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Solzhenitsyn, Trump, and the line between good and evil

Solzhenitsyn: alive to the nuances of human nature. Steve Liss/Getty

Reaction to the allegations against Russell Brand have split into “two main schools of thought”, says Jemima Kelly in the FT. Either the comedian is a “hero” being subjected to a witch hunt for “standing up to the dark forces of the mainstream establishment”. Or he’s a “maleficent and misogynistic monster” who should be condemned without any due process. Elon Musk’s response demonstrates the dichotomy: “I support Russell Brand,” the billionaire posted on X (formerly Twitter). “That man is not evil.” But why do we have to choose between supporting him or declaring him evil?

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn was right when he wrote, in The Gulag Archipelago, that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being”. Yet we still seem to have an irrepressible urge to place people into “good” and “bad” buckets – and if someone does bad things, we refuse to accept they might possess any virtues at all. When I suggested recently that Donald Trump was funny, “sometimes – whisper it – even deliberately so”, I was inundated with furious messages. “He represents the end of democracy,” wrote one reader. “That’s not so funny.” I share the concern about the threat Trump poses to American law and order, but that’s a totally different subject to his sense of humour. We need to be able to talk in nuanced terms, “even about those we view as the most pernicious and dangerous members of society”. When we just label them villains, we are “encouraging more division”.