Citizens Against Assholery, part 1: a "moderate" proposal for the time of face-eating leopards

Only strongly asserted citizenship can make the American idea of representative democracy work. It's up to us. Here's one idea for organizing that welcomes all *citizens* of all factions.


Take a 4-question public citizenship test with me. It sort of mimics and updates the Rotary Club’s Four-Way Test, which itself seeks to create a “moral code for personal and business relationships.” My test attempts to set a moral code for political relationships — for the public behavior of power, activism and citizenship.

  1. Do you lie, especially in public, about the behavior and positions of individuals or groups or populations or political positions?

  2. Do you use power — whether official or through media platform — to target and attempt to dominate less powerful individuals and populations, particularly with lies and incitement.

  3. Do you attempt to use your power to make other people responsible or suffer the consequences of your choices and actions and mistakes?

  4. Do you disrupt the citizenship of others — whether official government function or communal activity — or support the disruption in order to intimidate or frighten or force that citizenship into submission to your power? This differs from principled disruption in which a person willingly submits to the consequences of the disruption — arrest, etc. — without threatening other people as a way to illustrate the unjust or immoral behavior of power or citizenship. Principled disruption can be a powerful act of citizenship. It was the backbone of the Civil Rights Movement, for instance.

If you answered “yes” to one or more of those questions, we should talk. But let’s put a pin that for a second. And let’s consider this test through the behavior of the Polk County Republican Party chairman J.C. Martin and Lakeland mayoral candidate Saga Stevin.

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What do we call this behavior?

Fact: The head of the Polk County Republican Party, J.C. Martin, told Pro Publica he wants the 2020 presidential election stolen from his fellow citizens and neighbors who voted against the candidate Martin preferred. J.C. Martin, who wants to steal your citizenship, is choosing to publicly celebrate in this fraught civic moment his association with convicted felon Roger Stone, who consorted with Proud Boys and Oath Keepers and exhorted members of the Jan. 6 Capitol Lynch Mob the night before they went on to brutalize Capitol Police and American representative democracy. Here’s what Stone said at a rally the night before the Capitol Lynch Mob. Perhaps he and J.C. discussed it at dinner last week.

Let’s be very clear. This is not an election between Republicans and Democrats. This is not a fight between liberals and conservatives. This is nothing less than an epic struggle for the future of this country between dark and light, between the godly and the godless, between good and evil. And we will win this fight or America will step off into a thousand years of darkness. We dare not fail. I will be with you tomorrow, shoulder-to-shoulder.

Thus J.C Martin and Roger Stone answer “Yes” to at least question 1, 2, and 4 of my test.

Fact: Saga Stevin’s campaign for mayor is built on telling public lies about “Marxists” who do not exist seeking to destroy Lakeland, a city she only recently moved to. She cannot name a single such “Marxist”; and the only source she cites for her delusions and lies is Polk Sheriff Grady Judd, who refuses to answer my questions about why he allows her to do this in his name. She celebrates Q-Anon and coup-plotting activists on her campaign material. Full documentation here.

Thus, Saga Stevin answers “Yes” to 1, 2, and 4. And I would argue that her free use of Grady, with his silent assent, she answers “Yes” to 3 as well. It’s a grand slam.

The assholery faction

The large faction of the national and local U.S. Republican party that Stone and Martin and Saga Stevin embody is a very real political faction. It is likely the majority faction of the current Republican Party. That’s what polls and voting behavior suggest.

But this political faction has no actual politics or ideology or policy goals beyond anti-social behavior and the gratification of emotionally — and in some cases physically — terrorizing the vulnerable. It organizes itself around something else: aggressive and menacing behavior toward the citizenship of its neighbors and communities. Describing this accurately requires a distinctly non-political word: assholery.

To tweak a phrase coined elsewhere, the assholery itself is the point of the politics. It’s the point of Saga Stevin’s campaign and J.C. Martin’s Roger Stone pictures and Neil Combee’s … whatever the hell Neil is doing.

