For the last three Presidential elections, my husband and I invited people over to follow the returns. The first two were joyous events as we watched a capable candidate—who happened to be black—win the election handily. This one, no matter who you wanted in office, felt different.
I turned away–I suspected that confidence in a Clinton win was misplaced–but I watched our guests, akin to watching the fans of the losing player at Wimbledon: ecstatic highs followed by mild concern, then disbelief, and finally falling into collective shock. From my perch in the kitchen, the faces of my loved ones became masks of grief, and I didn’t need see the Electoral map. “That’s a grim crew in there,” I said more than once.
I wasn’t even in the house when the second champagne bottle named “Apocalypse” (the first named “Anticipation”) was cracked. I was outside smoking cigarettes, a poisonous fume entering me as the house became covered in the fume of defeat.
But my instinct was not to sink into gloom. When I came back inside, and I saw my kin so defeated, I yelled, “We’re going fight harder. They don’t get to dictate terms! It’s our flag! We’re hitting the streets and claiming it!”
I’ve never reached for the American flag before. I respected it, respected its symbolism, but have never clung to it. But I’ve never felt such an existential threat to it, and to those who it has meaning for.
This threat is tangible for family, which descends in part from Jews who escaped pogroms and sneaked across the border. Illegal immigration is a part of my history, as is bigotry: right before the election results began rolling in, I proudly hung the American flag that belonged to my white, bigoted grandfather who served in WWI, but sealed my history in his union with my tiny Jewish immigrant grandma.
The rest of my family tree—much of which descends from this white bigot, who fathered many children by four wives (and at least one out of wedlock)—is quintessentially American: my living relatives pan black, white, multi-racial, gay, straight, active military and veterans, religious, agnostic, atheist, conservative, liberal. There is no group in which my family does not share a part.
On my paternal side, the men and women who pepper my history include an uncle who killed himself in the 70’s, most likely because he was gay. Can I allow my LBGT relatives to be forced back into some sort of secret room? No, I want them to continue marrying those they love, and raising children to be respectful of the rights of all, including those who would have them disappear from view.
I can’t pick one of the branches on this multi-crowned family tree and say it doesn’t deserve to be covered by our flag and our Constitution. My urban gay cousins are no less sewn into the Stars and Bars than my conservative, white, God-fearing cousins in the midwest. I have a Japanese aunt; I have Asian cousins. I have Latino cousins, I have black cousins.
This isn’t me reaching for some symbolic trope; this is actually my family. And since it’s not possible that my very American family is an anomaly, it’s your family too.
Three days ago, I bought a pantsuit at Goodwill for 17 bucks so that I could honor casting my vote for a qualified candidate—who happened to be female. I wore lipstick, a combo of red, white and blue, and cast my ballot even though I could have mailed it in.
My patriotism is stronger than it has ever been.