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.

Millennials as Leaders? What About as Followers?

This article about how [Mill] will behave as CIOs misses the marks on pretty much every point. It describes how they are distrustful of big brands and tend to be risk-takers! Nothing could be further from the truth about Millennials. They tend to be very conservative in their life choices (they have been carefully guided at every stage since early childhood) and although they may not believe advertisers as much as [Boom] did, they definitely have a herd mentality to consumption.

Unfortunately the article is perpetuating several ideas about Millennials that are based on a “Generations X+1” idea. [Gen X] is known for being pragmatic individualists who are willing to take risks in an effort to survive. Many view Millennials as the same but more extreme, which is why they are sometimes called “Generation Y”. This entirely misses the true nature of generational cycles. Where X’ers are individualistic, Millennials are collectivistic. Where X’ers are cynical, Millennials are optimistic and hopeful. Where X’ers lack trust of institutions, Millennials are willing to work with and build institutions.

For example the article says:

“This is a generation that’s going to beg for forgiveness when something goes wrong but won’t ask for permission,” Thibodeaux says.

Um, no. Generation X’ers are the ones that will beg forgiveness instead of asking permission. Many managers can attest to the fact that Millennials are in their office all the time asking if they are doing things right! They are not risk-takers and they are not rule-breakers.

I can see how Gen X’ers and Boomers can get confused by the behavior of Millennials. Just because a Millennial does not get swayed by advertising does not mean they are an independent thinker. It just means they trust a different source: Their massive circle of online “friends” who influence every decision they make.

The final thing that is misguided about the article is that they are speculating on how Mills will behave when they are executives. Sorry guys, but that is a long ways off and we should be focusing our efforts on understanding how Millennials are as followers right now instead of how they will be as leaders 10-20 years from now. Most organizations are miserable at managing Millennials and believe that this generation is full of job-hoppers who will be even more mercenary than Gen X’ers were. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Generation X Report: Active, Balanced and Happy

The University of Michigan has apparently been surveying a large group of [X] for some time and just released a report on their findings. Here is the blurb from the site:

For more than two decades, a loyal group of young Americans have participated in a national study to allow the nation to understand the thinking and the life experiences of Generation X. This web site reflects the thousands of hours of time and effort that LSAY participants have put into completing questionnaires, taking tests, and sharing their information about new addresses, new names, and new members of their family. We hope that the LSAY will continue to monitor the history and the future of Generation X for years to come and we have attempted to make this web site a useful place for staying in touch with the study and sharing the results of this work.

LSAY stands for Longitudinal Study of American Youth and it looks like they have been surveying these folks since 1987!

The report findings are interesting but not terribly surprising for those who follow generational theory. Gen X’ers continue to strive for work/life balance and that includes an active and healthy social life. I found the happiness index to be encouraging:

The cool thing about this report is that they say they are going to produce them quarterly and it will be fascinating to see the other issues they delve into. It would be really interesting to compare their survey results with their current (Millennial) students’ answers.

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?