a Yale University group that monitors attitudes on climate change — the euphemism for the heating of the planet that will end organized human life on earth unless soon brought under control. The report found that “Over the past year, there has been a sharp decline in the percentages of both liberal/moderate Republicans and conservative Republicans who think developing sources of clean energy should be a priority for the president and Congress. The current numbers are all-time lows since we first asked the question in 2010.”

Meanwhile every day’s news provides information about new potential disasters — for example, the June 11 release of studies reporting the accelerated collapse of a huge Antarctic glacier that might raise sea levels by a foot and a half — along with reminders by the scientists reporting the warning that “The future is still open to change — if people do what is needed to change it.”

They won’t, as long as the reported attitudes prevail. Unless overcome, they might be a kiss of death if the current strategy of the Republican Party succeeds in putting the wreckers back in power. The strategy is plain enough: no matter what the harm to the country, and to their own voting base, ensure that the Biden administration can do nothing to remedy severe domestic problems, and ram through Jim Crow-style legislation to block voting of people of color and the poor, counting on the acquiescence of the reactionary judiciary that McConnell-Trump have succeeded in installing.

The party is not a lost cause. The Democrats have helped by failing to provide a constructive alternative that answers to the needs and just aspirations of many of those who have flocked to the Trump banner. That can change. Furthermore, attitudes are shifting among younger Republicans, even among younger Evangelicals, a core part of the Republican base since the ‘70s.

Nothing is irremediable.

With regard to the political echelon, there is little to say. With fringe exceptions, they have abandoned any semblance of integrity. Current votes are a clear indication: Total Republican opposition to measures that they know are favored by their constituents in order to ensure that the Biden administration can achieve nothing.

The most abject capitulation of the political echelon was on global warming. In 2008, Republican presidential candidate John McCain had a limited climate plank in his program, and congressional Republicans were considering related legislation. The Koch energy conglomerate responded in force, and any spark of independence was extinguished. That much was evident in the last Republican primaries in 2016, pre-Trump: 100 percent denial that what is happening is happening, or worse, saying maybe it is but we’re going to race toward disaster without apologizing (as said John Kasich, who was honored for his integrity by being invited to speak at the 2020 Democratic convention).

I can’t raise any objections whatsoever to what you say, but I am a bit baffled by Biden’s insistence in trying to reach out to Republicans on some of the major issues confronting the country. Isn’t bipartisanship a pipe dream?

Not entirely. Democratic majority leader Chuck Schumer did manage a triumph of bipartisanship. Abandoning a prior commitment to legislation on global warming, Schumer teamed up with Republican Todd Young to conceal a limited industrial policy program within a “hate China” bill that appealed to shared jingoist sentiments. Republicans ensured that such significant components as funding for the National Science Foundation would be whittled down. Young celebrated the triumph by declaring that “when future generations of Americans cast their gaze towards new frontiers,” they won’t see “a red flag planted” there, but our own red, white, and blue. What better reason could there be to try to revive domestic manufacturing while trying to undermine the Chinese economy — at a moment when cooperation is a prerequisite for survival.

Meanwhile Biden’s Department of Defense is reorienting resources and planning to war with China, a form of madness barely receiving attention, analyzed in detail in Issue #1 of the Committee for a Sane U.S.-China Policy, June 11, 2021.

Trump has transformed the Republican Party into a cult of personality. Is this why Republican leaders blocked the creation of a commission to investigate the January 6 attack on Capitol?

Trump has captured the voting base, but the political echelon faces a quandary. For a long time, the party elite has been a rich man’s club, pandering to business power even more than the Democrats, even after the Democrats abandoned the working class in the ‘70s, becoming a party of Wall St. and affluent professionals. The business world was willing to tolerate Trump’s antics as long as he was loyally serving them — with some distaste, since he tarnished the image they project of “soulful corporations.” But for major sectors, January 6 was too much.

The McConnell types who run the party are caught between a raging voting base in thrall to Trump and the masters of the economy whom they serve. A commission of inquiry, if at all honest, would have deepened this rift, which they have to find a way to paper over if the party, such as it is, is to survive. Best then to cancel it.

