Earlier this year, South African-born comedian Trevor Noah hit at the heart of a serious problem hurting America right now.
“Nuance doesn’t sell as well in America,” Noah said in an interview with CBS. “Nuance means you can’t just take a stand and fight the other person. Nuance means we have to talk a little bit more. And until the American political system can find a way to represent the nuance that exists within America, you are going to create this false impression that there is This or That.”
In a nation sharply divided by ideology, it is easier for many of us to embrace absolutes over nuances. Unfortunately, we do it at our national peril. Political protest and debate are cherished and essential elements of a functioning democracy. A society that views nearly every issue as your team vs. my team is proving to be more and more difficult in an increasingly polarized nation.
And the list of polarizing issues is inexhaustible — masks and COVID-19; immigration policy; gun safety vs. gun owners’ rights; and the increasingly dangerous perception that stridence for racial justice is the same as advocating racial violence or special preferences.
These aren’t one and the same, and rhetoric that conflates issues distracts from dealing with the core of the problem, which in the case of protests are the issues that drove demonstrators to the streets.
Too often the political call for justice becomes a binary choice. On one side, the narrative is either you support the protests or you’re against social justice. And, on the other side, the narrative is that protesters and those who would incite violence are the same.
Neither is right. Most people, including the majority of peaceful protesters, are against destroying property and resorting to violence. And, all of us should favor recognizing and respecting the civil rights of all people and the rights of people to peacefully protest for those rights.
Another example of this binary division can be found in a new Dallas Morning News/University of Texas at Tyler survey conducted in late August and early September. Just 15% of Democrats support deploying the military in response to protests, compared with 70% of Republicans.
Common sense should tell us that there are few absolutes in life. To pretend so edges out what this nation needs the most at this time — critical reasoning and interpretation that leaves room to decipher complicated realities and reach solutions. However, when difficult situations are reduced to my right position and your wrong position, conflict and gridlock are inevitable since there is no leeway for a third way.
Failing to address the nuances of complex ideas enables reflexive groupthink. Instead of justice and progress, gridlock, frustration and incivility become the order of the day and reforming the system to better protect basic civil rights for all gets swept away in the chaos.
FROM AN EDITORIAL IN THE DALLAS MORNING NEWS