Written by Guest Author Heather Cox Richardson Reprinted from Letters from an American, by permission of Heather Cox Richardson. 

“We’re producing more energy than ever before in this nation. We have the strongest economy in the world, and we are beating China for the first time in decades. More people went to work this morning in America than at any other time in our nation’s history. So I’ve got a message to Donald Trump and all his negativity and his whining: Stop **** talking America. This is the greatest country on earth, and it’s time that we all start acting like it.”

Pennsylvania governor Josh Shapiro’s words to Jen Psaki on MSNBC yesterday illustrated that Democrats are flipping the script on the MAGA Republicans.

Since he decided to run for president in 2015, almost exactly nine years ago, Trump’s narrative has been that the United States is in terrible decline and that only he can “make America great again.” In his speech announcing his candidacy on that June day in 2015, he claimed that “our country is in serious trouble” and complained that China, Japan, and Mexico were all “beating” the U.S. and “laughing at us, at our stupidity…. The U.S. has become a dumping ground for everybody else’s problems,” he said before launching into the idea that Mexico was sending criminals and rapists across the border. “Our enemies are getting stronger and stronger…, and we as a country are getting weaker,” he said. “Even our nuclear arsenal doesn’t work.”

Trump claimed—falsely—that the nation’s gross domestic product was below zero, that the labor participation rate was “the worst since 1978,” that unemployment was between 18 and 20 percent, and that while Obamacare was “amazingly destructive,” he would replace it with something cheaper and better.

Trump continued this theme of decline and what he called “American carnage” in his inaugural address. He described “[m]others 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.”

Trump initially seemed to blame inept politicians and bureaucrats for what he claimed was America’s decline, assuring the audience at his 2015 campaign announcement: “Well, you need somebody, because politicians are all talk, no action. Nothing’s gonna get done. They will not bring us—believe me—to the promised land. They will not.” But when then–FBI director James Comey refused to drop the investigation into the relationship between Russian operatives and the 2016 Trump campaign, Trump and his loyalists began to warn of a secretive “deep state” that was working to undermine Trump and, with him, the nation.

Trump’s narrative that he is the true defender of the United States, under attack by dark forces, maps beautifully over white evangelical narratives of religious decline. Trump continued that storyline even after voters turned him out of the White House, insisting that a nefarious conspiracy of Democrats, undocumented immigrants, and foreigners stole the election from him.

The House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the U.S. Capitol estimated that Trump raised $250 million in donations from supporters for an “election defense fund” to pay the legal fees to overturn the results of the 2020 election. But the Trump team never actually set up that fund. Instead, the money went to the Save America political action committee founded and controlled by Trump, and from there the money went to Trump loyalists and pro-Trump organizations.

And therein lies a key reason for Trump’s story of an apocalyptic America: describing the nation as a hellhole that only he can fix also maps over a common pattern of American grifters. So long as supporters send him money, he claims, they will be able to defend the country against dark forces: communists, Marxists, atheists, immigrants, pedophiles, feminists—just what the dark forces are matters far less than that they are a foil for the grifter.

When Trump made that argument in 2015, it was not all that far-fetched. Economists estimate that the supply-side economics of the past 40 years had shifted $50 trillion dollars from the bottom 90% of Americans to the top 1%, hollowing out the middle class. Schools had been chronically underfunded, and the opioid epidemic, which began in 1999, was claiming more than 10,000 Americans a year (a number that has continued to rise ever since). And by weaponizing the filibuster and gerrymandering states, Republicans had made it extraordinarily difficult for Congress to accomplish anything that would address these issues.

When Biden took office, he was in the unusual position of signing executive orders to establish policies that were not unpopular, like Trump‘s, but that were extraordinarily popular. This began the process of showing that the government could, in fact, represent the people.

Then, thanks to the election of Georgia senators Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff in a runoff election on January 6, 2021—that was the seismic shift of January 6, 2021, that is often forgotten—the Democrats continued to demonstrate that the government could work for the people. They passed the American Rescue Plan to shore up the U.S. economy after the pandemic shutdowns, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act to rebuild roads and bridges and improve broadband access, the CHIPS and Science Act to promote semiconductor manufacturing, the Inflation Reduction Act to invest in climate change mitigation and permit the government to negotiate with pharmaceutical companies over drug prices, and the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act to close loopholes in gun purchases.

Those changes have created a roaring economy with an unemployment rate that has just last month ticked up to 4% after 27 months below that number, with wages growing faster than the inflation that plagued the U.S.—and the world—after the pandemic eased. The highest wage growth has gone to the lowest earners, helping to cut the nation’s extreme wealth inequality.

That booming economy might be partly what’s behind another significant change: for all that Trump and MAGA Republicans still talk about Democratic cities as hellholes, the FBI yesterday released a report showing that violent crime in fact dropped by more than 15% in the U.S. during the first three months of 2024.  As Jim Sciutto of CNN pointed out today, “Murders fell 26.4% and rapes decreased by 25.7%. Aggravated assaults decreased by 12.5%, according to the data, robberies fell 17.8%.” In his own assessment, Biden attributed those dropping numbers to “putting more cops on the beat, holding violent criminals accountable, and getting illegal guns off the street.”

On June 1, top sports talk host Colin Cowherd anticipated Shapiro’s pro-American stance when he pushed back on the Republican idea that the country is a dystopian nightmare. “[Trump’s] trying to sell me an America that doesn’t exist,” he said. “Stop trying to sell me on ‘everything’s rigged, the country’s falling into the sea, the economy’s terrible,’” he continued. “The America that I live in is imperfect. But compared to the rest of the world, I think we’re doing okay.”

Today, Biden pointedly illustrated one more difference between Trump and the real world. In the wake of his own conviction on 34 criminal counts, Trump has amped up his insistence that the Department of Justice is rigged against him and must be purged of nonpartisan civil servants and repopulated with his own loyalists. Biden today underscored his own respect for the rule of law.

This afternoon a jury found Biden’s 54-year-old son Hunter Biden guilty on three charges of lying on a form required to purchase a gun in 2018 when he checked the “no” box that asked if he was “an unlawful user of, or addicted to,” drugs. That lie permitted him to buy the gun that he owned for 11 days. His lawyer argued that he did not consider himself an addict because he was trying at the time to end his drug dependence.

The news made the Trump team rush back to their narrative. “This trial has been nothing more than a distraction from the real crimes of the Biden Crime Family, which has raked in tens of millions of dollars from China, Russia and Ukraine,” Trump campaign spokesperson Karoline Leavitt said. Echoing the false allegations MAGA Republicans have made about President Biden, she added: “Crooked Joe Biden’s reign over the Biden Family Criminal Empire is all coming to an end on November 5th, and never again will a Biden sell government access for personal profit.”

But there is no Biden family business, and Hunter Biden is not in the administration. President Biden has kept his distance from the case. Today he said, “I am the president, but I am also a dad. Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery. As I…said last week, I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal. Jill and I will always be there for Hunter and the rest of our family with our love and support. Nothing will ever change that.”

Written by Guest Author Heather Cox Richardson Reprinted from Letters from an American, by permission of Heather Cox Richardson.