Every now and then a word or phrase will insinuate itself into my brain rhythms, such that I become consumed with a need to figure out why it matters and how widely its relations to other things might reach. Yesterday evening, while watching Special Report and contemplating the hyper-contentious confirmation process of new Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, the word that started to bounce back and forth off the walls of my skull was strongpoint.
The word bemused me for several hours. It describes a defensive strategy common to chess and warfare: the maintenance of a particular, firmly held bastion as a rock against which enemy attacks must break. To be successful, the selected strongpoint must be one the opponent can’t circumvent or bypass. An example is Paris during the earliest weeks of World War I. The Germans’ original strategy for a quick victory over France, known as the Schlieffen Plan, embedded the assumption that Paris, a fortified city that had withstood many attacks over the centuries, could be bypassed in favor of an envelopment of the French armies in the field. General Joseph Gallieni and the reserve forces General Joseph Joffre had marshaled within the city proved that to be a fatal error.
When an attacker successfully overcomes a critical strongpoint – e.g., the Maginot Line in World War II – the defender often succumbs quickly, as much because of the psychological effect of losing the bastion as its importance in maintaining the defenses. When the strongpoint remains sturdy even under harsh assault – e.g., Stalingrad in World War II – the attacker’s depletion of forces and loss of morale will sometimes decide the contest. The lesson is not lost on strategic planners.
Strongpoint defenses occur in politics, as well. We saw one of them assaulted and overcome yesterday evening. Others will loom large as the battles on Capitol Hill progress.
For more than two centuries, the procedural strongpoint the party out of power was most likely to rely on was the Senatorial filibuster: the ability of a minority caucus to prevent an issue from receiving an up-or-down vote in the Senate by insisting that debate must continue. As my Gentle Readers will surely know, any minority party that commanded more than 40% of the Senate’s seats could obstruct a measure in that fashion...until Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid decided to invoke the “nuclear option.”
That parliamentary tactic – using the Senate’s rule-changing procedure to dissolve the filibuster – was well named. The Democrats were gambling that by destroying the filibuster strongpoint, they would gain so much that, should they ever return to minority status, they would not miss the filibuster’s power to impede adverse legislation. As of yesterday it appears that they have reason to regret that decision. One of their partisan strongpoints, the Department of Education, fell into Republican hands as a result.
The “traditional” Republican strongpoints include the Fortune 5000, whose management has historically favored low taxes and an easily managed regulatory environment. As those companies control more than half the nation’s commerce, they’ve constituted a formidable force in defense of market normality. However, the Eighties and Nineties brought a sea change to the American economy that overturned a goodly portion of American business’s previous affection for laissez faire.
The change was the explosion of digital technology and the rise of software and software developers as a commercial force. Software – indeed, the “information industries” as a group – does not require large amounts of investment in physical capital. Moreover, the physical capital it requires is far more mobile than the older, physical-product industries. The swift shift in commercial power made the new mega-companies targets for the Democrats, who saw an opportunity to present corporate number-crunchers and legal departments with baubles they could not resist: cheap labor and large government contracts.
Many of the new industries bought into the bargain, using the H-1B visa program and “offshoring” of software efforts to reduce labor costs, while huge contracts for the support of government computing lured other companies into regarding the State as their biggest opportunity. This has greatly undermined the GOP’s strongpoint in corporate America, which is no longer incontestably theirs. Indeed, the ability of companies such as Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, and Twitter to “reroute the information superhighway” has been a considerable thorn in the Right’s flesh.
Other strongpoints important in the American political dynamic include:
- For the Left:
- The news media;
- The entertainment industry;
- The “environmental” movement;
- The unions, especially those that organize “educators” and government workers;
- The licensed professional societies, especially the American Medical Association and the National Bar Association.
- For the Right:
- The “gun culture;”
- The armed forces and America’s large community of veterans;
- The “extractive” industries, especially the coal, oil, and gas industries.
Attacks on those strongpoints have been many, but few have had significant effects. Still, they constitute “big prizes:” should one of them fall, it would bring great advantage to its conqueror. Needless to say, their defenders constantly look to strengthen them and eliminate “weak points” when discovered.
The Trump Administration, regarded by the Left (and many on the establishment Right) as an insurgency, will seek to use its new command of the Department of Education and the Environmental Protection Agency to weaken the associated Democrat bastions. If Trump and his lieutenants are smart – and they are – they’ll swiftly capitalize on any gains they make there. Hopefully, that won’t involve creating new megaliths determined to maintain parochial interests at all costs, as the NEA and the EPA have been doing for decades.
We shall see.