2018: The beginning of the end of the Fourth Turning in America

Reading Time: 3 minutes

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.

—William Strauss and Neil Howe: The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny

Donald Trump can’t stand festering problems. Trump forces problems to the surface, into the daylight, where they can be fought and settled. So he can move on.

Trump seems less concerned with the outcome than with getting an outcome. A loss is better than a tie to our president.

And William Strauss and Neil Howe prophesied just such a leader in their 1997 book The Fourth Turning. You should read it. Again. Especially chapter 10: A Fourth Turning Prophecy.

Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political realignment, as one faction or coalition capitalizes on a new public demand for decisive action.

The old Republican Party is dead. The new GOP is a populist-conservative coalition. Establishment Republicans cannot win without their populist wing, just as the GOP of the 1970s and 1980s could not win without its Evangelical Christian wing. We will never see that old establishment return in our lifetimes.

And The Fourth Turning saw all of this coming.

In foreign affairs, 2018 will see larger swaths of the American public, academia, and media turn against globalization and toward nationalism. They won’t call it “nationalism,” but the results will be nationalistic. Just as Strauss and Howe predicted:

In foreign affairs, America’s initial Fourth Turning instinct will be to look away from other countries and focus total energy on the domestic birth of a new order. Later, provoked by real or imagined outside provocations, the society will turn newly martial. America will become more isolationist than today in its unwillingness to coordinate its affairs with other countries but less isolationist in its insistence that vital national interests not be compromised.

The US economy, as we saw yesterday, will surge. Just as Strauss and Howe predicted:

The economy will in time recover from its early and vertiginous reversals. Late in the Crisis, with trust and hope and urgency growing fast, it may even achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency and production. But, by then, the economy will have changed fundamentally. Compared to today, it will be less globally dependent, with smaller cross-border trade and capital flows. . . .

The Fourth Turning even saw Trump’s massive infrastructure bill coming 21 years ahead of time:

Fourth Turning America will begin to lay out the next saeculum’s infrastructure grid— some higher-tech facsimile of turnpikes, railroads, or highways.

And a shift away from entitlements that benefit individuals over society, toward large projects that benefit society over the individual. I.e., the general welfare:

The economic role of government will shift toward far more spending on survival and future promises (defense, public works) and far less on amenities and past promises (elder care, debt service). The organization of both business and government will be simpler and more centralized, with fewer administrative layers, fewer job titles, and fewer types of goods and services transacted.

We are already seeing this prophecy play out. Globalism is officially in decline. Paul Ryan plans to reform entitlements in 2018. President Trump is promising a huge investment in defense and public works, paid for by growth and entitlement reform.

But these deep cultural changes will create intense conflict in the United States. The society shaped after World War II will be replaced by a new society. Just as Franklin Roosevelt laid the groundwork for the last American era, Donald J. Trump is laying the groundwork for the next.

And one generation will provide the grit and toughness to drive all this change. That generation is the least talked-about generation in history. It’s the generation of slackers. It’s the generation of dangerous children. It’s the generation that grew up with Donald J. Trump: Generation X. The change that’s coming is a direct result of America’s first Gen X Election.

Soon, but not now, we’ll take a deeper look at Generation X’s role in the next era of history.

2018 will change American culture at its core

Reading Time: 4 minutes

If you’re wondering how things will change in 2018, you might think back the mid-1980s.

In the 1980s, leftist professors, leftist news media, and leftist entertainers were angry. For years, they’d preached that Ronald Reagan was a neo-Nazi buffoon whose incompetence and malice would destroy America. Maybe even wipe out the human species. “I believe Ronald Reagan can turn America back into what it once was,” said comedian Steve Martin on Saturday Night Live in 1980, “a vast wasteland covered with ice.”

By 1986, though, the left’s dire predictions were ruined. Unemployment was low. Gasoline was under $1 a gallon in many places. The Iron Curtain showed signs of cracking. Stocks were soaring. Ronald Reagan was re-elected in one of the largest landslides ever. It was Morning in America.

