67-33, part 1: Victory, grace, and the path out of our abusive civic household

How does Saga differ from Trump? And what does her thrashing at the hands of a decent, future-facing fellow Republican mean for the ongoing American citizenship wars?

I have a question for my fellow Lakelanders with whom I just happily collaborated to crush Saga Stevin: what’s the difference between the vanquished Saga and Donald Trump?

I’ll give you a second to ponder.

Now here’s my answer: to my knowledge, Saga has never bragged about raping anyone, while being repeatedly, publicly, credibly accused of rape by multiple women. (Accusing me of “crushing” on her is not the same.) Saga never bankrupted a casino. Saga never ran a fake “university” fraud. Saga seems to have accepted the social, moral, and 67-33 electoral ass-kicking she just took from the normal, decent people of this city that she barely knows. As far as I know, she never actually called for an insurrection-by-lynch mob, although she publicly supported its cheerleaders. And she has never had her finger anywhere near the nuclear button.

Other than that…

Well, another difference is that Donald Trump is the undisputed leader of the Republican Party. He will be the GOP nominee to wield supreme American power in 2024.

Unavoidable choices

That creates some rather stark choices, now that we all know Trump rejects elections he clearly loses — with the enthusiastic backing of most of his voters — and whips up Capitol lynch mobs in response to them. We also know that Saga Stevin was Trump’s voice in Lakeland. I doubt Trumpism and Jan. 6-ism was on any ballot anywhere in America as explicitly on Tuesday as in Lakeland.

Saga praised Capitol Lynch Mob advocates — just like Polk County GOP leader J.C. Martin does — on her campaign material. She ran an explicitly Trumpist campaign, full of endless racist lies. Julie “Stop the Steal” Fancelli wrote her a $1,000 check. Saga attracted criminal hangers-on like Lawnmower Anderson, while reducing the most powerful figures of Big Capital and Big Guns in this city and county to quivering Jello.

And Saga ran against an incumbent fellow Republican as “woke” as surely as the guy in Virginia ran against the Democrat there — and not without reason. Moving Confederate monuments and treating all citizens with respect equals “CRT/woke” for most anti-wokers I know. Bill Mutz is indeed quite woke by that standard. I’ve never heard him insist on banning a book for other people’s kids — or erasing history to accommodate Lynchriot snowflakery.

All that helped Saga break even with the Lakeland GOP, while getting destroyed by everybody else — just like I predicted. (Sometimes I’m right.)

Saga took a civic beat down at the hands of an old school American civic “liberal” — by that I mean champion of western liberal democratic self-government values both parties used to claim to cherish. That suggests many Trump voters in purple Lakeland do not actually want Trump all up in their faces and local civic institutions.

So why do they want him with the nuclear launch codes and the bully pulpit of cruelty and executive privilege that gives him a blank check to commit crime?

Many people would prefer not to confront these questions and choices. They would like to pretend the last five or six years haven’t happened — and are not continuing to happen. They would like to pretend there are no consequences for treating other people with extreme, gratuitous cruelty; indifference to their life, death, and suffering; and gleeful trolling about both.

But there are consequences; and we’ll be figuring them out together for a long time. One very encouraging local election does not change that underlying fact. In fact, it clarifies that fact even more starkly.

After all, even woke Bill Mutz was able to rationalize voting twice to put Saga Stevin in the White House.

Jan. 6 killed all pretending

You, my friends, could roll with Trump in 2016 and 2020 and plausibly pretend it wasn’t a direct assault on the existence of your neighbors as equal citizens — even as many of you joyfully chanted “lock them up” at lynch mob rallies or pretended not to hear.

I considered you misguided and too comfortable with cruelty and embarrassingly indulgent of inhumane immorality and heretical to your stated religious values. But I did not perceive you as unequivocally making war on common citizenship in 2016 or 2020 — or on my citizenship, specifically.

After the election rejection and Jan. 6, neither of us can pretend anymore.

You and I both know that casting a lot with MAGA and SAGA now means an active, violent, lawless assault on the citizenship and democratic participation of millions and millions and millions of decent American citizens.

Trump ‘24 — America’s Lynch Mob ‘24 — is your open declaration of moral and citizenship war against us. You should internalize that fact; because I did so long ago. And I’m actively preparing for it as an unarmed man of peace and justice. Consider Saga Stevin an object lesson of that preparation — a war game.

Consider what I rained on her in the last six weeks evidence that I will not willingly accept exile from citizenship in my own country and community. And I certainly will not let you impose citizenship exile on me and family or the vulnerable of this community without a non-violent (on my side) fight — no matter who you are or how friendly you imagine us to be personally.

We’ll come back to that in part 2. But I want to talk more here about peace and how we might stumble toward it together, without lying to each other.

The SAGA/MAGA-sphere and the Trump/Mutz bloc

Delving into the math of Tuesday night suggests a roughly 50-50 split in the Lakeland GOP between the SAGA/MAGA-sphere and the Constructive Citizens Alliance (CCA!) that backed Mutz.

