Trump and the Fourth Turning, Part 1

It has been over three years since I last posted to this blog, and a lot has changed in that time. The effects of this generational cycle are becoming clearer, especially with Brexit, Trump and other nationalist forces coming to the fore in 2016. I have been reluctant to talk much about it because I prefer to stay away from partisanship in generational research, but I think it is important to discuss the larger forces at play in the next 4-8 years. Understanding that bigger picture during this pivotal time will be critical to the health, safety and perhaps survival of your family and community. In part one of this post I will cover the relevant basics of generational theory. Part two will attempt to interpret recent events using this lens. If you are not familiar with the Strauss and Howe’s generational theories, I suggest you start by watching my primer on generational theory.

According to Strauss and Howe, we are in the midst of “The Fourth Turning”, the final, winter-like stage of a cycle that began in 1946 with the “American High” following WWII. It is likely we started the Fourth Turning in 2008 with the market crash and that it will continue until around 2025. It will be during the last quarter, the climax of the Turning, that we will see a fundamental shift in the nature of our society and the world. The most blatant shift, currently, is a political one. Brexit and the election of Donald Trump both signaled a significant shift in politics, certainly the largest most Gen X’ers have seen in our lifetime and, according to the theories, the largest since The Great Depression and WWII. The nationalism that these movements represent seem to be gaining steam around the Western World, along with Marine Le Pen, Geert Wilders and other strident politicians threatening to overtake traditional styles of governance. While there are many reasons for these shifts, the often forgotten generational component is not insignificant.

There three currently active generations in our society. The first are our elders, the Baby Boomers who are, for the most part, our national leaders. As of 2015, About 58% of Congressmen and 73% of State Governors are Boomers. Baby Boomers are known for their strident, obstinate views and purist idealism. In the case of Donald Trump, that idealism focuses primarily around both American Exceptionalism and that the idea that world should be viewed as a Zero Sum Game.

The second currently influential generation is the middle-aged Generation X. Generation X has are notoriously pragmatic, individualistic and cynical. A majority of Generation X voted for Donald Trump. Generational theory suggests that many of them voted this way because they felt that the status quo has served them poorly for the last 20 years, prompting them to ask what they had to lose. Gen X’ers hold most of the remaining leadership positions (Paul Ryan is a Gen Xer) but they are not as well represented in government as the Boomers.

Finally, the Millennials. Millennials are young adults who were raised to be collaborative, idealistic and civic-minded. Many of them backed Bernie Sanders—at least on the Coasts—and did so because they believed that a new approach to civic engagement was needed. Although Trump does not personally appeal to many Millennials, if he starts to tout a message of stronger collaboration and working towards a common good, he could successfully woo followers in this group.

Each of these generations has an “archetype” which aligns with previous generations. Boomers are of the “Prophet” archetype, last seen in the Missionary Generation (FDR, Churchill). Gen X, the “Nomad” archetype, was last paralleled in the Lost Generation (Truman, Patton). Millennials represent the”Hero” archetype of which the GI Generation (JFK, Reagan) is the previous example. The last time that we saw these archetypes in this particular alignment was in the 1930’s and early 1940’s. This is the key insight of generational theory: that the life stage cycle of the various generational archetypes help to push societal shifts. For a visual of this cycle, take a look at this chart.

Based on generational theory we are at a particularly pivotal point in history where the “stack” of generations presents great risk and great possibility. In Part 2 I will examine more specifics consequences, especially in light of the recent nationalist movements around the world.

Boomers and Millennials today

An interesting interview with Neil Howe in The Atlantic. I particularly like the last answer:

Will Millennials become skeptical of government over time?

HOWE: When they say they are pro-government, they don’t mean that they like what Congress is doing. It means they think there are great things that could be done to bring America together as a community. A growing share of millennials live with their parents. This dovetails into some very positive resolution of the problem of older entitlements. Families will be much closer. That is going to be huge because it avoids some of the huge tax and fiscal drag of a third-party entitlement system supporting older people.

Arab Spring: Crisis or Awakening?

I have been thinking quite a bit about the “Arab Spring” recently. Back in 2007 our family spent three weeks traveling around Egypt (Cairo, Alexandria, the White Desert, Luxor and Hagarda) and we feel an affinity for the area because of our time there.

Strauss and Howe have pointed out that the Arab world (and Europe for that matter) lag behind the US in their generational cycle by about 5 years or so. But the changes going on in the Middle East seem a lot more like the [3rd] of the 1960’s rather than a [4th]. But that may just be on the surface. The “agitators” in the Arab Spring sound a lot like our [Mill] rather than [Boom]. The establishment they are forcing out or protesting against are [Silent] in many cases – which is different than our leadership in the US (we have never had a Silent Generation president and probably never will). This article from CNN implies that the Arab youth are like the Freedom Riders of the 60’s.

I do wonder whether they are on an entirely different cycle than the US. The outcome of the Arab Spring will be telling in that regard. If it continues to escalate and results in a remaking of the institutions in the next 10-15 years, then they are part of the same Crisis cycle we are in. If it degenerates into social chaos and prolonged instability then they are headed where we were in 70’s and 80’s. I certainly hope for the former.

A New Arab Generation Finds Its Voice – Video Feature – NYTimes.com.

