This rush to apocalyptic rhetoric is both a cause and an effect of the paralyzing polarization of our politics. It is a way to sustain the partisan intensity and justify the outrageous levels of mutual animosity required to keep all arguments at a fever pitch on cable news, on social media, and on the campaign trail. Almost all of us fall into it sometimes (I’m certain I myself have done so over the years).

And because our polarization often is not substantive but affective now, not about policy but about tribe, it requires the conviction that rule by the other party would guarantee utter ruin, and so requires us to raise the stakes of every political decision point beyond all bounds.

Such logic also serves as an argument for suspending the usual rules and norms. If the fate of everything we care about hinges on winning this round, then no holds can be barred, and surely this is no time for bargaining, compromise, or incrementalism. And if it’s always such an emergency, then the rules cease to exist at all.

This leaves us much too grim about the state of the country, and yet at the same time incapable of addressing our problems.