Resistance is not helpfully defined as “the act or power of resisting, opposing, or withstanding.” A better definition is that:
Resistance jams up the system. Resistance is political congestion.
On Congress’s Role
To stop the actions of any administration, resistance is the only recourse.
This means voting “no”, always, on a vote for something “they” want and “you” don’t, for instance a cabinet nominee. Recently, the Senate has been confirming cabinet nominees with support from both the majority Republican Party and well more than one member of the minority Democratic Party. As the majority of the Senate are in the same party as the President, their vote is to be expected. Thus there is absolutely no reason for the minority to vote “yes” other than provide a cover bipartisanship to the majority.
Under divided government, there might be reason to vote to confirm compromise candidates in order for business of government to proceed. In our current situation there is not, appointees will be confirmed anyway if the majority holds.
As the Republicans demonstrated in 2016 by withholding a vote on the US Supreme Court nominee, there is no reason to cooperate even in divided government if you actually want to achieve your ends.
This means using the tools of governance, e.g. the rules of the Senate while they last, to procedurally delay and filibuster anything the Republican President supports.
This means not supporting anything from the Administration, even things that might sound good, like an Infrastructure Bill.
All else is capitulation. Expect the vast majority of the professional political class to act cravenly on most issues. Perhaps at some point they will be rallied. Yet, the current Democratic leadership does not appear capable of leading.
The only hope for the Legislative Branch is the incompetence and overreach of the Congressional Republicans on issues where they have an unpopular position, like privatizing Social Security, Medicare, or taking away health insurance.
On the Judiciary’s Role
If the President overreaches, and someone sues, and the Court finds for the plaintiff, the government must abide This requires lawsuits. Support the ACLU.
If the Executive fails to abide, the system has fully collapsed into authoritarianism, requiring extraordinary responses.
On the Bureaucracy’s Role
The Civil Service (and Military and various uniformed agencies) are charged with implementing policy. They can do this more or less efficiently, or ignore them altogether. They can follow judicial stays or ignore them. They can interpret words broadly or narrowly. They can blow whistles when they see illegal activity or quietly keep their heads down.
On the State’s Role
The 10th Amendment states pretty clearly:
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.
Sadly, as the US Federal Government has continued to grow in size, this Amendment has been increasingly ignored. While immigration policy, however misguided, is clearly the remit of the United States, Sanctuary City policy is not. The cities and states have no obligation to act as agents of the immigration authorities or turn over information to the federal government.
The question lies in whether they can be bribed or coerced to do so. The enormous amount of cross-subsidy has given the United States a great deal of leverage with regards to threatening to withhold discretionary funds to individual states and cities that don’t behave well in their eyes. California is testing whether this is a two-way street. Nullification was decided once in the US. It may come back for another test.
So strategies available to states range from the conventional to the radical:
Is Rebellion too much? The Civil War did not go well, and it’s too early to commit to, but it’s never too early to plan or extend the Overton Window.
A well-governed United States is stronger together. A poorly-governed one is not. As the saying goes: Best Government, Good Czar; Worst Government, Bad Czar. One bad week is too short a period of time to justify divorce, but how long and how bad does the relationship need to be to justify one?
It’s hard to imagine most states seriously considering dissolution of the republic, but given the loose secession talk during the Obama administration (with favorable comments by then Texas Governor and incoming Energy Secretary Rick Perry), and for years in Alaska, with a wink and nod from former Alaska Governor and VP nominee Sarah Palin, the Republicans have no grounds to say it is beyond the pale. Secession is far more warranted now, with a federal government bent on expelling long-time residents and disenfranchising the rest.
Ideally separation could be achieved peacefully, like Czech and Slovakia’s Velvet Divorce, but (ironically) unlike Central Europe, the boundaries of Red and Blue America are fairly awkward. Perhaps there is some buyer’s remorse among voters in the Red States, and some will choose to join a stronger Blue Union. Many would not.
