‘Patriotism’ has always divided us. National memory can unite us.

Americans use patriotism as a political cudgel. Lincoln had an answer to that problem.

There has long been an argument, roughly along the axis of conservatism and progressivism, about whether to love America for what it has been or what it should be. The right inclines to American exceptionalism, and the sense that our nation’s roots in self-evident moral truths render it a unique force for good in the world and make its politics distinctly elevated. The left inclines to a more redemptive hope in America — the idea that our country has been working from its birth to overcome its unique sins, and that it has made some progress but has much more to make.
.. Liberals argue that the conservative form of patriotism sanitizes history and descends into jingoism. Conservatives say the left’s form of patriotism isn’t so much a regard for America as for liberal political ideals, which progressives hope our country might increasingly come to resemble.
.. What stands out about America, Trump argues, is not its ideals or its gradual self-improvement but the simple fact that it is our country. So America’s leaders should do what the leaders of all other nations do and put their own nation first.
.. Each camp understands its adversaries as speaking somehow from outside that tradition and perhaps against it. So patriotism itself becomes a source of disunity.

.. One man’s life and thought were a testament to all three forms of patriotism. Abraham Lincoln .. his thinking on that subject offers a model of genuine statesmanship, because it tended to build bridges where others, in his time and ours, could see only chasms.
.. Our idealistic exceptionalism is, if anything, a restraint on self-congratulation because it always compels us to confront the fact that we fall short of our ideals. The American creed, Lincoln argued in one speech, should form “a standard maxim for free society, which should be familiar to all and revered by all
.. progress toward justice involves vindicating rather than repudiating our founding principles.
..  Memory is both conceptual and visceral. It lets us take pride in our ideals and our experience — our origins and our progress — and the fact that both are ours.
.. America is not itself an ideal but a real nation, full of real people who deserve leaders who put them first.