In a somewhat Lincolnesque theme President Obama's second inaugural address emphasized America's enduring cooperation and unity. His speech struck me as a kind of hopeful tribute to domestic multilateral alliances--i.e., ourselves, each other, one another, which is to say, collective security first from within.
The loopback to Lincoln was no surprise, for not since the 16th president has any other confronted such intensely organized (as well as sectional) hostility to America's "journey" of progress. Yet Obama also looped back to his own inspirational rhetoric--that of his 2004 Democratic Convention speech dismissing separate "red" and "blue" Americas, and that of his original, presidential campaign appeals to a transracial, postpartisan nation which reasonably presumed a willingness to pull together in the aftermath of national calamity.
The purveyors of reaction are not so easily pacified or persuaded, however. As a freshly minted president, Lincoln, too, hoped he could finesse the incorrigibly backward South, even as it propagandistically ripped into him for rhetoric he never uttered and for designs he never drew. He soon learned that fanatics who earn their living by rousing the rabble prize ideology over country. By his second inaugural they seemed defeated; 10 years later they were "redeemed"; and roughly 100 years after that their reactionaryism--the Southernization of American politics--was back on top.
The United States has been fighting essentially the same, internal Niebuhrian battles between darkness and light for more than two centuries. Hopeful tributes to national unity are nice and inspirational and indispensable and all that, but they're no match for the combined forces of reactionary ignorance and determined malice. So let us enjoy today's pleasantries while we can. Tomorrow it's back to ruthlessness.