Resistance cannot merely react to executive orders vomited forwarded from a White House out of control. If the Federal government has invasion plans for Canada (and vice versa), surely the states have a moral obligation to prepare plans for (ideally peaceful) Secession and if necessary Rebellion against a rogue central actor. As the Boy Scouts say, “Be Prepared”. As the Romans said: “Si vis pacem, para bellum.”
Recognize of course that many “Blue Americans” living in “Red States” have long seen the federal government as protection against bad behavior by “Red” state governments. The Voting Rights Act is the best example historically. That may or may not remain true going forward. There is no guarantee that the federal government remains the best guarantor of liberty.
Pragmatically, getting 20 out of 50 free states is better than 0 out of 50.
On the City’s Role
Cities are units of the state, and have the authorities delegated by the state. As noted above, many have passed Sanctuary City laws. Maintaining these laws is essential to Resistance. While deprivation of federal funds to Sanctuary Cities have been threatened in yet another overreach of federal power, cities should nevertheless resist.
One tactic that Minneapolis just fell into is weak and distributed local governance. Because various agencies in the Twin Cities are decentralized, Minneapolis’s resistance will not affect funding of separate agencies that control the airports, schools, housing, libraries, parks, transit, water and sewer, and so on.
It turns out that decentralization is more robust to this kind of threat from the federal government. Cities like Chicago that have concentrated everything under a strong mayor are now vulnerable to losing far more funds. Governments should be designed to be less fragile.
Just as states should have more power and the federal government less, cities should have more power and states less. Bringing about this federalism is difficult, but it should be part of the agenda.
On the Citizen’s Role
We still have “the People.”
Government only works with the “Consent of the Governed“. To rephrase oil billionaire J. Paul Getty•:
If you are the only member of the governed who does not consent, that is your problem. If all members of the governed do not consent, that is the government’s problem.
Hence the idea of Massive Resistance (famously used by Segregationists in the US South).
Most Americans are pragmatists to a fault, they go along to get along, and do not concern themselves with distant problems like what happens in Washington DC if they can avoid them.
Martin Niemöller‘s famous poem is apt.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”
As sad is this is, and despite Emma Lazarus’s famous poem:
- a majority of Americans will not stand up for immigrants or refugees or undocumented workers,
- a majority will not stand up for Black Lives,
- a majority will not stand up for Muslims (even those who are citizens),
- a majority will not stand up for Athiests.
The administration understands this. And so one-by-one minorities are peeled away, class by class, category by category. Group by group will be disposed of, deported, or disenfranchised, thereby strengthening the remaining majority.••,•••,••••. If a particular Executive Order or Bill is struck down, a new, more carefully crafted one rises to take its place.
It is essential the resistance understand the reality of their position as well. Neither side has majority by acclimation. The country is divided. Success requires struggle.
As the Pretender-in-Chief has demonstrated, a majority is not required. If an activated minority can achieve change, imagine what an activated majority would. Even more, an activated minority that is vocal can appear to be a majority.
Most people go along with the (perceived) majority on issues they don’t have strong feelings about. When Washington begins to affect their lives, things get noisier, and angrier.
So the Resistance, undoubtedly beginning as a minority of the citizenry, taxpayers, and voters, can achieve its ends with unity and organization.
There are many prongs:
- Persuade others.
- Engage and influence the legitimate political process (while it lasts). Call your Representative, write letters, testify, etc. This is what you do with normal threats and policy issues.
- Fund the organized Resistance. The ACLU, BLM, EFF, SPLC, etc. Sometimes dollars are far more valuable than another voice shouting in the crowd.
- Ensure a free press. Subscribe to real news, like the New York Times or Washington Post, not alt-facts. Insist on sousveillance, police cameras, freedom-of-information.
- Protect your own privacy.
- Support others doing what the US will not (International Rescue Committee).
