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.

13 thoughts on “Trump and the Fourth Turning, Part 1”

  1. As a GenX/Millennial cusper I voted for Trump all the way because I was sick of Washington like many others. On the other hand I did understood how Millennials felt about Trump with some of his behavor and comments that may have offended them. Let’s hope Trump does his job otherwise I did say to Millennials out there that they had the advantage to hold our leaders accountable if they don’t do there job. The Millennials have the most important role in the crisis otherwise the blame falls squarely on that generations shoulders and we GenXers stepped in as the tribal warlords picking up the pieces. Millennials will be at fault if crisis goes wrong and Xers will be yanking them by the collar and runninng what’s left of America.
    We have yet to see what the Millennials trial looks like.

  2. Let’s not forget that Millennials were originally not too crazy about Hilary either. Their only reason was their greivance towards Trump and the idea of a first woman President. But Milllennials didn’t think Hilary would of solved all their generations problems.

  3. The other Archetype is the current children of Crisis. The Homeland Generation represents the Artist Archetype in which the previous example was the Silent Generation(Martin Luther King, Bobby Kennedy.) Let’s not forget when they produce leaders in the post crisis era.

  4. This post misses the unraveling. Trump and Brexit are not events that represnet the crisis… it is a reaction to the crisis. The unraveling is the erosion of freedoms from the “hero”/civic generation, boomer activists like Obama who used his time in office to unravel the institutions, according to the script. Whatever the crisis looks like, it still is yet to be seen, but I think it stems from the corruption embraced by the Democrat party. Burisma, Ukraine, tampering with election 2016 from inside our own institutions: The swamp, they call it. IT’s up to us Gen Xers to guide the artist generation to rebuild the integrity of the institutions that are being destroyed from the inside out.

    1. I don’t agree on the timing. I do agree that it was Boomers that brought us to this point, but that was mainly Clinton and George W. Bush. Equal share for both Republicans and Democratic Boomers in the House and Senate who couldn’t manage to actually govern because they were so busy arguing about ideals. I don’t see Obama as having changed much at all when it came to our general course as a country.

      Both Boomers and X’ers need to get past their rampant individualism if we stand a chance of rebuilding institutions. As long as we persist in blaming liberal or conservative policies for our current mess, we won’t be able to rebuild anything. I believe that it is exactly this attitude that dismays both Mills and the next Artist generation.

      I do agree that Gen X’ers will play a huge role in rebuilding, but I am starting to feel like we are in a Civil War type cycle, and that the climax will be more of a whimper than a bang. That will mean that the Mills won’t be heroes and that the next Artist (Homelander, Z, whatever) will grow up in muddle of a 1st Turning that has little resolution (like the Gilded back after the Civil War). But that is just my current outlook – things could change.

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