A Saga of bad citizenship

Lakeland's race for mayor offers an excellent localized example of the national struggle between good and bad citizenship that will define America -- and our city -- for years to come.

Say hello to Saga Stevin, candidate for Lakeland mayor, and her Q-Anon social media campaign site buddy Lauren Boebert — noted congressional enthusiast of the Jan. 6 Capitol Lynch Mob.

“Today is 1776,” Boebert tweeted on Jan. 6 while voting — like Scott Franklin — to overturn the presidential election and then providing running updates of the locations of lawmakers during the Capitol Lynch Mob attack.

If you, as a candidate for mayor of my city, willingly take a picture with Lauren Boebert and her degenerate citizenship and joyfully post it to your campaign site as an emblem of yourself, you’re a bad candidate and a bad citizen and you’ve told me everything I need to know about you in public life. You’ve told me everything about how you plan to govern.

So I am thrilled to have Saga Stevin on the ballot, in a campaign, in my city so I can engage this model of “citizenship” with the ferocity it deserves in the context of a campaign.

That’s why I think this article, even though it’s pretty local, is worth reading for people everywhere who care about citizenship — not just Lakeland. The bad citizenship faction of American political “conservatism” (call it Trumpism if you want, but it predates and will outlast him) imagines itself ascendent and national in scope because it can often scream and physically intimidate with impunity. You will likely get the chance in your communities to engage it, too, if you haven’t already.

Some questions for Saga

I find the best way to engage malignant citizenship seeking power is to ask it questions it doesn’t want to answer. Almost without exception, I have found that bad citizenship includes an unwillingness to answer direct simple questions from good citizens. It’s a predictable manifestation of the moral cowardice that lies at the root of bad citizenship. Bad citizenship rests on bad character, not bad ideas.

Here’s an example of that bad character and moral cowardice about questions from Jimmy Nelson, the leader of the so-called County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF) — which is just a fake grassroots collection of performative angry, anti-social people funded by big national political groups who think they can use them to create power and money.

Saga Stevin sounds just like Jimmy’s group; and I have a few questions for her. Some of these I’ve asked already on her Facebook page and in a private message. Predictably, she did not answer them, with maybe one sort of exception. (You can judge for yourself in a moment.) Remember, this person says she wants to rule me and you in our shared city and describes herself as having “considerable intellect and ambition to the political realm.”

1) On your website, you say you “witnessed first hand the purposeful destruction of [Minneapolis].” In actuality, Minneapolis still exists. Not only does it still exist, it is growing briskly after years of substantial population decline and stagnation from roughly 1950 to 2010. See chart below. It presents a strange kind of destruction:

So, my questions, Saga:

  • Will you acknowledge that Minneapolis still exists?

  • Will you acknowledge that it is growing faster than it has since the 1940s

  • If so, were you lying when you described the “purposeful destruction” of Minneapolis? Or are you just deeply, deeply ignorant of the reality of your 20-year home? And should either reality disqualify any supposed “citizen” from wielding power in their community.

2) On your website, you write:

Having seen the communal pains and penalties that have erupted due to the mindless chatter and actions of radical ideologues in Minneapolis, Saga set her political and moral sights on her beloved Lakeland.

  • You abandoned your growing, 20-year home like a deadbeat parent and cut-and-run when you perceived that the going got tough for you. What kind of moral citizenship is that?

  • Can we expect you to to cut-and-run from Lakeland like you did Minneapolis if you don’t get your way culturally and socially? Is that the behavior of an adult?

3) You also say:

Having moved back to Lakeland in 2020 and seeing the precursors of such actions, Saga chose to, quite simply, fight to keep the great city of Lakeland…Lakeland.

  • Which specific “precursors” are you referring to? Please name them.

4) On your website, you say you want to: “Defend Lakeland from those who want to tear our community apart under cover of racial and social injustice.” When I first contacted you asking for actual names of “those,” you answered:

The names I am referring to are organizations. Those organizations include Black Lives Matter and other Marxist organizations that are in the community. I witnessed first hand the destruction of a community and I want to keep Lakeland the strong community it is with the best interest of all the citizens in mind. I am someone who fully supports the Constitution and all that the Constitution stands for.

  • So Black Lives Matter is the only “name” you are protecting the city from? Can you name a human member of BLM? What evidence do you have that Black Lives Matter in Lakeland is a “Marxist” organization? What “other Marxist organizations” are you referring to in our community?

  • Also, I care deeply about correcting racial and social injustice. Do you, who abandoned your 20-year home when it got stressful for you, intend to protect my 22-year home from me? If so, say my name. I’m saying yours.

5) On your website, you say you want to “Promote and support traditional family values.”

  • What does that mean, specifically?

For instance, the so-called County Citizens Defending Freedom and their allies in “citizenship” demonstrated their version of “family values” in two different county government venues on Tuesday.

At the County Commission meeting, one of them cursed at a doctor and had to be removed by a deputy amid much general shouting and disruption over Ivermectin. And it’s not the first time law enforcement has had to step in to protect local government from CCDF “family values.”

  • Are those the “family values” you’re talking about?

At the School Board meeting on the same day, another faction of 15 of so CCDFers — who were also politicking and selling CCDF hats on School Board property — got up and walked out en masse on children in complete disrespect because they were receiving an LGBT History Month proclamation. Here’s the video:

Those children and their teacher came from Lakeland High and Harrison. They are your would-be constituents, Saga:

  • Would you walk out on them in an effort to humiliate them, too, like your CCDF allies?

  • Are these the family values you’re talking about?

6) You willingly cavort with Lauren Boebert and advertise her on your campaign page.

