Since distutils is deprecated and going away, setuptools now bundles their own version. It is currently activated (and patches away the standard module) when SETUPTOOLS_USE_DISTUTILS=local is set. However, upstreams plans to make that the default at some point, so let's see what breaks.
appeared recently at the tinderbox image 17.1_no_multilib_hardened-j4-20211108-155141
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dev-python/setuptools-60+ now defaults to SETUPTOOLS_USE_DISTUTILS=local. It also features some fixes for bugs affecting this scenario. If you hit bugs with SETUPTOOLS_USE_DISTUTILS=local, please retest with the newest version of dev-python/setuptools.
I'm going to go through bugs reported so far, and verify whether they apply to the newest version.