I appreciate the sentiment of this post. Over the course of my career in public service I have had these exact thoughts. I definitely used to feel this way when I worked for a state Medicaid agency, one of the more complex government programs to understand.
I think a large part of the problem is where the public gets their information. People aren’t staying up late reading dry policy memos or white papers. They are watching the mainstream media, which typically doesn’t capture the level of nuance needed to understand policy, because the media don’t really have an incentive to do so. The media wants to make money first, and fully inform second, so they first focus on capturing the audience’s attention, often by sensationalizing a story at the expense of nuance.
For example, back when states were deciding to expand Medicaid under the ACA, many Republican state legislatures were vilified by the media for not doing so. The reporter would note that the federal government would cover 90% of the costs, and implying that states were being stingy for not ponying up only 10% of costs. But depending on the state’s existing Medicaid eligibility levels, even ponying up 10% of a $500 million Medicaid expansion program can be a lot of money, even by a liberal state’s standards. While I am a Democrat and support Medicaid expansion, I understand that there is more to states not expanding medicaid than alleged heartlessness by conservative legislatures…
But blah blah, I have digressed. My point is the media is in the business of sensationalizing first, and fully informing second, and therefore nuance is lost.
Media aside though, I think the onus is both on policy makers and the public. The sender must convey nuance in a way that is stimulating, and the receiver must discipline themselves to fully process the nuance.
I would end by posing two questions: 1) how can we find ways to motivate the public to demand more content that conveys nuance and the complexity of government? 2) how can policymakers better articulate complex concepts for a general audience in a way that the nuance is not lost in translation?