Lies, propaganda, and restricting voting rights have become the governing principles of today’s GOP. To what extent will the new voting restrictions work to the advantage of the Republican Party, and how will they impact on the current political climate in general and the future of whatever is left of democracy in the United States in particular?

Trump’s highly effective strategy of legitimizing “alternative facts” was based on an endless flood of lies, but a few true statements floated in the debris. One was his comment that Republicans can never win a fair election. That’s a real problem for the rich man’s club. It’s hard to garner votes with the slogan “I want to rob you. Vote for me.” That leaves only a few options. One is to prevent the “wrong people” from voting. Another is to shape the party program so that policy is concealed by appeals to “cultural issues.” Both have been actively pursued. Trump gave the practices a particularly vulgar twist in his usual style, but he didn’t invent them.

The current wave of Republican Jim Crow-style legislation is understandable: Trump’s observation is accurate, and is likely to be more so in the future with demographic changes and the tendency of younger voters to favor social justice and human rights, among Republicans as well. The efforts have become more feasible after the Roberts Court gutted the Voting Rights Act in the Shelby decision in 2013, which “set the stage for a new era of white hegemony,” as Vann Newkirk rightly observed.

Displacement of policy by “cultural issues” traces back to Nixon’s southern strategy. With Democrats beginning to support mild civil rights legislation, Nixon and his advisers recognized that they could switch the southern vote to Republican by racist appeals, barely disguised.

Under Reagan there was little disguise; racist rhetoric and practices came naturally to him. Meanwhile the Republican Christian nationalist strategist Paul Weyrich easily convinced the political leadership that by abandoning their former “pro-choice” stands and pretending to oppose abortion, they could pick up the northern Catholic and newly politicized Evangelical vote. Gun-loving was soon added to the mix, by now reaching such weird absurdities as the recent Benitez decision overturning California’s ban on assault rifles, which are, after all, hardly different from Swiss army knives [according to Benitez]. Trump added more to the mix. Like his fellow demagogues in Europe, he understood well that refugees can be used to whip up xenophobic passions and fears. His racist appeals also went beyond the norm.

Trump has exhibited a certain genius in tapping poisons that run not far below the surface of American society and culture. By such means, he managed to capture the Republican voting base. The party leadership is dedicated to the obstructionist strategy of sacrificing the interests of the country in order to regain power. That leaves the country with one functioning political party, itself torn between the neoliberal leadership and a younger social democratic voting base.

Your phrase “whatever is left of American democracy” is to the point. However progressive it might have been in the 18th century — and there is much to say about that — by today’s standards American democracy is deeply flawed in ways that were already becoming clear to the leading Framer, James Madison by 1791, when he wrote to Jefferson deploring “the daring depravity of the times,” as the “stockjobbers will become the pretorian band of the government — at once its tools and its tyrant; bribed by its largesses, and overawing it by clamors and combinations.”

That could well be a description of recent years, particularly as the neoliberal assault achieved its entirely predictable consequence of placing government even more at the command of concentrations of private power than before. The “largesses” are too familiar to review. Ample research in mainstream political science has shown that the “clamors and combinations” have left the majority of voters unrepresented, as their own representatives heed the voices of the super-rich, wealthy donors and corporate lobbyists.

The most recent study, using sophisticated AI techniques, dispels “notions that anyone’s opinion about public policy outside of the top 10 percent of affluent Americans independently helps to explain policy.” Thomas Ferguson, the leading academic scholar of the power of the “tools and tyrants” of government, concludes: “Knowing the policy area, the preferences of the top 10 percent, and the views of a handful of interest groups suffice to explain policy changes with impressive accuracy.”

But some vestiges of democracy remain, even after the neoliberal assault. Probably not for long if neoliberal “proto-fascism” extends its sway.

But the fate of democracy won’t actually matter much if the “proto-fascists” regain power. The environment that sustains life cannot long endure the wreckers of the Trump era of decline. Little else will matter if irreversible tipping points are passed.


C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. Currently, his main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, climate change, the political economy of the United States, and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published scores of books, and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books; Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors); and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books (scheduled for publication in June 2021).