So what did the left do? Did they grudgingly admit their errors? Did the credit Ronald Reagan for America’s miraculous turnaround?

Of course not. These are leftists we’re talking about. Admitting error takes character, a quality prohibited on the left.

Instead, the left found alternative heroes. The left created a narrative to explain America’s resurgence in which Reagan became the beneficiary of other people’s efforts.

Those other people: American workers.

In the left’s view, the American worker recognized Reagan’s wicked ineptness and took the country on its shoulders. Blue collar heroes sacrificed and scratched to remake America in spite of Reagan’s terrible, awful policies and blundering, dangerous style. Ted Turner made friends with the Soviet Union, conducting his own foreign policy to save the world.

This narrative preserved the left’s biases while explaining Morning in America. The left was wrong, but they didn’t mind. Their hallucinations, their self-images, were intact.

Look ahead to 2018, now. The US economy is poised to explode never before since Reagan. There’s a possibility of 7%+ GDP growth in at least one quarter of 2018. The Dow Jones Industrial Average could double by years end, approaching 50,000.

Will Democrats and the media credit Trump?

If you answered “yes” or hesitated in answering “no,” you don’t understand the leftist mind. The left will never admit Trump made America great again.

Instead, they’ll create an alternative explanation for surging American greatness. That explanation will be the same one they used in 1986: the American worker.

Here’s how 2018 will play out:

  1. President Trump will work with Democrats to hammer out an enormous infrastructure bill. Democrats will go along because they need votes in November. They’ll see the infrastructure bill as a way of driving a wedge between the president and the House Freedom Caucus while giving Democrat incumbents a bragging point in their districts.
  2. The tax reform bill will fuel a late-spring, early-summer rally like you’ve never seen before. Employers will complain about a huge, historic shortage of quality labor and about the rapidly rising wage problem. (Yes, wage growth will officially become a problem in May 2018, when Krugman declares “wages are out of control.”)
  3. The Justice Department will begin anti-trust investigations of Amazon, Google, Facebook, Apple, and Microsoft as both conservatives and leftists attack Silicon Valley’s unchecked power and abuses.
  4. By late summer and early fall, economists will project 2018’s economy to one of the best on record.
  5. By early fall, the infrastructure bill passed early in 2018 will see a slew of new construction across the country. People will take note of all the cranes on America’s skyline. They’ll complain about highway construction as commutes and road trips grow longer.
  6. Just before the 2018 elections, the left will need a new narrative to explain American greatness. That new narrative: America’s workers.

What will this narrative look like?

Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen’s working-class music will return with a vengeance. But a new blue-collar music star will emerge. Movies and television shows worshipping blue collar workers will premiere. (Trump fan Rosanne returns in the fall.)

Economists will explain how labor turned America around despite Trump’s malicious ineptness. Specifically, how American consumers decided to stop paying down debt and start living a little after recovering from the post-financial crisis trauma. These economists will carefully explain that Trump’s policies of lower taxes, less regulation, and strong foreign policy, actually hindered economic growth.

Feminists will tell us that successful women can best express their feminity by choosing a blue-collar mate. (Seriously, this will happen.) Meanwhile, anti-Trump and NeverTrump pundits will warn that both America’s economic resurgence and its growing popular support for President Trump (above 50% by the end of summer) are “a mile wide and an inch deep.”

Of course, many things could derail all this. There’s North Korea and Iran. There’s Russia. There’s China. There’s Bob Mueller. But those are all low-probability risks. And even if one of those risks materializes, we can’t be sure whether it will help or hurt the scenario I’ve just laid out.

In the end, 2018 will be seen by most American voters as the year things turned around in America. Just like 1984. The change will be broad and deep, affecting education, entertainment, news, fashion, marriage rates (rising), birth rates (rising), and attitudes.

How much credit belongs to Trump will never be settled. But the truth will lie somewhere between the narratives offered by Trump’s strongest critics and his strongest supporters.