Between Young and Old, a Political Collision – NYTimes.com

Although this recent article in the NY Times describes it as a collision between “Young and Old” I believe the Medicare debate is going to be about [Boom] vs. [X]. X’ers probably don’t expect to get much out of Social Security or Medicare (even though we will probably be the biggest contributors to the programs in our lifetime). Some of the proposals about cuts suggested a cutoff age of 55. If those measures were to pass in a couple years it would pretty much affect only Gen X’ers. No big surprise there, but interesting that the split would be so generational.

I am not sure if the [Mill] would really fight the battle against Boomers in the same way that X’ers would. I have a feeling that the Millennials might see it more of their duty to provide for their elders.

Boomers and the Washington War of Ideas

This article in the NY Times is an apt description of the challenges we are facing because of our predominantly [Boom] leadership:

Washington War of Ideas Overshadows Need for Jobs – NYTimes.com

I think we are still early on in the [4th] so this sort of bickering can still hold sway. The Boomers would still rather debate ideology than simply get things done. Contrast that with [X] leaders like Paul Ryan or Barack Obama who seem to be more focused on just coming up with a solution that will allow us to survive. I am not saying I agree with either Ryan or Obama or their proposals, but there is an interesting difference in the pragmatism you see from X’ers in leadership vs. the Boomers. The leaders mentioned in the story are Boomers (and one [Silent]) who are willing to argue and debate endlessly.

BTW, if you are curious about the generational makeup of our current leadership, take a look at the American Leadership Database on the Lifecourse site. You can view all sorts of stuff under the analysis section, including the breakdown of generations of the current congress (click on it for a larger view):

Millennial Handholding Continues: Y Combinator

The [Mill] has recieved the guidance and support of older generations ([Boom] in particular) throughout their youth. It started with the “Baby on Board” stickers in Volvos everywhere in the early 80’s. It continued with Soccer Moms and loads of after-school activities. They have been coached, guided and supported in ways that are really unique to their generation.

The Y Combinator group is a great example of the next step. They guide would-be entrepreneurs through a boot camp that ends in presentations to VC’s that are eager to invest. Compare this with the experience of most Boomer and [X] entrepreneurs who had to fight it out on their own. Other than paying  huge sum of cash to get an MBA there wasn’t really any way to get support for creating an online venture until recently. I realize that its just part of the generational cycle that means that Millennials will be given every chance to succeed in reaching their goals. I suppose I could be bitter about it but I can’t really picture myself (or many of my fellow X’ers) really wanting to go through the Y Combinator Boot Camp:

Y Combinator Is Boot Camp for Startups

Millennials and Online Filter Bubbles

Eli Pariser recently spoke at TED about how social media, search sites and other online entities are creating “filter bubbles” that remove opposing views from users results. As a [X] I agree that this is worrisome, but I wonder if [Mill] will agree. The Millennial generation is much more willing to participate in group-think and less worried about individualism. Eli’s first quote is from a famous Millennial: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

While it may concern Gen X’ers (and [Boom]) that people might tend to polarize around ideals, that fits right in with what the Millennials are all about: picking an ideal for the group and sticking with it. After all, isn’t that what they were taught by Barney for all those early years?

Watch out Teachers: Gen X is gunning for you…

Our kids have attended Waldorf Schools since they were kindergarten and because of my involvement at the schools I have been noticing a troubling shift in the parent body. As more [X] parents arrive at the school, replacing [Boom] parents, the demands placed on teachers are become more extreme.

I will write something specific to Waldorf schools soon, but for now I want to mention a trend I am seeing at several schools and ask whether this is something going on in other school systems. As Gen X’ers start to make up the majority of the parent body (which is happening in 7th or 8th grade and below right now) they are placing very individualistic demands on teachers. This seems to crop up most in 5th or 6th grade when kids are starting to assert their independence (perhaps this happens earlier in public schools?) and can start complaining to their parents about their school experience. This is when I have seen the Gen X parents getting aggravated with the teacher (and the school administration) if their child’s “needs” are not addressed to their satisfaction. Parents may recruit other parents to their cause and may apply pressure in many ways, ranging from talking in the parking lot to suing the school.

I have written before about Gen X parents, and the reasons for our challenging nature have to do with how we were raised. Generation X were the original “Latchkey kids“, raised during times when the focus was on adult issues (such as civil rights, womens rights, nuclear proliferation, etc…) and we bear the scars of having to fend for ourselves. Many Gen X’ers have promised themselves that this won’t happen to their kids and are over-protective of them as a result. We were also failed by institutions (which were crumbling during much of our youth) and have a deep mistrust of them as a result. That means we hold individuals accountable instead of organizations (which we figure will probably just screw up anyway). So we tend to blame individuals (teachers or administrators in this case) and we expect the institutions to fail in resolving issues.

The results of these actions is that teachers are under intense pressure to perform. In many cases teachers may be forced out of schools by a small band of Gen X parents. This trend has been so consistent in several schools I am associated with that I wondered if it was a larger trend. I want to hear from readers on their experience. Have you seen this sort of pressure placed on elementary school teachers recently? Have teachers in your school district been forced out?

If you are new to generational research, go to my “start here” page for a primer.

Martha Stewart Grumpy about Generation X’ers

Martha Stewart (born 1941, making her part of the [Silent]) seems to be quite judgemental about [X]. Listen to her comments about X’er Rachael Ray:

And next about X’er Sarah Palin:

I suppose the high moral ground that Martha occupies gives her right to judge her juniors. Her attitude seems more [Boom] than Silent to me.