If you were tracking media coverage of the recent conflict in Gaza, you might have encountered the idea that describing the conflict as “complex” is a problem—specifically, that this description isn’t merely wrong analytically but a morally suspect tactic for evading a simple truth: that one side of the conflict is a victim; the other, an oppressor. The rejection of nuance certainly isn’t unique to this issue, or for that matter new to contemporary political life. From conservative talk radio to the liberal anti-Trump “Resistance”—whose self-description evokes fighting literal Nazis—it’s increasingly common to encounter the notion that looking at an issue from more than one side is bad. What happened to the idea that nuance is good?

According to Meghan Daum, the author of the recent book The Problem With Everything: A Journey Through the New Culture Wars and host of the podcast The Unspeakable, the idea of “a nuanced conversation,” once a positive thing on the American left, has become an insult. Trump's election, Daum says, marked a turning point here, where the value of intelligence and sophistication gave way to an imperative to organize against an existential enemy. For Daum, the rejection of complexity is a deep problem for American political culture, as it valorizes political conflict over problem solving, while the problems American democracy faces—from the health issues surrounding the coronavirus pandemic to poverty and homelessness—only become tougher to solve.


Phoebe Maltz Bovy: You’ve observed that Trump’s election triggered a sense of panic among many liberals and progressives that led some to embrace a very stark, good-vs.-evil perspective on contemporary politics in America. Do you see Biden’s victory in 2020, and now the reality of the Biden administration in 2021, as having calmed moral sensibilities on the left in ways that might favor more nuance in political analysis?

Meghan Daum: Not as much as I’d hoped. We don’t have Trump to blame anymore, but we have this extended sense of blaming—blaming Republicans, blaming white people, blaming “Karen,” blaming people who won’t wear masks. People have focused their rage and paranoia elsewhere, but it’s more diffuse now and a moving target.

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