Has the GOP once and for all ditched ‘morning in America’ for ‘American carnage’?

Two men shake hands on red, white and blue debate stage
Vivek Ramaswamy shakes hands with former Vice President Mike Pence after the two exchanged wildly divergent views of the United States at last Wednesday’s GOP debate.
(Morry Gash/Associated Press)

How dark has Republicans’ talk of a dystopian America gotten?

So dark that even other Republicans are objecting.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

At one point in last week’s testy debate among eight rivals for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, Vivek Ramaswamy asserted in apocalyptic echoes of Donald Trump (typical for the self-professed Trump 2.0): “We’re in the middle of a national identity crisis. …The problem in our country right now — the reason we have that mental health epidemic — is that people are so hungry for purpose and meaning, at a time when family, faith, patriotism, hard work have all disappeared.”

Disappeared? That was too much for Mike Pence, notwithstanding the fact that as Trump’s vice president, he’d stood supinely by for years as his boss spouted all manner of nonsense about a sickly nation fallen from greatness.

“We don’t have an identity crisis, Vivek,” Pence countered. “We’re not looking for a new national identity. The American people are the most faith-filled, freedom-loving, idealistic, hard-working people the world has ever known. We just need government as good as our people.”


The unshameable Ramaswamy then mocked Pence by, of all things, evoking Ronald Reagan’s optimistic 1984 reelection campaign theme, “Morning in America.” Ramaswamy, who was born in 1985, seemed to suggest that old-fart Pence was hopelessly out of touch as he trotted out iconic but now sepia-toned imagery.

“It is not morning in America,” Ramaswamy insisted. “We live in a dark moment, and we have to confront the fact that we’re in an internal sort of cold cultural civil war.”

The Republican Party has morphed from Reagan’s talk of “this shining city on a hill” to bleating echoes of Trump’s “American carnage.”

That rhetoric of American decline even invaded Reagan’s presidential library in Simi Valley last March. Presidential aspirant and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, in a speech there, promoted his state as a refuge from a Democratic “dystopia, where people’s rights were curtailed and their livelihoods were destroyed.” (Pretty rich coming from DeSantis, who has signed laws curtailing rights for Florida women seeking abortions, parents seeking treatment for children with gender dysphoria, and teachers seeking to impart information to children about sexuality and Black history, and who’s at war with the state’s largest employer, Disney.)

Trump’s 2017 inaugural address set the tone for Republicans, although at the time it provoked former President George W. Bush to mutter to others at the Capitol ceremony, “That was some weird sh—.”

Even in the depths of war and depression, presidents didn’t utter downers the way Trump did that day: “Mothers and children trapped in poverty in our inner cities, rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation; an education system flush with cash but which leaves our young and beautiful students deprived of all knowledge; and the crime and the gangs and the drugs that have stolen too many lives and robbed our country of so much unrealized potential. This American carnage stops right here and stops right now.”


The rhetoric didn’t change when Trump and his party were in charge of the government they love to loathe. That is because their dystopian vision fosters the racial, regional and class divides and the sense of grievance that is central to their political pitch.

As president, Trump along with other Republicans would rail against “Democrat-run cities” and blue states, California and New York most of all — as if those places were a nation apart, not his responsibility. To hear them tell it, only U.S. cities are hellscapes of crime, while ruby-red rural areas are oases of safety — never mind that crime, while still low compared to the peaks of the 1990s, rose everywhere during the COVID-19 pandemic. (Headline in the Wall Street Journal last year: “Rural America Reels From Violent Crime.”)

In a fundraising email Friday, Trump used his own criminal indictment in Georgia to decry Atlanta as a place where “real criminals are terrorizing innocent families.” He thoughtfully ended his money-grubbing appeal by saying, “If you are doing poorly due to these very bad people who are letting America burn to the ground, then please don’t donate.”

Republicans used to slam Democrats for constantly bad-mouthing America. Now they do it routinely, facts be damned. The out-party has historically criticized conditions in the country, blaming problems on the party in power. But never has the shaming of the nation been so pronounced as it has been since Trump reshaped the Republican Party. In another fundraising email on Saturday, the loser decried “Biden’s Third World America.”

The Third World should have it so good. Even the rest of the First World should be so lucky as to enjoy the United States’ advantages.

Trump wasn’t at the Republican debate to referee the spat between his former vice president and his Mini-Me, Ramaswamy, or to offer his own take on the supposedly sorry state of the union. Instead, he vented to the deposed Fox News host Tucker Carlson on X, formerly known as Twitter. And it was particularly weird … stuff.


“Fascists” and “radical-left lunatics” — those are Trump’s and Republicans’ standard names these days for the decidedly center-left Democratic Party — are “destroying our country with the all-electric cars and the windmills all over the place, which, by the way, don’t work,” Trump said. He revived his old, odd lament that “Marxist” government regulations have left our sinks, showers and washing machines virtually without water. And he lied about immigration, of course, saying that South American countries “are emptying their prisons. …They are emptying out their mental institutions. Terrorists are pouring in.”

Why aren’t we all fleeing across our borders to escape this awful American life? Because it’s not awful. It’s time for more Republicans to say so, even when Democrats are in charge.