I fly all my flags to inspire and unite, not to divide

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Last year my city councilor stopped me as he was walking by.

“Are you Mexican?” he asked.

“No, I’m Scots-Irish,” I replied. “But… I do a lot of work there these days.”

The councilor’s question did not come unsolicited. I had been flying the flag of Mexico outside my house for six months. He assumed it was an explanation.

In fact, I am a serial flyer of flags on the stand next to my front door in the San Gabriel Valley. Over the years I’ve learned how quickly people make inaccurate assumptions about flags and their meanings.

So I’ve felt unexpected sympathy for U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, who has been criticized for flying an upside-down American flag outside his hometown, and a Christian nationalist.Appeal to heavenflag at his beach house.

Alito’s critics say the flags demonstrate bias — an affinity with Trump supporters who deny the 2020 election results and support the Jan. 6 insurrection — that violates judicial ethics. They believe he should recuse himself from Trump-related matters. Alito has blamed his wife for putting up the flags.

To be clear, I’m not a fan of Alito. He has cruelly and unreasonably taking away the rights of Americansand shown contempt and bad faith towards California. His integrity is questionable, given his naked partisanship and the favors he has accepted from the likes of rich people Eureka billionaire Rob Arkley.

In short, Alito’s scandalous, embarrassing presence on the Supreme Court makes me want to fly my own American flag upside down — traditionally a signal of dire distress to the nation. But I’m not sure the flags on his houses should be held against him.

Because I certainly don’t want my flag choices to be held against me. I don’t think my flag choices are endorsements or mean I can’t be an impartial journalist. Yet I am a citizen first and a reporter second. I reserve the right to self-expression.

I own dozens of flags of convenience. Some are sports-related: flags for the Lakers, Dodgers and my wife’s Green Bay Packers go up in the playoffs. But most of the flags I carry are from countries with which I have no ties in heritage or culture.

I have led an annual traveling global democracy forum for sixteen years, and I often fly the flag of the country that will host us next.

I had flown the flag of Mexico ahead of our forum in Mexico City in 2023. Before that, I flew the Swiss flag, prompting passersby to ask if I was a doctor or worked for the International Red Cross. Last week, after the completion of our forum in Bucharest, I lowered my Romanian flag and raised the blue and black of Botswana (host of the 2025 forum).

I have practical reasons for raising these flags. My house is small. If I were doing early morning Zoom calls with forum hosts around the world, I would wake up my entire family. Instead, I make phone calls on the porch, with the flag of whoever I’m talking to flying behind me.

Sometimes my flags become personal, even political. I communicate my heritage with the flags of Ireland or Scotland. When times are tough in California, I fly the state flag in solidarity. I raised the flag of Hong Kong – where I lived as a child – to protest against Chinese violence there.

Flags can have a dangerous power, especially in public locations. Just look at the fights over the Pride or Confederate flags. It is no coincidence that armies carry flags into battle.