John O’Mill en de macaronische traditie

Er is een tijd geweest, lang vóór de Ryam- en de Beyoncé-agenda de klassen vrolijk kleurden, dat de agenda voor het nieuwe schooljaar door de school zelf werd verstrekt. Andere modellen waren uit den boze. Het waren dan ook saaie, grijzige notitieboekjes, zonder opsmuk.

De enige frivoliteit die de ontwerpers zich veroorloofden, waren korte, lichtvoetige versjes, gewoonlijk rechtsonder op de zaterdag. Populair waren bijvoorbeeld C. Buddingh’, Daan Zonderland en Kees Stip; volwassenen kunnen dankzij die saaie agenda’s vaak nog klassieke regels uit het hoofd reciteren als

Ik ben de blauwbilgorgel,
Mijn vader was een porgel,
Mijn moeder was een porulan

van Buddingh’, of

Er zijn hier heel wat maden bij
die made zijn in Germanij

van Kees Stip, in de gedaante van Trijntje Fop.

Favoriet waren de rijmpjes van John O’Mill, het pseudoniem van de Brabantse docent Engels Jan van der Meulen (1915-2005). Ze waren grappig, eenvoudig te onthouden en dus altijd makkelijk te citeren. Een voorbeeld:

Rot young
A terrible infant, called Peter
sprinkled his bed with a gheter.
His father got woost,
took hold of a cnoost
and gave him a pack on his meter.


Drents adrift
A hot headed Drent in Ter Apel
who always ran too hard from staple
forsplintered his plate
when the waitress was late
and gave her a lell with the laple.

Ze verschenen, behalve in die sombere agenda’s, in kleine boekjes met olijke titels als Lyrical Laria of Rollicky Rhymes, Bonny Ballads, an O’Mill medley of Verse & Worse, Curious Couplets, in Waals en Koeterwaals of – de mooiste – Popsy Poems. Pre-Popsylated Poetry. Rispe Rijmen in Dutch and double Dutch.
(Korte taalles: double Dutch is Engels voor “onzin uitkramen”. Risp komt niet voor in het Nederlands en lijkt vooral door de dichter gekozen vanwege de mooie alliteratie met “rijmen”.

Pre-Popsylated wordt in een inleiding door de dichter zelf als volgt toegelicht: “All the verse in this bundle has been carefully and critically pre-popsylated by the author himself, so that any resemblance to art or poetry is purely accidental”. Het zal geen verbazing wekken, dat popsylated niet in de Engelse woordenschat voorkomt. Met wat goede wil kan nog gedacht worden aan een woordspeling met preposterous, volgens het woordenboek te vertalen met “ongerijmd”.)

Het duurde tot lang na de middelbare school, dat O’Mills werk meer bleek te zijn dan alleen in pseudo-Engels vervatte anekdotes, maar dat het paste in een eeuwenlange literaire traditie, die van de macaronische poëzie. Dat is, blijkens het Spectrum Opzoekboek Letterkunde. 2500 begrippen van A tot Z (2001), “poëzie waarbij de opzettelijke vermenging van twee of meer (vaak verbasterde) talen gebruikt wordt voor een komisch of zelfs nonsensicaal effect.”

Het genre is genoemd naar de bundel Carmen macaronicum de Patavinis (1490) die de Italiaanse dichter Michele di Bartolomeo (1450-1495) publiceerde onder het pseudoniem Tifi degli Odasi. De monnik Teofilo Folengo (1496-1544) maakte het genre bekend en populair. Hij vermengde in het Liber Macaronicorum (1520) zijn Italiaanse poëzie met Latijnse woorden. De naam is ontleend aan het begrip maccheroni, een eenvoudige maaltijd, gebaseerd op bloem, boter en kaas. Folengo zag het macaronische vers als het literaire equivalent van zo’n Italiaanse boerenmaaltijd.
Zijn Liber Macaronicorum was een succes, aanvankelijk in Italië, maar al snel in heel Europa en daarbuiten, zodat het niet langer alleen om verlatijnst Italiaans ging, maar in principe elke taal in aanmerking kwam.

