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Useful Myths

An example of necessary myths. I believe that my husband is the most beautiful, intelligent, and wonderful man on the planet. It’s completely unimportant whether it’s factually true. What matters is that I believe it because that’s what guarantees my happiness and the survival of our marriage.

Similarly, it’s utterly unimportant if America is factually the greatest, the Ukrainian language is really the most melodic, the Russian soul is truly mysterious, and a dry piece of ugly desert was actually promised to Jews by God. You can’t prove any of it definitively one way or another. But it’s absolutely crucial that people believe this stuff passionately if the nation-state, with all the goodies it offers, is to survive.

Remember the hyper-rational freak from Illouz’s book? He’s not a happy person.

Never That Great

The New York governor is in the news for saying on Wednesday that America “was never that great.” He went on to explain that the U.S. “will reach greatness when every American is fully engaged” — while complaining that Donald Trump’s Make America Great Again slogan was “retrospective” and intended to return the country to darker times past. As political gifts to the Trump 2020 campaign go, it’s hard to think of one so perfectly wrapped.

For the young people I teach and the older people I meet off campus, this is political poison. Most folks are still very much steeped in the rhetoric of the nation-state, and “our nation isn’t the greatest” is anathema to them. Every nation exists because it believes itself to be not only the best but also eternal. That’s the price of admission to the nation-state game. The only game, I must repeat, that brings welfare protections with it.

Obviously, nobody but the eggheads on this blog and equally obscure places can verbalize what’s happening here, but people still feel a great sense of unease when they see somebody like Cuomo toss away the necessary myths of the nation-state. The Cuomos and the Cynthia Nixons of this world will be perfectly fine without the nation-state, so they can’t see what the fuss is about. But while they vie for the title of the most eager promoter of fluid capitalism, we are losing the only political party that could potentially have some interest in protecting us from it.

An Anti-fluidity Candidate

To me, there are two factors I care about in our presidential candidate.

1. Does the candidate have concrete ideas on how to shore up the nation-state against the fluidity of capital?

2. Can the candidate hold off the crazy faction of the party that is aggressively pro-fluidity and anti-nation-state?

If you denounce global capitalism while simultaneously aggressively promoting the ideology of fluidity that it rests on, your denunciations are empty and useless.

Accountable Capitalism Act

Warren’s Accountable Capitalism Act sounds quite good. It’s sufficiently complex and detailed to avoid being one of those empty populist slogans that appeal to idiots yet have no substance to them.

Of course, the articles that supporters are writing about Warren’s proposal are idiotic enough to make anybody sour on the idea. But if you meticulously avoid the Matt Yglesiases of the world and concentrate on the text of the proposal, it’s good.

If only she made herself a little bit more electable, and I don’t mean to a bunch of folks who already worship her but to the other 89% of the country who have no idea who she is. A voice coach might help. Also, if the genuinely cooky among us could tamper down their enthusiasm because they scare people away.