Trump and Generations Part 2: Followers Who Demand Leadership

In Part 1 we learned how the current “stack” of generations is very reminiscent of the generational makeup of the late 1930’s. In Part 2 we will examine how our current “Crisis” portion of the four phase cycle is playing out.

In The Fourth Turning by William Strauss and Neil Howe, they laid out predictions for how the Crisis, aka Fourth Turning, will progress. The early Crisis, known as the catalyst, was predicted to be around 2005. It is likely that the actual catalyst was the Great Recession which started in 2008. This was when many began to doubt that the US had even the possibility of a brighter future. There are some that argue that the catalyst was 9/11, but that is a discussion worthy of post in its own right.

After the catalyst comes the regeneracy, a period of “a drawing together into whatever definition of community is available at the time”. We saw this in Obama’s first term where he convinced the nation to take drastic measures to shore up our economy, including bailing out banks, bracing up the auto industry and taking on immense debt. This kept our economy from falling as hard and as fast as it did during the Great Depression, but it carried with it other longer-lasting consequences.

The recession and the regeneracy that followed hit a portion of our population harder and longer than others. Many of the people who have still not fully recovered from the recession are those that voted for Trump. His message of “Make America Great Again” and how he spoke to those who felt beaten down and disregarded was a key to his success. By harnessing this ethos he is now in a position to control the energy that has been gathering in this population.

The paragraph about the current portion of the Crisis is particularly illuminating:

“With the civic ethos now capable of producing civic deeds, a new dynamic of threat and response takes hold. Instead of downplaying problems, leaders start exaggerating them. Instead of deferring solutions they accelerate them. Instead of tolerating diversity, they demand consensus. Instead of coaxing people with promises of minimal sacrifice, they summon them with warnings of maximal sacrifice. Leaders energize every available institutions and direct them toward community survival. Thus invigorated, society starts propelling itself on a trajectory that nobody had foreseen before the catalyzing event. Societal problems that, in the Unraveling, posed an insuperable dilemmas now appear to have simple if demanding solutions. An new resolve about urgent public goals crowds out qualms about questionable public means.”1

This ethos is what made the campaigns of Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders so surprisingly successful, and it is also what doomed Hillary Clinton to failure. Clinton did not represent the extremes that are currently perceived in our polarized society. She represented a further deferral of the problems that many, on both sides of the aisle, feel we face. Sanders and Trump both hit the issues head on and demanded swift and severe actions.

Today we have executive and legislative leadership who are mostly Baby Boomers, primed to create a new sense of purpose in society based on their ideals. But more importantly we have a large portion of our populace who are ready to be lead based on those ideals. As Strauss and Howe further observe:

“What makes a Crisis special is the public’s willingness to let leaders lead even when they falter and to let authorities be authoritative even when they make mistakes. Amid this civic solidarity, mediocre leaders can gain immense popular following; bad policies can be made to work (or, at least, be perceived as working); and, as at Pearl Harbor, even a spectacular failure does not undermine public support. Good policy choices pay off quickly.”2

One interesting difference between the current Crisis and the previous one is how a large portion of our population continues to defiantly resist Trump and the Republican’s ideals. The Women’s Marches around the country and world were examples of just how strongly held the liberal values remain even in these extreme times. It is not clear to me that Trump will have the authoritative control that many of the leaders in the last Crisis enjoyed. This may be due to shifts in the ability to access information through social media, longer life spans for those Baby Boomers who vehemently oppose Trump or perhaps some other peculiarity of this particular turning. It is hard to say but it will be an important factor to watch as the Crisis continues to develop.

Perspective on the nature of the Crisis is incredibly valuable for those trying to make sense of Trump’s election and administration. If we look back into history to the leaders during the regeneracy of the previous crisis, we find FDR, Churchill, Stalin, Mussolini and Hitler. These were all authoritative leaders who demanded obedience from their people, albeit to varying degrees.. In Part 3 we will look at how Trump may or may not be able to invoke similar fervor and sacrifice.

 1See page 257 in the paper or kindle copies of The Fourth Turning for more information.

2 ibid. 258

8 thoughts on “Trump and Generations Part 2: Followers Who Demand Leadership”

  1. I’m anxiously waiting to read more from your perspective in Part 3. As a Gen Xer, I do tend to be taking a much more pragmatic view of this very strange political time. I’m telling myself that I’m being pragmatic as a form of self preservation. The ideals of the baby boomers are varied and overwhelmingly passionate, leaving no room for debate. I’m curious to see what my children’s generation (the Millenials) chose as the one idea to rally around. Let’s not forget that we have sent them off to an unjust war too. My kids both fought over seas, yet neither of them seem to care that they were asked to put their lives at risk for what amounted to nothing. It is all fascinating.

    1. Kelly, thanks for the kick in the pants. I have a draft of Part 3 but have been too lazy to post. I will get to it soon.

  2. You are making a subtle error that bedevils all cycle researchers. You expect a 4T to have started in 2008 because of the severe recession that followed. But suppose the next recession is just as severe or worse than the post-2008 one. Will 2008 seem so important then? Will you find yourself trying to find data that confirms your prior assumption about the 4T?

    1. Actually I am not certain that the Crisis started in 2008. It may have started in 2001, and I will discuss that particular topic in an upcoming post. While it is certainly possible that all of this cycle research is completely wrong, it has certainly foretold a lot of the events that have happened in the last 20 years…

      1. Dave, the only thing that swayed my opinion about the catalyst in 2008 vs. 2001 was public opinion data and observed behaviors. After 9/11 we saw people flying flags on their cars, approving war in Iraq and Afghanistan and then happily going about their lives buying homes, cars and expensive vacations. The response was very 3T, and the wars, unfortunately, were inconclusive as all 3T wars are. The reaction to 2001 only delayed the real Crisis.

        Fast forward to 2008, with the financial crisis. Government moved quickly to resolve it, but the public no longer supported leaders, particularly when it came to TARP. Congress, listening to the people, actually voted against it until Wall St. convinced them the whole economy would fail. The public response, including the painful foreclosure mess, loss of jobs and the transition of millions to public entitlement programs is what really galvanized the people into a new mindset. Consumerism stopped, for the most part. No longer were people swayed into believing that buying a home represented their own best interests; now, there was recognition that only a few benefited at the expense of the many.

        Recognition that old institutions, including the government, no longer benefited the people is what lead to the election of Trump. He preached an overthrow of the Establishment, while Clinton represented EVERYTHING that the Establishment was.

        Is that enough to be a Regeneracy? I don’t think so, personally. I think we’re still coming up to that, when everyone realizes painful sacrifice needs to be made in order for our society to survive. That may work for, and against Trump — I can see him being a polarizing figure enough to be both the solution AND the final straw. Only time will tell.

      2. Didn’t Neil Howe rule out 9/11 2001 being too early for the crisis to have started? The Generations were still too young to have entered their next phase of life as required for a new Turning.

  3. As I see it, Trump’s election triggered a showdown between the two camps in the old Third Turning’s Culture Wars. On the facebook group this has been called the “Cold Civil War”. Since the Red Staters/Conservatives/Right Wingers have taken over the government they may well prevail. It is telling that the Blue Staters/Liberals/Left Wingers are using the language of “Resistance!” like we were in occupied France in the 1940s. But already they are earning the reputation for being complainers, not a good way to carry weight in the Fourth Turning.

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