Reflections: Beware What You Wish For by Professor Joseph Prud’homme

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Editor’s Note: Reflections is a new column by Joseph Prud’homme,  professor in political science and religious studies at Washington College in Chestertown.  Joseph is also the founding Director of the College’s Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture . Meant to stimulate reflection and facilitate critical discussion, each short essay examines the kinds of issues explored in depth through the multi-faceted programming of the Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture. For more information on the Institute go here

“Beware what you wish for” is a sage reminder tested by the centuries. The old chestnut is especially apt in the era of President Trump. A number of our fellow citizens have felt called to a resistance movement its most passionate advocates liken to the heroics of Jean Moulin and Charles de Gaulle. No matter what one’s views of our crisis-riddled president, the anti-Trump “resistance” movement has defended positions that, following the World War II metaphor, are more in line with Vidkun Quisling (the Norwegian turncoat) than Johanna Solf or Dietrich Bonhoeffer (noble examples of German resistance). Let’s be careful of what they espouse—and what an Anti-Trump sentiment might impel one to hope for.

Indeed, some in the “resistance” wish for the federal courts to police the campaign histrionics of candidate Trump and to find all measure of suspect motives informing facially legal executive orders and administrative decrees—and to strike these orders down solely on the basis of Trump’s campaign rhetoric. No matter what one thinks of the temporary suspension of immigration from terrorist hotspots, there has never been a rule in our constitutional law that campaign speeches and vote-seeking rally-mongering can justify the awesome exercise of judicial review by unelected legal elites.

Leaders of the “resistance” should recall that the rule they now espouse would have sounded a death knell for much done during the Obama administration—including its signature health care legislation much debated today. We need to remember how the junior senator from Illinois, in the primary campaign against Senator Clinton, intoned in stem-winding sermons in African American churches across the Palmetto State that his administration would “restore faith to public life” by “building the Kingdom here on earth.” (See http://www.cnn.com/2007/POLITICS/10/08/obama.faith/index.html.)

How could the executive orders and legislative enactments of the Obama presidency have survived constitutional inspection were a legal eagle to have ventured the same inquest of campaign rally-making some resisters now seek against President Trump? The Supreme Court (whether one agrees or not) has repeatedly ruled that laws must have a secular purpose (an element of what lawyers call The Lemon Test, from the 1971 decision of Lemon v. Kurtzman). But Obama made clear to the African American churchgoers he desperately needed to secure South Carolina in the hotly contested Democratic primary that he meant to build God’s kingdom on earth—scarcely the stuff of secular legislation.

Happily, no one dared apply the same rule resisters now seek to unleash throughout the federal judiciary. And that’s a fact of which resisters must take heed.

For what kind of mischief would be unsheathe were we to take this view seriously? Every judge an inquisitor. Every campaign stump speech a mine layer. Every campaign a lawsuit. Every candidate blackmailed by political opponents.

Freedom of speech and freedom of assembly trampled under toe.

Beware what one hopes for, indeed.

For more information about Washington College’s Institute for Religion, Politics and Culture, please go here.

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