De definitie van macaronisch vers moge dan van “een komisch of zelfs nonsensicaal effect” spreken, ook in de serieuzere kunsten zijn volop voorbeelden te vinden. En evenmin beperkt het zich tot poëzie. Zo laat Charles Chaplin, in zijn rol van Adenoid Hynkel (een persiflage van Adolf Hitler) in The Great Dictator (1940), een mengeling van onzin-Engels en namaak-Duits spreken. In Umberto Eco’s De naam van de roos (1980) uit de monnik Salvatore zich in macaronisch Italiaans en James Joyce had zijn Finnegans wake (1939) nooit zó geschreven zonder de macaronische principes. Nadsat is de macaronische geheimtaal waarmee leden van een bende in Anthony Burgess’ A clockwork orange (1962) communiceren.

Dat John O’Mill school gemaakt heeft, blijkt uit het succes van Make that the cat wise (2013), een boekje vol voorbeelden van stonecoalenenglish, fouten die Nederlanders, meestal zonder opzet, tegen het Engels maakten. Representatief zijn uitspraken als Are you trying to lead me around the garden? en No thank you, I look the cat out of the tree. Inmiddels is daar een hele lijn van ontwikkeld, met kaftpapier, pennenetuis en – ironisch genoeg – schoolagenda’s. Eenzelfde succes hadden I always get my sin (2009) en de Duitse variant Lass mal sitzen (2010).

O’Mill beperkte zich bepaald niet tot de – al dan niet pikante – limerick. Zijn oeuvre strekt van een- of tweeregelige versjes als

Of mice and men

Kleine muisjes hebben kleine wensjes
Beschuitjes met gestampte mensjes

tot hele ballades, zoals de zes pagina’s tellende Ballade van Japie de Vries. Populair zijn ook zijn hertalingen van het traditionele Nederlandse liedrepertoire – “Hooper the Poop sat on the stoop” en “Where the silver top of sand dunes” -, maar het best is hij op dreef als zijn macaronische dichtader vloeit, zoals in

A handful of rhythm

‘To bed, to bed’ said Dumb Malotte
‘First something hot’ said Licker Pot
‘Where shall we get it?’ said Middle Fing
‘In grandfather’s juke-box’ said Ringer Ling
‘Let’s rock it round the clock’ yelled the Little Thing.

Hij kon het trouwens ook in het Fins
‘k finteemaal niløkor’ zei de Fin,
‘enksi erde lollok nifan in’

Sweris Waddanders

To Address Increasing Inequality And Global Poverty, We Must Cancel Debt

Éric Toussaint – Photo:

Massive debt levels are a feature of contemporary capitalism that cannot be eradicated without radical change, says political scientist Éric Toussaint.

“The indebtedness of the working classes is directly connected to the widening poverty gap and increasing inequality, and to the demolition of the welfare state that most governments have been working at since the 1980s,” says Toussaint in this exclusive interview for Truthout.


Toussaint — a historian and international spokesperson for the Committee for the Abolition of Illegitimate Debt (CADTM), and author of several books on debt, development and globalization — shares his thoughts on debt, inequality and contemporary socialist movements in the conversation that follows.

C.J. Polychroniou: Over the past few decades, inequality is rising in many countries around the world, both across the Global North and the Global South, creating what UN Chief António Guterres called in his foreword to the World Social Report 2020 “a deeply unequal global landscape.” Moreover, the top 1 percent of the population are the big winners in the globalized capitalist economy of the 21st century. Is inequality an inevitable development in the face of globalization, or the outcome of politics and policies at the level of individual countries?

Éric Toussaint: Rising inequality is not inevitable. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the explosion of inequality is consubstantial with the phase that the world capitalist system entered into in the 1970s. The evolution of inequality in the capitalist system is directly related to the balance of power between the fundamental social classes, between capital and labor. When I use the term “labor,” that means urban wage-earners as well as rural workers and small-scale farming producers.

The evolution of capitalism can be divided into broad periods according to the evolution of inequality and the social balance of power. Inequality increased between the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the first half of the 19th century and the policies implemented by the administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt in the United States in the 1930s, and then decreased up to the early 1980s. In Europe, the turn towards lower inequality lagged 10 years behind the United States. It was not until the end of World War II and the final defeat of Nazism that inequality-reducing policies were put in place, whether in Western Europe or Moscow-led Eastern Europe. In the major economies of Latin America, there was a reduction in inequality from the 1930s to the 1970s, notably during the presidencies of Lázaro Cárdenas in Mexico and Juan D. Perón in Argentina. In the period from the 1930s to the 1970s, there were massive social struggles. In many capitalist countries, capital had to make concessions to labor in order to stabilize the system. In some cases, the radical nature of social struggles led to revolutions, as in China in 1949 and Cuba in 1959.

