The United States has a long list of social and economic challenges, disturbingly (and unjustly) concentrated in certain communities. But we are not slouching toward Gomorrah. Over the past few decades, divorce rates and abortion rates have both declined. Levels of violent crime have dropped dramatically. The U.S. economy, for all its problems, still attracts the world’s capital and the world’s best students. We have a wonderful country, thank you, flawed and free, carrying the highest political ideals of humanity, always capable of hope and healing.

If that sounds sappy, so be it. The best American leaders have believed it, deeply and intuitively, and caused others to believe it.

Apocalyptic rhetoric is more than the evidence of historical ignorance and bad speechwriting. It leads to a distorted politics. If the United States has reached its midnight hour, it means that the institutions that have gotten us here are utterly discredited. The normal avenues of political reform are useless. Proposals for incremental policy change are so much deck-chair arranging. Political persuasion and compromise evince a lack of urgency. What we really need is to call a constitutional convention. Or to conduct a massive police action removing 11 million undocumented immigrants. Or to elect a really strong leader who knocks heads and sets everything straight.

Many Republican candidates have used apocalyptic language. But it is Trump who seems to understand its true potential.