- Protest and demonstrate. Shut down streets and highways and airports. Protest and demonstrate for sympathetic groups that you are not a member of.
- Boycott collaborators and financiers of the administration and those who try to break the resistance, like Uber.
- Diffuse the leadership of the resistance. One leader can be identified, slandered, and disposed of. A continuously changing network cannot be.
- Sow fear, uncertainty, and doubt about the administration. This is easy, since they do it for you. There is no need to actually lie.
- Jam the system, withhold taxes and deprive the US government of revenues.
- Organize. More general civil disobedience. A General Strike.
- Disobey without civility.
This list is far from complete.
The direction the US is sliding is clear to anyone with open eyes, the only open questions are the speed and the duration of the slide. It’s a massive own goal, with cheering from the sidelines by our enemies.
The United States Constitution, and the political system that has arisen under it, lay out a series of checks and balances to try to ensure good government and prevent demagogues and authoritarians. To date three layers of those checks: the Party system, the general electorate, and the electoral college, have failed, and a fourth (Congress) is teetering.
The US periodically has paroxysms of resistance. The late 19th century’s Gilded Age brought about Progressives, who first under Theodore Roosevelt, and especially under Franklin Roosevelt, changed the role of government. Just in the past five decades or so, the Civil Rights Protests and the Vietnam War Protests of the 1960s, the anti-Nuclear Protests of the 1980s, the anti-Gulf War Protests of the early 2000s, the Occupy Protests of the late 2000s, and the Black Lives Matter Protests in the 2010s have all been significant. Undoubtedly there are others. Some are more consequential and more successful.
Is this time (2017 until this is resolved) different? This is not just one focused grievance that can be righted, it is a set of issues, with invented crises providing new fresh meat daily.••••• The focus should instead be on the person who Pretends to be Commander-in-Chief, who a majority dislike from the git-go.
The best outcome would be that as the protests get larger and larger, the center can no longer hold. Congress, his Cabinet, (or the Deep State) will see no reason to maintain him in office when a more pliant, less antagonistic Vice President will achieve their policy ends, and we can all say “caretaker Pence administration” with relief until the next election.
A very bad outcome is the resistance peters out, and America just surrenders, and liberty collapses with it.
The worst outcome would be justification of the state to use its monopoly of power to justify crushing the protests, and the remnants of civil liberties with them. But if that happens it is (ex post) evidence that was going to happen anyway without resistance.
So, logic argues, might as well Resist.
Appendix: Defining Resistance
Definitions from electrical engineering and transport are more useful in thinking about what resistance really means.
A definition from electricity is a useful place to start (from wikipedia):
where I is the current through the conductor in units of amperes, V is the voltage measured across the conductor in units of volts, and R is the resistance of the conductor in units of ohms. More specifically, Ohm’s law states that the R in this relation is constant, independent of the current.
A definition from transport is more useful still.
q=kv or k=q/v or k=qp
Current (I) is the equivalent of traffic flow (q) (this is intuitive), voltage (V) is the equivalent of traffic density (k) (this is not intuitive, but electricity is strange), and so resistance is the equivalent of 1/velocity or pace (p) (e.g. minutes per mile). (Note V ≠ v). For a fixed density, increasing the resistance reduces the flow.
For a given flow, resistance increases the density of traffic.
In short resistance jams up the system. Resistance is political congestion.
- • Getty said: “If you owe the bank $100 that’s your problem. If you owe the bank $100 million, that’s the bank’s problem.”
- •• Other groups, such as those identified in the poem (socialists, trade unionists, and Jews) as well as LGBTX probably have stronger support than those above, but only so long as other minorities are still in the pool.
- ••• And while this is about Americans, prejudice is fairly universal.
- •••• Even when it is in their own interest, a majority of Americans will not stand up for free trade, even though it provides them collectively both more employment and cheaper goods and services. Given the general regard of journalists, a free press would not survive the purge.
- ••••• Kale for the vegetarians.