Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Has The Fourth Turning Brought Us Trump?

I have referenced the book "The Fourth Turning" by Neil Howe and William Strauss several times over the years in BeeLine.




The Fourth Turning refers to the cycles of history. There is a pattern to history. There are four turns much as there are four seasons.  A new era -or turn- occurs about every two decades or so.

At the start of each turning, people change how they feel about themselves, the culture, the nation, and the future. Turnings come in cycles of four.  Each full cycle spans the length of a long human life, roughly 80 years.

There is a Spring which is a High where institutions are strengthening and individualism is weakening and a new civic order is implanting. This was the period beginning right after WW II to the late 1960's

There is a Summer which is the Awakening.  This is an era of spiritual upheaval when the new civic order comes under attack from a new values regime. This period began in the late 1960's with the flower children and Vietnam War protests and lasted until the late 1980's.

There is a Fall which is the Unraveling.  This is a period of strengthening individualism and weakening institutions.  The old civic order decays and the new values regime firmly implants.  This began in the late 1980's and the authors predicted that it would run for about 20 years.

The Fourth Turning is the Crisis which is the Winter.  It is a decisive era of secular upheaval according to Strauss and Howe. In 1997 (when they wrote the book), they predicted that "sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter the Fourth Turning."

The last Fourth Turning began in 1929 with the stock market crash. It ran until 1946 encompassing both the Great Depression and WWII. Previous Fourth Turnings culminated in the American Revolution and the Civil War. We are talking about events that literally put the entire society at risk.

The authors of The Fourth Turning originally projected 2005 as the target date for the turn stating that it could be several years before or after that date. 9/11 and Katrina could be the turning point but most likely the 2008 financial meltdown marked the catalyst that thrust us into The Fourth Turning. We will not know for sure until we see it all play out. The point of maximum crisis is usually about 3/4 of the way through the FourthTurning. If they are right, we will likely experience it within the next 10 years.

One of the important points that Howe and Strauss make in The Fourth Turning is that history does not necessarily repeat, but it rhymes. Why is that? Because with each succeeding generation the learnings of the past are forgotten or never learned. As a result, there is a tendency to ignore the past lessons of history as previous generations were not there and did not "live it". The same mistakes are made again and again over time.

When I read this book in 1998 it seemed an audacious prediction that we would be entering a period of Crisis. America was riding high. The stock market was booming.  The federal budget was in surplus. The defense budget was being trimmed every year as there seemed to be no real threats to peace. All seemed right in America. It was hard to see what they were talking about. Yet the book gave me an uneasy feeling and increased my sensitivity to observing the changes that were going on around me.

There seems to be little doubt that we are now living in the middle of The Fourth Turning. In fact, the emergence and success of Donald Trump in the political realm confirms it.  The same can be said for the the success of Bernie Sanders in the Democrat primary as well.

One of the key elements in a Fourth Turning is that a point is reached where the public realizes that their institutions are dysfunctional and they come to the conclusion that they are increasingly vulnerable with the current status quo. Such was the case as the colonists grew distrustful and frustrated with British rule, the deep divisions created within the country with slavery that led to the Civil War and the substantial financial hardships that everyone felt in the Great Depression.

A point is reached when the pubic coalesces or large blocs of voters support a strong leader to tear down the existing social, economic and social construct and replace it with something else. The result may be better, or far worse, but the public will nevertheless demand something different.

Barack Obama was perfectly positioned to be that leader as he entered office shortly after The Fourth Turning began. However, he squandered his opportunity. The people voted for hope and change and they got Obamacare and not much else.  He told the people what they wanted to hear. However, instead of being the uniter that people were looking for he just further divided what was already a divided nation.

You begin to see how important this is in political terms when you consider what Strauss and Howe said about where we are headed politically in The Fourth Turning.

"Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political alignment, as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action. Republicans, Democrats, or perhaps a new party will decisively win the long partisan tug-of-war, ending the era of split government that had lasted through four decades.  The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda which their adversaries had darkly warned.  This new regime will enthrone itself for the duration of the Crisis.  Regardless of its ideology, that new leadership will assert public authority and demand private sacrifice. Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation's attention."

The big point here is that a point is reached where the public mood shifts from one that is less concerned with individual rights and more concerned with the collective good. People ultimately will seek this as a means for society to survive the Crisis. It has no other choice.

What will the winning trends from a political standpoint be according to Strauss and Howe as we move through the remainder of The Fourth Turning?


  • Calls to close the gap between rich and poor
  • Reverse the decline of the middle class
  • Expand children's programs relative to senior programs
  • Restore an ethic of personal responsibility
  • De-fund time-encrusted bureaucracies
  • Promote traditional values
  • America will become more isolationist than today in it unwillingness to coordinate with other countries 
  • America will be less globally dependent than it is today with smaller cross-border trade and capital flows
  • The economic role of government will shift toward far more spending on defense and public works than on elder care and debt service
I don't know about you, but a lot of this sounds a lot like Donald Trump. Or Bernie Sanders for that matter. It does not sound like Hillary Clinton.