We are entering the second half of the Fourth Turning. Trump was as much a result of the cycles of history as a catalyst. But without his style and substance, the enormous social change sweeping America could not have happened.

Tomorrow, we’ll look deeper into that Fourth Turning prophecy. For now, think about how your life will change with growing wages, a retreat from technomania, and a revitalization of both American manufacturing and blue collar workers. You might like what you see.

People Want You Dead

Reading Time: 8 minutes

Have you ever found yourself in the midst of a riot? Even if you’ve only seen riots on television, you can probably imagine how it feels to be inside one.

Imagine yourself surrounded on all sides by angry faces dressed in shabby clothes, some faces covered with bandanas or ski masks. People are chanting something you can’t quite understand, like a private joke you’re not allowed to get. Or maybe they’re chanting at you. Maybe you’re what they’re so mad about.

You can smell acrid smoke and burning rubber from the fires set a block away. The cracked asphalt street is spotted with trash and debris. You’re jolted by shattering glass and turn to see the window of a coffee shop spider-webbing and collapsing onto the sidewalk with a crash. Angry, violent shouts. A woman shrieks in pain or fury, you can’t tell which.

Soon you realize you’re in grave danger. You might tell yourself the mob could turn on you any moment. Those rocks they hold in their hands could come flying at your head. From behind where you cannot see. So you turn around and see a police car smoldering then burst into flames as the mob roars in an angry, hate-filled celebration of their destruction and violence.

You really should get away, but you find yourself wondering, “will they follow me? Should I just blend in? Will they turn on me? Will they discover that I’m not one of them?”

The more you see and hear and smell, the more confused and terrified you become. You might even think about loved ones and whether you’ll ever see them again. And what will they think of you being in the midst of this riot? How will they explain it to themselves?

You might find yourself starting to cry, but you know your tears will give you away. They’ll know.

And how will you get away? How will you deal with the police when they show up. They might arrest you. If they ever show up. Maybe the police abandoned you? Maybe the police will just let the mob tire itself out.

The Left Has Declared War On You

There’s no need to worry about finding yourself in the center of a riot until a faction of society decides it’s okay to intimidate or kill people they don’t agree with you. So maybe it’s time to start worrying.

Meanwhile, CNN, New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, ABC News, CBS News, NBC News, Time Magazine, and everything else you would consider “responsible” journalism openly condones violence against Trump supporters. Academics and Democrat leaders justify violence and encourage leftists to attack their political opponents.

Having lost at the ballot box, having lost in the court of public opinion, the left has decided to intimidate or kill its adversaries. Just like the Nazis. Just like the Leninists. Just like the Maoists.

Fighting Is Under Way

And leftist blood-lust is not limited to a fringe. A very intelligent and gentle acquaintance of mine, someone with whom I once enjoyed a cordial and friendly long-running debate, believes that Trump sent federal troops into Berkeley the other night to conduct mass arrests of protesters, trigging the riots. It’s completely untrue and she had no idea where she heard it, but she believes it as much as she believes in gravity. And her false belief, what psychologists would call a hallucination (h/t Scott Adams), allows her to justify anything the rioters did, up to and including murder.

Here’s the thing. You’ve probably heard the word “privilege” so much you could puke when you hear it. The idea of white privilege is central to the leftist hallucination. And the idea of a privileged race led Germany to the Final Solution.

Adolf Hitler wrote in 1919:

But an anti-Semitism based on reason must lead to a systematic legal elimination of the privileges of the Jews. The ultimate objective of such legislation must, however, be the irrevocable removal of the Jews from civil and cultural influence.

In fact, the Nazi propagandists worked overtime to defame Jews for their privilege. Hitler claimed Jews avoided physical labor of any kind, preferring work in finance, mercantile, and the arts. He lamented that Jews wrote and produced 90 percent of German movies despite being only one percent of the population. His propaganda depicted Jewish women as fat and lazy, yet wealthy, feeding off the labor of the German people.

