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.
Niceness in a Neoliberal Age
Carrie Tirado Bramen is an associate professor of English at the University at Buffalo (UB), the State University of New York, and director of the UB Gender Institute. She is the author of American Niceness: A Cultural History (2017) and The Uses of Variety: Modern Americanism and the Quest for National Distinctiveness (2000). She has published articles on a range of topics from Leslie Fiedler to the American flirt in Argentine travel writing.
Carrie Tirado Bramen; Niceness in a Neoliberal Age. Public Culture 1 May 2018; 30 (2): 329–350. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/08992363-4310954
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