Look at some of the words above and see if you don't agree that in some ways it seems as if Trump has a keen understanding of where we are and what people are looking for. It is as if he is looking ahead and the Republican establishment can only see what is behind them.


"Decisive action".  There is very little gray in Trump's outlook.

"Assert public authority."  Think about Trump's views on eminent domain.

"Aggravate rather than alleviate societal pressures." Trump's views and statements on immigration.

"Reverse the decline of the middle class."  His major voting target is forgotten working class voters.

"De-fund time-encrusted bureaucracies."  His call to consider the de-funding of NATO.

"Promote traditional values."  "Make America Great Again." 

"More isolationist."  Very consistent with his views of Middle East.

"Less globally dependent".  His attacks on NAFTA, China, Japan on trade.

"Defense and Infrastructure."  Two of Trump's favorite topics in every speech. 


If The Fourth Turning has brought us Trump, can he lead us out of the Crisis? We can only hope. There are no promises. History is not made by events but by the reaction of human beings to events. We are hurtling down the road for a rendezvous with history of our own making. The choices that have been made and those that remain to be made will have deep consequences. We can only trust that the American people will make the right choice.

"In recent years, many Americans have despaired that their nation no longer produces leaders who can galvanize and inspire. Yet it is the turning, not the nation, that elevates great people to the apex of power. Lincoln and FDR are both cases in point. Both had to wait for the Crisis to hit. An Unraveling (the Third Turning) is an era when most people of intelligence, vision and integrity do not seek (much less get elected to) high public offices.
 After the Fourth Turning arrives, however, a Lincoln-like leader will be more likely to seek office, and a Lincoln-like leader could be exactly what America needs, wants and gets."

Credit: History News Network

I know it is hard to imagine associating Donald Trump and Abraham Lincoln but that might be the bet we are making in 2016. We may need no less than a Lincoln with what lies ahead.

We are not only in The Fourth Turning we are also in the bottom of the ninth inning if you believe the predictions of where Strauss and Howe have us heading. We already have two outs and two strikes on us for putting Obama in the game. This is no time to swing and miss again. Trump's chatter has dumbfounded the chattering class. His chatter has put him one step away from The White House.  He better be able to hit one over the wall...and build a wall while he is doing it!

May God Bless America once again.


15 comments:

  1. This is a very interesting write up and opinion. I read The Fourth Turning years ago and I am currently listening to the audiobook. I try to educate people that I know on this theory and the thought of time as non liner and the very concept is over the head of many.

    Trump? I would have never associated his candidacy with the season of rebuilding. Actually I see it as one of the definitive signs of the upheaval of our society. But... This piece has gotten me thinking more openly about the entire process.

    Thank you.

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  2. It's 1856. The racial issues are only going to get worse until we have another civil war, whatever that looks like. Trump is not Abe Lincoln.

    Or it is 1936, and it takes us another 4+ years for a world war that current world leaders could have prevented had they dealt with reality faster. But they didn't and Trump won't either.

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    Replies
    1. I feel that you're right. Trump is no Lincoln but has paid lip services to middle/working America. Boy will they be ticked when he doesn't or can't (because of his republican senate and house) follow through on bringing jobs back, building the wall, kicking all dark skinned people out of the US...Making America Great Again.

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  3. I'm reading this the night after the election. It's hard for me to see electing Trump leading to any good outcome but you explain well how we got here.

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  4. I think Trump IS the culmination of the crisis, in the same way Hoover was.

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  5. I thought the grey champion was supposed to be a good thing. Trump is plunging us into darkness. I am a Hillary voter, and I do not live in a gated community.This notion that liberals are all monied elitists is wrong. We live from paycheck to paycheck. We struggle. There are no vacations. There are no restaurants or Christmas' with gifts. But compared to our financial state back in 2008 we have really improved. There are still no vacations, or leisure activities, or gifts at Christmas and birthdays, but we were able to buy a home! Obama really improved the economy. I need the ACA as I look for work after graduation. Without the ACA I would be on disability or deceased. In my repeated readings of the 4th turning, I thought the grey champion would be a reluctant unifier. Trump is not the grey champion. He is a scoundrel- a bigoted autocrat. I think this seculum is going to be similar to that of the Civil war seculum. I think it is shorter and there are elements of our society that are similar to the trancendentalists of the Civil War seculum. With Trump I am part of the resistance. He is not my president and does not represent any thing I recognize as American. He is a dictator and authoritarian. The Grey Champion will come from the resistance. It will probably be be Bernie Sanders, Robert Reich, Elizabeth Warren or Hillary Clinton.

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