Driving in Washington DC, one sees bumper stickers that say “Resist!” and “Resistance!” As a student of history, I wonder if these “resisting” drivers understand the difference between opposing a political leader and resisting the perpetual creep of government into lives of liberty-loving Americans. Resisting a candidate is a passing fancy; resisting loss of constitutional rights is a sacred obligation.
Writing Abagail Adams in 1787, Thomas Jefferson observed: “The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions, that I wish it always to be kept alive,” adding “I like a little rebellion now and then … it is like a storm in the atmosphere.” That resistance – to consolidation of power – is what we must never lose. Is that what all these drivers support? Wouldn’t that be nice?
Opposing a candidate or elected leader is natural and easy. In democratic times, opposition motivates discussion among Americans. We like to say why we favor or disfavor the office seeker. At best, we exchange views, educate each other, and provoke some thought. Or we used to think that way.
That is how healthy republics sort out differences, preferences, and prejudices. We talk among one another, unafraid to speak and listen, testing our logic. We respect different views, even the wildly divergent. Most of us know we are lucky. Until we run for office, all candidates will be imperfect.
Historically, Americans did not take politics too seriously, not lose sleep over it, never a friend or sense of humor. We have a history of mulling options, letting ideas baste, simmer and savor, like a good stew. In time, we decide. Until then, we love free speech and press our love of it on others.
In the end, we do some resisting. Mostly, we resist being told or cajoled, cornered or captured, made to think what we do not wish to think, bunched by age or geography, biology, demography, faith, fate, or fortune, relatives, race or religion. We are individuals.
All this amounts to a certain kind of resistance. It does not have to do with saving America, so much as preserving individualism. This sort of resistance – to the mob’s call, crowd’s cowardice, party’s pitch, or being pigeon-holed is … all-American. It does not reach to throwing people out of office between elections, either. That bit is un-American.
But there is another sort of resistance – and it is more important. It has to do with preserving the Republic itself. It has to do with understanding our Constitution is everything, the foundation on which the Republic rests.
It relates to standing up for free speech and exercise of religion – as well as offensive speech and differing faiths. It requires resisting those who whittle away at constitutional rights, compromising our freedoms, turning speeches and debates into masked, anonymous violence.
This sort of resistance – the important kind – relates to preserving a free press, encouraging those who claim membership to think for themselves. It has to do with protecting family, community, and nation –the right to “keep and bear arms.” Resisting infringement of our Second Amendment is seminal.
Likewise, “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures” is sacred. The Fourth Amendment assures, “no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause …”
One is put in mind of resisting unjust surveillance, illegal “unmasking” of citizen phone calls, illegal monitoring of opposition political parties and campaigns by the government. Resisting extra-constitutional action is vital. I wonder if that is what those “resist” stickers are about?
No less important is resisting congressional violations of due process, including the conduct of closed inquisitions, condemning innocents without confrontation, depriving citizens of basic fairness. No citizen – from peasant to president – can lawfully, “be deprived of life, liberty or property, without due process of law.” Resisting those who try – seems also a civic duty.
This due process guarantee applies to criminal prosecution, but no less to an impeachment investigation. If due process applies to legal proceedings, it applies doubly to congressional action on impeachments. An impeachment is a rarely used political tool that strips the officeholder of rights – and strips voters of their franchise. Resisting violation of due process is vital. Maybe that “resistance” is what these drivers are promoting?
Resisting judicial activism, otherwise known as “making things up as you go,” seems timely. No Founding Father favored extra-judicial creativity on the part of federal judges. Abiding our Constitution either matters, or it does not. If it does, then Congress must make the laws, Executive execute them, and federal judges do neither. Judges simply interpret the law in the context of facts of a particular “case or controversy.” Resisting judicial usurpation – is thus important. Maybe these “resisting” drivers worry about judicial activism?
Also important is our Ninth Amendment, which assures “enumeration in the Constitution of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” Resisting federal attempts to deny or disparage “retained rights” is certainly worth a “resist” bumper sticker.
The Tenth Amendment reminds us to preserve States’ rights against federal overreach. “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Resisting insidious federal aggregation of State powers is timely.
So, there we have it – rights worth defending, incursions worth resisting. I wonder whether I am driving among constitutional conservatives, after all. Wouldn’t that be nice? Perhaps the “resist” stickers reveal deep constitutional thinking, drivers concerned about federal overreach. I would like to think so but am also a realist. This is Washington DC. Whatever these drivers resist, I know my mind. Since I believe in limited government, I resist what opposes it.