I guess there are two such times. Immediately after 9/11 when the country rallied, the stock market reopened, and the world realized that even attacks as big and disastrous as those perpetrated on that day would not, in the end, damage the idea that is the United States. A few years later that feeling had been replaced by bewildering shame and fear of what we had become under George W. Bush.
The time before that was in the mid-1980s. I was living in NYC less than a year out of college. The "Reagan Revolution" was well underway and America was emerging from the 14-year cave that characterized the post-Vietnam War, post-Watergate era. We were finally starting to feel good about being Americans. Say what you will about Reagan, but he did give us this.
One memory of that time stands out above all others for me. I was out with some friends at a microbrew pub called the Manhattan Brewing Company (if I recall correctly). This was a great loft-style place somewhere in or near the Village, with picnic benches and huge bowls of peanuts in the shell. It smelled of beer (naturally) and the crunch of peanut shells as people walked through the room was pretty loud.
In any event, at one point someone stood up and started singing God Bless America, loudly enough that most in this cavernous room could hear him above the hubbub of 500 half-drunk "conversationalists." By the middle of "Land, that I love…" most everybody in the room was standing. And singing – or screaming – the rest of that wonderful song. By the end of the second "home, sweet, home" most people – men and women – were crying openly. The feeling was sort of a religious rapture. Right then and there over 500 people resolved to relegate the self-hate of the 70's and early 80's to the dustbin of history.
That was how I felt at 11PM EDT last night. I, along with countless millions across this great country and around the globe, remembered how it feels to be proud of America and to be inspired to be a better person. Last night brought back the memory of that night in 1985 in NY, and relegated it to a footnote. More than 200 years after the framers of our Constitution settled on a compromise that protected the rights of Southern landowners to own slaves in order to form a single country, we have finally moved to a world where "all men are [truly] created equal" and Americans have shown that they will value the quality of a person's character above the color of their skin.