Despite a penchant for nastiness, Donald Trump insists that he is a “nice person.” This political moment invites us to interrogate a concept that has been overlooked as superficial and vapid, as clichéd as the phrase “Have a nice day.” Trump’s fixation with niceness is not anomalous, but reflects a growing trend—from Pope Francis to Pussy Riot—that invokes niceness and other modes of positive sociality at a time of unprecedented cruelty. The current embrace of niceness raises broader questions about the significance of sociality in a neoliberal age that has been described as the “death of the social.” This essay explores the multiple and mutually exclusive uses of niceness, from its compensatory function that substitutes economic equality with the gestures of equality—a handshake, a smile—to its centrality for creating what Pierre Bourdieu called a social solidarity vision, as a socialist alternative to a neoliberal state.

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