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