The return to policies that strongly aggravated inequality began in the 1970s in Latin America and part of Asia. From 1973 onward, the dictatorship of Gen. Augusto Pinochet (advised by the “Chicago Boys,” the Chilean economists who had studied laissez-faire economics at the University of Chicago with Milton Friedman), the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, and the dictatorships in Argentina and Uruguay are just a few examples of countries where neoliberal policies were first put into practice.

These neoliberal policies, which produced a sharp increase in inequality, became widespread from 1979 in Great Britain under Margaret Thatcher, from 1980 in the United States under the Reagan administration, from 1982 in Germany under the Kohl government, and in 1982-1983 in France after François Mitterrand’s turn to the right.

Inequality increased sharply with the capitalist restoration in the countries of the former Soviet bloc in Central and Eastern Europe. In China from the second half of the 1980s onward, the policies dictated by Deng Xiaoping also led to a gradual restoration of capitalism and a rise in inequality.

It is also quite clear that for the ideologues of the capitalist system and for many international organizations, a rise in inequality is a necessary condition for economic growth.

It should be noted that the World Bank does not consider a rising level of inequality as negative. Indeed, it adopts the theory developed in the 1950s by the economist Simon Kuznets, according to which a country whose economy takes off and progresses must necessarily go through a phase of increasing inequality. According to this dogma, inequality will start to fall as soon as the country has reached a higher threshold of development. It is a version of pie in the sky used by the ruling classes to placate the oppressed on whom they impose a life of suffering.

The need for rising inequalities is well rooted into World Bank philosophy. Eugene Black, World Bank president in April 1961, said: “Income inequalities are the natural result of the economic growth which is the people’s escape route from an existence of poverty.” However, empirical studies by the World Bank in the 1970s at the time when Hollis Chenery was chief economist contradict the Kuznets theory.

In Capital in the Twenty-First Century, Thomas Piketty presents a very interesting analysis of the Kuznets curve. Piketty mentions that at first, Kuznets himself doubted the real interest of the curve. That did not stop him from developing an economic theory that keeps bouncing back and, like all economists who serve orthodoxy well, receiving the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences (1971). Since then, inequalities have reached levels never before seen in the history of humanity. This is the result of the dynamism of global capitalism and the support it receives from international institutions that are charged with “development” and governments that favor the interests of the 1 percent over those of the enormous mass of the population, as much in the developed countries as in the rest of the world.

In 2021, the World Bank reviewed the Arab Spring of 2011 by claiming, against all evidence, that the level of inequality was low in the entire Arab region, and this worried them greatly as it was symptomatic of faults in the region’s supposed economic success. As faithful followers of Kuznets’ theory, Vladimir Hlasny and Paolo Verme argue in a paper published by the World Bank that “low inequality is not an indicator of a healthy economy.”

Gilbert Achcar summarizes the position taken by Paolo Verme of the World Bank as follows: “in the view of the 2014 World Bank study, it is inequality aversion, not inequality per se, that should be deplored, since inequality must inevitably rise with development from a Kuznetsian perspective.”

Finally, the coronavirus pandemic has further increased the inequality in the distribution of income and wealth. Inequality in the face of disease and death has also increased dramatically.

Neoliberal policies have created massive debt levels for so-called emerging markets and developing countries, with debt threatening to create a global development emergency. What’s the most realistic solution to the debt crisis in developing countries?

The solution is obvious. Debt payments must be suspended without any penalty payments being paid for the delay. Beyond suspension of payment, each country must carry out debt audits with the active participation of citizens, in order to determine the illegitimate, odious, illegal and/or unsustainable parts, which must be canceled. After a crisis of the size of the present one, the slates must be wiped clean, as has happened many times before throughout human history. David Graeber reminded us of this in his important book, Debt: The First 5,000 Years.