Substitute “working class whites” for “Jews,” and Nazi propaganda sounds a lot like CNN commentators and UC Berkeley professors. Even so-called conservative Bill Kristol says it’s time to replace America’s white working class with immigrants.

It’s pretty clear that the left uses the same rhetoric and scapegoating against conservatives as the Nazi used against Jews. So we have to ask if these leftists use the propaganda techniques to the same end.

The Nazis wanted to vilify and dehumanize Jews so the German people would be conditioned for the Final Solution: extermination.

When you hear the speeches of campus protesters, you have to conclude that the left has a final solution in mind for people like you and me. You don’t have to take my word for it. Here are the words of a school teacher in Seattle protesting against Trump and his supporters:

And we need to start killing people. First off, we need to start killing the White House. The White House must die. The White House, your fucking White House, your fucking Presidents, they must go! Fuck the White House.

Pay the fuck up, pay the fuck up. It ain’t just your fucking time, it’s your fucking money, and now your fucking life is devoted to social change.

Democrats, establishment Republicans, and the supposedly “responsible” media ignored this story. They ignored it because they are afraid of attracting the mob’s attention. Like Germans in the 1930s, some people value their own survival too much to stop bloodshed and brutality.

You Are Not Alone

Since the election in November, I thought I was alone in seeing the life-threatening hatred in America’s leftists. But I’m learning I’m not alone. For example, Kurt Schlichter wrote recently on TownHall.com:

They hate you.

Leftists don’t merely disagree with you. They don’t merely feel you are misguided. They don’t think you are merely wrong. They hate you. They want you enslaved and obedient, if not dead. Once you get that, everything that is happening now will make sense. And you will understand what you need to be ready to do.

. . .

You wonder why the left is now justifying violence? Because they think that helps them right now. Today it’s suddenly OK to punch a “Nazi.” But the punchline is that anyone who opposes them is a “Nazi.”

Schlichter is absolutely right, of course. They hate you. You can feel it when you hear them speak and when you see them assaulting young women as the police stand around watching, encouraging the mayhem by their passivity. Yes, the Berkeley, California police are complicit in this woman’s serious injuries. They let it happen.

Look, the police will not protect you from leftist mobs. They’re too afraid. They have families and pensions to think about. And the left will not simply get jobs and go away. They want you dead. They want us all dead or enslaved.

And we’ve been warned.

The Prophesy 

In The Fourth Turning1, Howe and Strauss warned us that these Crisis eras end in a climax. That means the worst is yet to come.

The Crisis climax is human history’s equivalent to nature’s raging typhoon, the kind that sucks all surrounding matter into a single swirl of ferocious energy. Anything not lashed down goes flying; anything standing in the way gets flattened. Normally occurring late in the Fourth Turning, the climax gathers energy from an accumulation of unmet needs, unpaid bills, and unresolved problems. It then spends that energy on an upheaval whose direction and dimension were beyond comprehension during the prior Unraveling era. The climax shakes a society to its roots, transforms its institutions, redirects its purposes, and marks its people (and its generations) for life. The climax can end in triumph, or tragedy, or some combination of both. Whatever the event and whatever the outcome, a society passes through a great gate of history, fundamentally altering the course of civilization.

Yet one generation—Generation X2, aka, “13ers”—holds the key to surviving the climax:

The 13ers’ gravest Fourth Turning duty will be their society’s most important preseasonal task: to ensure that there can indeed be a new High, a new golden age of hope and prosperity. For the Crisis to end well, 13ers must keep Boomers from wreaking needless destruction and Millennials from marching too mindlessly under their elders’ banner. They will not find it easy to restrain an older generation that will consider itself far wiser than they, and a younger one that will consider itself more deserving. For this, 13ers will require a keen eye, a deft touch, and a rejection of the wild risk taking associated with their youth.