That split makes an incredibly useful civic and sociological framework for understanding today’s national power struggle — at home and in the country at large.

As an individual, Donald Trump is meaningless in that struggle. He’s a spiritually-broken, incompetent, abusive criminal. Had he not inherited massive capital that he has largely squandered on his debt and bankruptcy law-enabled lifestyle, he would most likely reside anonymously in some state prison today. Or he would be a crank ex-con with a keyboard somewhere, just like Robert “the Lawnmower” Anderson of Lakeland Gazette.

Unlike Trump, you, his voters, matter very much. He only matters through you.

And as Saga shows, the SAGA/MAGA-sphere would need to invent Trump in this national moment if he did not exist. Indeed, the SAGA/MAGA-sphere has groped for him for years.

I fully understand the SAGA/MAGA-sphere’s eagerness to flick off an American “establishment” or the “elite” that has performed rather poorly — and in rather self-interested and wealth-hoarding ways as the New Deal unraveled over the last few decades.

I won my 2016 School Board election, in part, on mobilizing the same anti-elite instinct in a much more productive and humane and policy-focused way. I was serious about about beating the “establishment” or the “elite” so public education could better serve the humanity of your children — and all children. The “elite” — including pillars of the Mutz coalition — sought to punish me for it.

That seriousness is how I won so many votes from those of you in the SAGA/MAGA-sphere in 2016 — and to a lesser extent 2020 — without pandering to you. I never once race-baited or gay-baited or trans-baited or Trumper-baited or anything-baited except for maybe government test-baiting. I never lied to you. And many of you supported me and actually compared me favorably with Trump because I “tell it like it is.”

Indulgence, the destroyer of grace

But Trump has one great advantage over me.

He empathizes — deeply understands — your desperate need for indulgence, because he shares it. He shares many of the dark fantasies you enjoy. I do not. He brings you a sense of cruel community that I can’t and never will. That is his great talent and connection to you. He understands the shared joy of Lynchriotism — as a kind of warped sense of community.

That’s why you turn out to vote for him — he gives you permission to make monsters of your neighbors and torment them for fun.

I wrote about the term Lynchriot here. Trumpism is just the current and most public totem manifestation of it — the burning cross of the moment around which Lynchriots build a sense of aggrieved and aggressive community in order to dominate the lives and space of others.

In that, Trump is much like the Confederate Monument Howard Wiggs loves so much — a tribal emblem for a comparatively small, formidably homogenous, heavily-armed, historically-dominant, grievance-soaked group of people. They like getting together and waving the rebel flag and chanting “lock them up.” The Lynchriots love Trump — and Saga — for indulging and sharing that feeling. He’s their drug, in the same way Saga was for a few Lakeland people for a few heady weeks of getting high on their own supply.

Grace for the lynch mob?

Trump will win all of Saga Stevin’s Lakeland Lynchriot love — the Wiggses, the cop-union mouthpieces, the boat-paraders, the folks with the Trump Rambo beach towels, and life-sized Trump cut outs, the “we love Jonathan Pollock” Facebook comments, and the fascist banners that mangle the American flag and insult every true patriot including my Vietnam combat-wounded father and anti-fascist Patton’s army grandfather.

It was ever thus — here and in America as a whole.

Indeed, lynch mobs are, historically, the single most toxic and brutal expression of authentic American community will. Lynch mobs are as American as baseball and apple pie.

So how does one show grace to the Lynchriots in your community when those Lynchriots will neither renounce Lynchriotism nor commit to peaceful, shared co-existence and power with the fellow citizens they are accustomed to dominating?

That’s a tough question. And it came up during a chat with someone I like very much in the Mutz-voting camp. She was talking about showing “grace” to Saga. And grace is actually quite important to me, even as a largely non-religious person. We’ll talk a bit more about that in part 2, as well.

I try to show grace to Lynchriots grace the same way I try for everyone else: imagine the world from their point-of-view; and tell them the truth about what I see. I do not indulge them. I think powerful people often confuse indulgence or lying with “grace.” They convince themselves they are the same thing — the social and moral lubricant of “moving forward.”

But, in reality, indulgence is the killer of grace because it withholds grace from others and sacrifices their lives and suffering to moral convenience and aversion to necessary confrontation.

Only Big Capital and Big Guns can end the national murder/suicide attempt

I saw someone point out, accurately, that every national American election since 2006 has been a “change” election — a reaction against the party that won the previous. We’ve snapped back and forth in rather unfocused anger as a country every two years for the last 15.

I think that’s because, for now, Americans have stopped competing politically or ideologically about the current and future direction of America. We battle instead over who has full citizenship and access to capital and control of space. And that’s all about personal identity and power, not public ideas.

That’s not surprising if one correctly understands the narrative of American history — which is the vicious struggle to create the first true universal, fair, multi-racial representative democracy in the history of humanity. That requires taking power from traditional concentrated reservoirs of power and re-distributing it more broadly to those who have lacked power. It requires shrinking the differential in power that exists between different types of citizens. And that’s not entirely — or even primarily — a question of voting.