From the point of view of the CADTM, a global network mainly active in the Global South but also in the North, the need to suspend payments and cancel debt does not only concern developing countries, whether they are emerging or not. It also concerns peripheral countries in the North like Greece and semi-colonies like Puerto Rico.

It is time to dare to speak out about canceling the abusive debts demanded of the working classes. Private banks and other private bodies have put great energy into developing policy of lending to ordinary people who turn to borrowing because their incomes are insufficient to pay for higher education or health care. In the U.S., student debt has reached over $1.7 trillion, with $165 billion worth of student loans in default, while a large part of mortgages are subjected to abusive conditions (as the subprime crisis clearly showed from 2007). The terms of certain consumer debts are also abusive, as are most debts linked to micro-credit in the South.

Indebtedness of the working classes is directly connected to the widening poverty gap and increasing inequality, and to the demolition of the welfare state that most governments have been working at since the 1980s. This is true all over the world: whether in Chile, Colombia, the Arabic-speaking region, Japan, Europe or the United States. As neoliberal policies dismantle their systems of protection, people are obliged, in turn, to incur debt as individuals to compensate for the fact that the states no longer fulfil the obligation incumbent upon them to protect, promote and enact human rights. Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser emphasized this in their book, Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto.

What are the alternatives for a sustainable model of development?

As stated in the manifesto, “End the system of private patents!”:
The health crisis is far from being resolved. The capitalist system and neoliberal policies have been at the helm at all stages. At the root of this virus is the unbridled transformation of the relationship between the human species and nature. The ecological and health crises are intimately intertwined.

Governments and big capital will not be deterred from their offensive against the populations unless a vast and determined movement forces them to make concessions.

Among new attacks that must be resisted are the acceleration of automation/robotization of work; the generalization of working from home, where employees are isolated, have even less control of their time and must themselves assume many more of the costs related to their work tools than if they worked physically in their offices; a development of distance learning that deepens cultural and social inequality; the reinforcement of control over private life and over private data; the reinforcement of repression, etc.

The question of public debt remains a central element of social and political struggles. Public debt continues to explode in volume because governments are borrowing massively in order to avoid taxing the rich to pay for the measures taken to resist the COVID-19 pandemic, and it will not be long before they resume their austerity offensive. Illegitimate private debt will become an ever-greater daily burden for working people. Consequently, the struggle for the abolition of illegitimate debt must gain renewed vigor.

The struggles that [arose] on several continents during June 2020, notably massive anti-racist struggles around the Black Lives Matter movement, show that youth and the working classes do not accept the status quo. In 2021, huge popular mobilizations in Colombia and more recently in Brazil have provided new evidence of massive resistance among Latin American peoples.

We must contribute as much as possible to the rise of a new and powerful social and political movement capable of mustering the social struggles and elaborating a program that breaks away from capitalism and promotes anti-capitalist, anti-racist, ecological, feminist and socialist visions. It is fundamental to work toward a socialization of banks with expropriation of major shareholders; a moratorium of public debt repayment while an audit with citizens’ participation is carried out to repudiate its illegitimate part; the imposition of a high rate of taxation on the highest assets and incomes; the cancelation of unjust personal debts (student debt, abusive mortgage loans); the closure of stock markets, which are places of speculation; a radical reduction of working hours (without loss of pay) in order to create a large number of socially useful jobs; a radical increase in public expenditure, particularly in health care and education; the socialization of pharmaceutical companies and of the energy sector; the re-localization of as much manufacturing as possible and the development of short supply chains, as well as many other essential demands.

A few years ago, you argued that the socialist project has been betrayed and needs to be reinvented in the 21st century. What should socialism look like in today’s world, and how can it be achieved?

In the present day, the socialist project must be feminist, ecologist, anti-capitalist, anti-racist, internationalist and self-governing. In 2021, we commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Paris Commune when people set up a form of democratic self-government. It was a combination of self-organization and forms of power delegation that could be questioned at any moment, since all mandates could be revoked at the behest of the people. It has to be clearly stated that the emancipation of the oppressed will be brought about by the oppressed themselves, or will not happen at all. Socialism will only be attained if the peoples of the world consciously set themselves the goal of constructing it, and if they give themselves the means to prevent authoritarian or dictatorial degradation and the bureaucratization of the new society.