  • Do you agree with her that the presidential election was stolen by your fellow citizens?

  • Do you agree that Jan. 6 was like “1776.”?

  • Do you share Boebert’s belief and support for Q-Anon?

  • Are you planning to bring Q-Anon values to Lakeland’s mayorship?

7) County Commissioner Neil Combee has endorsed you. He has also said categorically that children do not get COVID and that using the veterinary drug Ivermectin after getting sick is better than avoiding serious sickness with a vaccine.

  • Do you agree?

8) Polk County sheriff Grady Judd oversaw a massive 68 percent spike in the Polk County murder rate in 2020. That’s, by far, the biggest jump of any of any of the top 10 largest counties in the state. Florida’s overall rate increase in 2020 was 13 percent. And Polk’s overall rate is higher than Florida’s as a whole. Lakeland’s increase was much smaller.

  • Why do you think Sheriff Judd’s tough-talking TV press conferences have done nothing to deter or reduce killing in his jurisdiction? What’s failing in his approach to policing?

  • What is about Polk County’s supposedly more “traditional” values — compared what scares you about the city of Lakeland’s values — that is leading to worse problems with killing in the county?

You don’t deserve to wear “citizen” on your hats, CCDF

I have been itching to really go on offense against the cowardly curdled “citizenship” of Jimmy Nelson and CCDF and J.C. Martin (see this story) and everybody who thinks they’re entitled to overturn elections and beat Capitol police officers with impunity while calling it tourism and scream at doctors and kill teachers and kids for the sake of selfish convenience because they write “citizen” on their merch and scream FREEDOM!!!

But so far, none of them in Polk have been willing to put themselves on a ballot and really submit themselves to the public for scrutiny and an election — until Saga. So I’m very grateful that she bailed on still-existing, rapidly growing Minneapolis and turned tail to flee here.

In truth, I’m not even particularly concerned with the specific outcome of this particular election — win or lose. I am not worried about bringing her more attention. I want her to have more attention to more fully engage this bad citizenship.

I expect the well-known incumbent, who is a Republican, a successful businessman, a parent, an actual Christian, and a good citizen who has done a good job, to win handily. If that is the case, I will do whatever I can to make sure the experience of losing leaves a psychic mark on all the adherents of bad citizenship. Social approval matters to them — a lot. That’s one reason they’re so terrified to answer specific questions. They’re needy.

But I’m not terribly worried if Saga wins by some turn of events. Like the rest of this kind of citizenship, she’s not for anything. Owning the libs and worshiping Grady Judd and whining that the world you knew isn’t the world of today or the future is not an agenda. It does nothing; it creates nothing. Her time as mayor would offer a useful demonstration of that fact and something for good Lakeland citizenship to rally against.

Smashing Saga Stevin’s bad citizenship campaign does present an opportunity to Lakeland’s “Leadership Class,” which has badly lost its way recently in thrall to Will Harrell and “Lakeland First” and irresponsible inherited wealth and the outlandish grievances and race baiting of Gow Fields.

Saga Stevin gives the local leadership class a chance to reclaim its soul and dignity and the mantle of good citizenship. Or they can can just let Neil Combee-ism define them forever to the outside world, while serving as his metaphorical tobacco spittoon, because they’re too scared to do anything about him or stand for something moral.

Good citizenship must make bad citizenship painful

Public Enemy Number 1 has been on hiatus for a few weeks. As many of you know, both of my parents recently died in the week we dropped our youngest son off at college. And then my wife and I took an extended trip into the depths of American history and citizenship.

3900 miles. At least 12 National Historical sites. It was awesome. The National Park Service is an engine of good citizenship and history. Richard Corcoran and Ron DeSantis would probably try to ban it if they could.

This trip was the perfect way for me to reflect upon and honor my parents. They were both citizens, perhaps more than anything else. They taught me citizenship and modeled it for me perhaps more than anything else. They did this both by demonstrating good citizenship personally and confronting bad citizenship without hesitation or fear of consequences from the power of bad citizenship. Both are requirements of true good citizenship.

I took the picture above in D.C. last Saturday, on a beautiful day at the National Mall, where my dad first took me 40 years ago. It pulsated last weekend with the kind of happy, accommodating, unselfish, aspirational, astonishingly diverse American citizenship that is anathema to the raging and cynical opportunism of Saga Stevin and Jimmy Nelson and their funders. It was a model of American citizenship at its best. And it gravitated to Lincoln — not the soundly-defeated slave abuser and slavecatcher Robert E. Lee.

But it’s not enough to celebrate that aspirational citizenship on the happy days with perfect weather. Good citizenship has to protect itself from this…

And from this…

Even more, good citizenship, to grow itself, has to do more than protect itself. It has to seize the initiative against bad citizenship. It has to put bad citizenship on the defensive. It has to weaponize bad citizenship culturally and morally against itself.

The battle between good citizenship and bad citizenship is the American battle of our time — and probably always has been. It likely will continue for the rest of my life.

It’s not won or lost in one election or even many. Campaigns and elections are more arenas than they are determiners of the outcome of the fight for citizenship. The character of citizenship is won and lost in the guts of communities, by the people who drive communities forward and grow the breadth and quality of citizenship. And it’s won by the handful of people have enough courage to confront and turn back and discipline bad citizenship when it arises and brings consequences. That was my parents. I aspire to be like them.

I don’t have many predictions about the future of America — or even Lakeland.

But I am very confident that good citizenship, broadly distributed, emphatically asserted, regardless of consequence is a stronger long-term force in American life than whatever short-term, vicious cynicism and fake entitled grievance Saga Stevin and Will Harrell and Jimmy Nelson and CCDF offer.