We need a new national narrative.
One way to identify one is to go back to one of the odd features of our history. We are good to our enemies after wartime. After the revolution, we quickly became allies with Britain. After World War I, Woodrow Wilson was humane to our European enemies. After World War II, America generously rebuilt Germany and Japan.
Elsewhere, enmities last for centuries. But not here. Why? Because we have a national predilection for fresh starts. Coming to this country is for many people a new beginning. We turn every new presidential administration, every new sports season, every graduation ceremony into a new beginning. It’s said Americans don’t settle arguments, we just leave them behind.
The story of America, then, can be interpreted as a series of redemptions, of injury, suffering and healing fresh starts.
- .. In the 18th century divisions between the colonists were partially healed.
- In the 19th century divisions between the free and enslaved were partially healed.
- In the 20th, America partially healed the divisions between democracy and totalitarianism.
.. The great sermon of redemption and reconciliation is Lincoln’s Second Inaugural.
.. This is a speech of great moral humility. Slavery, Lincoln says, was not a Southern institution, it was an American institution, weaving through our common history for 250 years. The scourge of war, which purges this sin, falls on both sides. Lincoln fought any sense of self-righteous superiority the Northerners might harbor. He rejected any thought that God is a tribal God. He put us all into the same category of ambiguity and fallenness.
.. The final prayer heralds a new beginning: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds…to achieve lasting peace among all nations.”
.. He combines Christian redemption with the multiculturalist’s love of diversity. In one brilliant stroke, Lincoln deprives Christian politics of the chauvinism and white identitarianism that we see now on the evangelical right