I apologize for the mild profanity of “assholery.” But as I search my vocabulary, I find no other word (at least no other word that isn’t more profane) that accurately describes the personal character qualities of this political faction’s public behavior. This faction combines joyful petty invasion of normal people’s reality and a complete contempt for any idea that might improve any civic situation.

If you run into that guy at a barbecue, you’re gonna say: what an asshole.

Assholery is defined by what we do, not who we are

My political citizenship test aims to provide a clear definition of “assholery,” so that it can be itemized and cited with something approaching objectivity.

My assholery test does not care about party, race, sex, language, ideology, religion. None of it. It cares about public citizenship behavior. (If people want to practice assholery in their private relationships, that’s their business.)

But my assholery test also accounts for power. The possession, use, and abuse of power are powerful engines of behavior that can easily spiral into public assholery; so my test is not power neutral. See question 4, for instance. The assholery of power — or the assholery of gratuitous aggression — is very good at provoking assholery in response from people who wouldn’t otherwise engage in assholery. Identifying the aggressor matters in my test.

The very idea of this test aims to emphasize that assholery is a distinct behavior — in the moment — not a chronic condition. Indeed, while I am not naive, I also choose to believe there are no permanent assholes. Assholery can always be renounced. Indeed, we who do not habitually traffic in assholery need to encourage and welcome those who renounce it.

But it is also time that we citizens of all parties, ideologies, and religions, re-assert our primacy over the common citizenship spaces of our communities. It’s time to organize against assholery — because the assholes demonstrating it will crumble in the face of organized or even individual confrontation from good citizenship. They fear honest, productive confrontation. They want your approval or your submission. Give neither. I have seen and experienced this over and over again. Assholes of the moment are more likely to renounce assholery when citizenship exacts a price for it through clear disapproval. It’s part of what makes assholery assholery — a lack of true conviction.

I’m even more convinced of this after watching a large, diverse crowd neutralize the public assholery of Jimmy Nelson’s toxic, Capitol Lynch Mob-supporting “County Citizens Defending Freedom” group, who are not citizens in any behavioral way — and who attack the freedom of others.

Fifteen or so CCDFers had been disrupting school board meetings and new superintendent Fred Heid’s recent public speaking tour in Polk County — until he came to the Dream Center in Lakeland Thursday night.

There the make-up and citizenship of the large crowd clearly intimidated the matching hat-wearing screamers into asking meek questions that sounded ridiculous — even to them — when not shouted with the voice of aggressive assholery.

The result was an incredibly encouraging civic meeting about the future of public education in Polk County. Personally, I am proud to have engaged in some experimental citizenship-enforcement tactics in that meeting that proved effective. And I was very pleased with what I heard from Mr. Heid. More on that to come in a different article.

Introducing “Citizens Against Assholery”

Bolstered by Thursday night’s experience, I am announcing today the creation of Citizens Against Assholery, of which I am the founding and sole current member. But all people who choose citizenship over assholery are invited.

I see three general goals for it:

1) Create fellowship and connection and morale among citizens who care about good citizenship enough to try to enforce it.

2) Document public assholery by the name of the perpetrators — as determined by our test — in a public way.

3) Develop the capacity to mobilize citizenship to act as a counterweight in civic spaces to discipline the behavior of “groups” like CCDF looking to domainate civic spaces with assholery.

People who habitually engage in assholery generally do so because they enjoy it. It’s fun for them. We need to have a little fun of our own and build a coalition of happy citizenship capable of making assholes very uncomfortable in their communities. In fact, I envision our first meeting at a place like Grove Roots, where we can have a beer, share some fellowship, and indentify assholery and develop tactics to counter it.

If you are interested in taking part in Citizens Against Assholery, please email me at townsendsubstackpe1@gmail.com. As I figure out a schedule, I’ll communicate it.

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A “moderate” gut check

Bringing citizenship pressure to bear against public assholery should be the number one priority of a “moderate” politics. That’s because a “moderate” politics cannot exist without some enforcement of these four anti-assholery principles in my test.

Now, to be clear, never in history has any society truly established and enforced these anti-assholery standards with a common frame of citizenship. Never. We will not succeed in that achieving that in this era either. But in times when citizens enforce these norms more assertively through electoral politics or other means, these four principles of anti-assholery allow the productive work of healthy ideological competition and compromise and bi-partisanship, etc. to flourish.

