For one short moment, immediately following the election of President Obama, the nation enjoyed a widespread unifying elation, a sense of pride and purpose that a nation born with slavery had sent a black man to the White House to represent us all. Even the many who didn't agree with his politics appreciated the remarkable milestone. Now we're suffering from an economic crisis that creates new animosities to challenge American solidarity.
It's no coincidence that the tea party movement took its name from rebellious colonists to encourage the nation back to unifying ideals. But life in this country is more complex than ever before -- the recession and a world economy weaken ties to pride of place. Appeals to "global humanity" are abstractions without content. Economic failures -- as well as individual successes -- divide and challenge the political system in new ways.
The natural divisions of competing local, county, state and national interests are increasingly riven with conflict over economic and social issues as well as foreign policy. We observe this at work when Republican presidential candidates try to appeal to different constituencies with competing interests. This makes it harder but no less crucial to unify the nation.
The editors of "What So Proudly We Hail" have gathered documents that run the table of political persuasions, addressing conservatives and liberals, Republicans and Democrats, North and South, East and West. This might not tell readers who to put in office next year, but it will help them decide what they want the chosen to do.
"Developing robust and committed American citizens is a matter of both heart and the head," write the editors. The stories they chose to tell are meant to be inspirational and intellectual, as they examine the profound truths as well as the flaws and vulnerabilities that unite us. These include works of poets and philosophers, soldiers and politicians that appeal to our "moral imaginations," from Mark Twain's folksy insights to Gen. George S. Patton's "eloquent obscenities" in a speech to his soldiers on the eve of battle in World War II.
Here are the soul-shaping words that remind us that appeals to patriotism -- love of country -- can't be limited to special occasions. They lead us to ask ourselves anew how a nation "so conceived and so dedicated can long endure."