We have not created a true multi-racial, universal self-government yet as Americans. But we’ve moved closer; and paradoxically, by expanding citizenship, we’ve changed the nature of democratic engagement from debate over how to self-govern into a self-destructive, future-denying struggle over who gets to self-govern — and who is protected from whom and entitled to inflict cruelties on whom.

Lynchriotism objects strenuously to the pursuit of true representative democracy because it is historically accustomed to social and racial power and to dictating the terms of whatever notion of representative democracy America was exercising at any give time. Indeed, any lynch mob — from Claude Neal to the Capitol — is defined by power-enabled lawlessness, by opting-out of the laws and morality of representative government that Big Capital and Big Guns enforce. It’s defined by the power of a choice reserved entirely for Lynchriots.

Lynchriotism’s moral and civic and democratic power has never been weaker than right now, as Tuesday night’s vote shows quite clearly. It’s precisely because of that weakness that it so dangerous at this moment. It is feeling desperate and empowered at the same time. It cannot win America; but it can take us all down in a national murder/suicide.

The solution, of course, is for Big Capitol and Big Guns to turn against Lynchriotism decisively in an alliance with true self-government and create the governing space that allows us to imagine and shape a future together. When it does this with even moderate force, Lynchriotism collapses into vicious, impotent absurdity — like it did Tuesday night in Lakeland.

A volatile household, not a marketplace of ideas

Indeed, rather than a marketplace of ideas, today’s American power dynamic is much more like a volatile shared household. True multi-racial representative democracy is a rambunctious teenager. It pushes mom and dad’s limits by justly (most of the time, but sometimes not) asserting freedoms and powers not previously granted by traditional power.

Think of the parents as the SAGA/MAGA-sphere (the Lynchriots) and official Big Capital/Big Guns. Together, they possess the material, historical, and social/racial power of our national household. Historically, the true American variable is that SAGA/MAGA-sphere gets very abusive and violent and cruel when the kids want more freedom and agitate for it. And the other parent too often indulges the rage and violence and excessive punishment. That’s not great for the house we’re all stuck in together.

This metaphor is obviously an oversimplification. It somewhat trivializes the human suffering and pain built into it; but I think it’s a better model for thinking about modern power politics than the books we teach on civics.

And you can really see the household analogy at work in the Mutz-Saga race and result. Lakeland has been pushing the outer edges of citizenship far beyond what Saga Stevin ever experienced here as a child — or in America as an adult. That annoys a lot of people.

A clearly ratified expansion of citizenship and shared civic space

In 2012, I walked into the Lakeland City Commission chambers and asked commissioners to grant recognition and benefits to same-sex couples. I failed to convince a majority — including the soon-to-be mayor Howard Wiggs, who was electrically, incandescently opposed to that basic expansion of citizenship for the city workforce.

The idea of moving the Confederate Monument wasn’t even on anyone’s radar. Less than a decade later, same sex marriage is taken for granted, the monument is gone from downtown — the living room of our shared household — and no longer an actionable source of community division, and Lakeland is an increasingly diverse and welcoming place. Critiques of policing are taken seriously enough to drive official action. And that’s just the obvious symbolic stuff, which has also happened across the country in many places.

None of that happened by electing Democrats — although the agitation of Democratic citizens certainly helped. It happened by pushing power, whoever wielded it, to act and to recognize the ambitions and pains of our full citizenry. Mostly elected Republicans oversaw the transformation in Lakeland. And at least half of Republican voters here — and everybody else — fully ratified that expansive woke surge of public citizenship Tuesday night. It was very much on the ballot. Elections are clarifying.

As a Constructive Citizens Alliance (CCA!), we ratified the last decade from our own context of living here. We like it as a city. It’s a pretty good civic household, open to getting better. And we don’t want it rolled back into whatever fever dream Saga had about her childhood.

In keeping with the parental theme, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that personally kind, double-digit dad Bill Mutz, helped shepherd and protect those gains in citizenship as a decent Republican. I’m not surprised he defended the rambunctious teenager of true representative democracy from the moral violence and power of the abusive Lynchriot parent storming through our local civic household in a backlash rage.

In my experience, Bill’s instinct is to nurture. And even when I think he’s wrong, he tends to be wrong as a consequence of that instinct to nurture.

So how does that rub off on the Mutz ‘21 GOP.

That’s a fascinating — and crucial — question for our chaotic national household. Lakeland shows America a pathway out of this self-destructive bullshit — if we want a way out of it as a country. We are a city who just emphatically told the world that we want a future together — and we’re thinking hard about it.

But Lakeland’s city limits are an artificial line on a map.

We can’t build a wall to keep the outside world out. So how will Trump ‘16 and ‘20/Mutz ‘21 people interpret what they just helped deliver here?

Many openly opposed Saga here at home because they correctly perceived her as appallingly unfit to govern, personally and publicly. And because her people — Trump’s people — came at “good Republican” Bill Mutz the same way they come at “libs” and Mike Pence.

We’ll take a harder look at that in part 2.