When enforcement wanes, well, you see it … people start trying to lynch Congress and steal elections and dominate their communities with menace and intimidation.

There is no “moderate” position that can thread the needle between asshole and citizen, between a citizen and Roger Stone/J.C. Martin. There is no “moderate” compromise between and a lie and a truth. There is no “moderate” middle ground between willful assholery and constructive citizenship. No “moderate” position exists between “dark and light, between the godly and the godless, between good and evil,” as expressed by a criminal welcomed by our neighbors in the asshole faction of the Republican party.

When your politically-aroused neighbors openly consider the very idea of you “dark,” “godless,” and “evil,” that's a distressing and dangerous situation. This very unpleasant reality makes many self-identified “moderates” very very sad. That sadness is well expressed in this article from 2019 that an essentially “moderate” friend sent me recently.

Key subhead theme: “Anyone moderate with a brain and anything to lose has largely gone silent.”

In part that’s because most self-described “moderates,” in my observation, have a personal need to see rigid symmetry in American political citizenship so they can fit themselves independently between two equal sides.

But that structure does not exist.

America, like Polk County, is a factional collection of very different communities and ideas and historical patterns grinding against each other in endless dispute over the meaning of American “freedom” and equality of citizenship. That is not political or social symmetry. The famous abstract political structure of left, right, center does not exist; but it has become “moderate” to pretend it does.

And there is simply no equivalent of the the large assholery faction of the modern Republican party anywhere else in American politics and citizenship. To say otherwise is to lie to yourself and the public. “Moderates” should stop doing it.

In better public moments in the life of the nation, “moderate” might have meant a willingness to compromise between coherent negotiable public policy positions and points-of-view. I myself am inclined to “moderation” in that sense. But those ideologically coherent approaches to public policy do not exist right now. Wishing they did will not make it so.

If “moderates” are serious about political moderation in a time dominated by political assholery, they have to help honestly enforce the rules that make it possible. If they won’t help enforce the rules, they’re not moderate; they’re just timid and self-interested, people with something to lose that they’re unwilling to risk for the cause of citizenship that makes moderation possible.

Establishment Republican power and the face-eating leopards

A different, but related reality exists for the traditional conservative Republican establishment power centers here in Polk.

Some clever Internet folks have come up with a different funny name and concept for the same concept I’m addressing in the assholery faction: they call it the “Leopards Eating People’s Faces Party.”

What’s the LEPF?

Leopards Eating People's Faces Party refers to a parody of regretful voters who vote for cruel and unjust policies (and politicians) and are then surprised when their own lives become worse as a result.

To be blunt, the face-eating leopard faction of the Republican Party has kept the much smaller, more orderly — and rich — economic conservative Republican faction in power for many years. So it’s not terribly surprising to see the face-eating leopards finally make a play for real power and start eating George Lindsay’s face. The institution-based Republicans like Martha Santiago become collateral damage, no matter how much they pander. [It will never be enough, Martha. They know you’re not really one of them. Trust me. You’re better off drawing lines and keeping your dignity and living with the consequences. This is a start; but you can do better.]

It’s also not surprising to hear the deafening silence from the giant Republican mouths and wallets of Grady Judd and Barney Barnett and Lakeland First as the face-eating leopard party’s candidate comes for the good citizen and mayor that Lakeland First itself recruited while publicly using Grady Judd as her source for delusions about the Marxists and other boogeypeople running wild in Lakeland.

I would welcome all of those powerful folks to an anti-assholery coalition of restorative citizenship; but they seem uninterested in taking part. They’ll openly fantasize about publicly executing a murderous, addled veteran infected by Q-anon-like sex trafficking delusions; they’ll build a beautiful trophy park with inherited money; but they won’t help save community citizenship from the assholery of the people who keep them in power. You’ll have to ask them why; but I suspect it has something to do with preferring that face-eating leopards eat other people’s faces. And marginal tax rates.

We’ll discuss the implications of that — and the enormous opportunities for citizenship it creates — in part 2.

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