I’m aware that Clinton triangulated to stay in the game with a Republican congress. But he was a believer in globalization and free trade. He passed NAFTA and appointed Robert Rubin and Larry Summers to the Treasury in his first term.

In any case, Clinton’s neoliberalism is a fine example of the liberal’s implicit nihilism, since he chose to compromise with Republicans instead of going down swinging by fighting for liberal (socialist, progressive) values. He wasn’t forced to triangulate or even to run for a second term. Indeed, he could have used his considerable skills as an orator to move the Overton window and go after the inhumanity and hypocrisy of “conservative thought” (i.e. of rank animalism cloaked in pseudo-Christian sanctimony).

Notice how Republican animalists would sooner kill themselves than give even an inch to the Democrats. Why don’t empowered Democrats fight as hard for their values? I maintain (with Yuval Harari from Homo Deus) that the reason liberals don’t is because it’s much harder to keep the faith as a humanist when science has eroded so many of the philosophical and religious justifications. Bill Clinton didn’t go down swinging as a progressive humanist because he didn’t really believe in those values. He was far too rational and sophisticated to do so with ease.

I agree that Americans don’t deserve to live in prosperity at the expense of other countries. The rightward shift isn’t just in the US, though, but in the developed democratic world. It’s become a turn toward flailing populism, one that blames liberal elites rather than big businesses and the mega-rich.

The big question is how the developing world will acquire American-style wealth without ruining the planet for thousands of years. Collectivist cultures are less likely to be as hubristic as the individualistic US, so I’d expect Americans to have the audacity to ensure that they stay rich by keeping others poor, while the collectivist societies will sacrifice their welfare and quietly despise Americans and other Western individualists for their shameless, infantile shortsightedness.

Knowledge condemns. Art redeems. I learned that as an artistic writer who did a doctorate in philosophy. We should try to see the dark comedy in all things.

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