What Rosa Luxemburg said in 1918 is as valid today as it was then: “without a free and untrammeled press, without the unlimited right of association and assemblage, the rule of the broad masses of the people is entirely unthinkable.”

She added:
Freedom only for the supporters of the government, only for the members of one party — however numerous they may be — is no freedom at all. Freedom is always and exclusively freedom for the one who thinks differently. Not because of any fanatical concept of “justice” but because all that is instructive, wholesome and purifying in political freedom depends on this essential characteristic, and its effectiveness vanishes when “freedom” becomes a special privilege.
Faced with the multidimensional crisis of capitalism hurtling towards the abyss due to the environmental crisis, modifying capitalism is no longer a proper option. It would merely be a lesser evil which would not bring the radical solutions that the situation requires.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.


C.J. Polychroniou is a political economist/political scientist who has taught and worked in numerous universities and research centers in Europe and the United States. Currently, his main research interests are in European economic integration, globalization, climate change, the political economy of the United States, and the deconstruction of neoliberalism’s politico-economic project. He is a regular contributor to Truthout as well as a member of Truthout’s Public Intellectual Project. He has published scores of books, and his articles have appeared in a variety of journals, magazines, newspapers and popular news websites. Many of his publications have been translated into several foreign languages, including Arabic, Croatian, Dutch, French, Greek, Italian, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish and Turkish. His latest books are Optimism Over Despair: Noam Chomsky On Capitalism, Empire, and Social Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books; Climate Crisis and the Global Green New Deal: The Political Economy of Saving the Planet (with Noam Chomsky and Robert Pollin as primary authors); and The Precipice: Neoliberalism, the Pandemic, and the Urgent Need for Radical Change, an anthology of interviews with Chomsky originally published at Truthout and collected by Haymarket Books (scheduled for publication in June 2021).

Renske Visser – En zijn ogen kan ik lezen. Veertien negentiende-eeuwse brieven uit Parijs, Den Haag en Domburg 1891 – 1894

Na de les stelde Thomas de koetsier voor een rijtoer door de stad te maken. We trokken een kleed over onze benen en in de beslotenheid van de koets begon hij te vertellen. Charcot had hem meegenomen naar een zaal waar zich zo’n dertig in donker kostuum geklede artsen bevonden. Hij moest vooraan plaatsnemen op een stoel. Charcot stond naast hem en gaf met welluidende stem een betoog over sclérose latérale amyotrophique. Hij noemde het een degeneratieve neurologische ziekte en herinnerde zijn gehoor eraan dat hij deze zeventien jaar geleden in 1874 voor het eerst beschreven had. Hij pakte Thomas’ arm en liet zien dat de verlamming gepaard ging met contracties. De spiermassa’s waren geatrofieerd, kwijnden weg. Omdat deze geen zenuwimpulsen meer ontvingen, maakten ze trillende bewegingen. 

September 2022 verschenen: Renske Visser – En zijn ogen kan ik lezen. Veertien negentiende-eeuwse brieven uit Parijs, Den Haag en Domburg 1891 – 1894
Rozenberg Publishers, Amsterdam, 2021, ISBN 978 90 361 0658 0 – 92 pagina’s – Euro 12,50

Sustainable Peace Must End Israeli Apartheid. Anything Else Is Just A Ceasefire

Richard Falk

After four elections in less than two years, Benjamin Netanyahu’s record 12-year rule comes officially to an end on Sunday.
The government to replace him consists of a coalition of eight parties from across Israel’s political spectrum and will be led by the ultranationalist Naftali Bennett who will serve for the first two years.

Indeed, indicative of the direction of Israeli politics and society over the course of the last 15 years or so, the end of the corrupt and much-maligned Netanyahu reign may be no reason for celebration, as it will be replaced not simply by a coalition government built around numerous structural contradictions, but by one that may potentially prove to be far more reactionary and dangerous.

The situation is grave for Palestinians, who only a few weeks ago experienced under Netanyahu’s orders yet another massive assault on Gaza, which ended in the death of more than 200 people including dozens of children, and widespread damage to the enclave’s infrastructure. The person to replace Netanyahu as prime minister is a religious extremist who has been a vocal advocate of Israeli settlements and a fervent opponent of a Palestinian state.