Warning us in 1997, Howe and Strauss said:

From now through the end of the Fourth Turning, 13ers will constantly rise in power. From 1998 until around the Crisis climax, they will be America’s largest potential generational voting bloc. As the years pass, their civic contributions will become increasingly essential to their nation’s survival. They will have to vote more and participate more, if they want to contain the Boomers’ zealotry. They will have that chance. Their own elected officials will surge into Congress as the Crisis catalyzes, eclipse Boomers around its climax, and totally dominate them by the time it resolves.

As they go one-on-one with history, 13ers should remember that history is counting on them to do whatever hard jobs may be necessary. If 13ers play their script weakly, old Boomers could wreak a horrible apocalypse, and 13er demagogues could impose a mind-numbing authoritarianism— or both. If 13ers play their script cleverly but safely, however, a new golden age will be their hard-won reward. As they age, 13ers should remember Hemingway’s words: “Old men do not grow wise. They grow careful.”

“Slackers” to the Rescue

Luckily, we Gen Xers have a role model in Missouri’s new governor, Eric Greitens. Greitens is the epitome of doing whatever hard jobs may be necessary, from Rwanda and Bosnia to Iraq as a Navy SEAL to charity and now to politics.

Even luckier, Generation X is already hardened. We grew up with hard rock and hard drugs and hard breakups and hard attitudes. We were eager fans who made Nirvana and Pearl Jam possible. And it’s an honor. History has handed us the keys to survival.

Those haters in Berkeley are largely Millennials. They’re following the bad examples of destructive, reckless Boomers. If America is to survive the coming climax, history will note that the Slackers, the McFlys, the generation nobody watched overcame our recklessness to rescue civilization itself.

But Generation X cannot win the battle for America’s survival alone. We need to attract soldiers from the Millennial generation. And we need to follow the lead of the Gray Champion, about whom more in future posts.

It’s Going to Be Okay

In the meantime, cut out carbs, eat more healthy fat, practice dry fire drills, stock up on ammo, and be ready for the inevitable climax. You, my friends, are the first and last line of defense in our battle for self-government. We won’t go down without the fight of the millennium.

And we will be #winning.



  1.  Strauss, William; Howe, Neil (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning: What the Cycles of History Tell Us About America’s Next Rendezvous with Destiny, Crown/Archetype. Kindle Edition. 
  2. In generational history, 13ers are the 13th generation since the American Revolution who were born between about 1961 and 1982. If you’re too young to remember JFK’s assassination, you’re a GenXer, not a Boomer. 

Predicting the Climax

Reading Time: 2 minutes

We are watching The Fourth Turning unfold before our eyes.

While you should read all of The Fourth Turning by generational historians William Strauss and Neil Howe, here’s one of their predictions for this point in time. The prediction was published in 1997:

The economy will in time recover from its early and vertiginous reversals. Late in the Crisis, with trust and hope and urgency growing fast, it may even achieve unprecedented levels of efficiency and production. But, by then, the economy will have changed fundamentally. Compared to today, it will be less globally dependent, with smaller cross-border trade and capital flows. Its businesses will be more cartelized and its workers more unionized, perhaps under the shadow of overt government direction. And it will devote a much larger share of its income to saving and investing. Fourth Turning America will begin to lay out the next saeculum’s infrastructure grid—some higher-tech facsimile of turnpikes, railroads, or highways. The economic role of government will shift toward far more spending on survival and future promises (defense, public works) and far less on amenities and past promises (elder care, debt service).

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 5729-5735). Random House, Inc. Kindle Edition.

I have no idea whether Donald Trump ever read The Fourth Turning. But it doesn’t matter. Strauss and Howe never intended their books to be prescriptions for governance. Instead, The Fourth Turning was meant as a prophecy. It was a scenario of what was to come, not what the authors wished to come. They didn’t advocate for a less globally-dependent economy; they foresaw it.

Disturbingly, few business leaders see this coming. Executives continue these globalization investments despite mounting evidence that Strauss and Howe were mostly right. From the UK to the USA, from France to Italy and Greece, people are fed up with globalization and demanding their governments fix problems at home. Only those out-of-touch, self-absorbed globalist elites fail to see that times have changed.

As the USA approaches the climax of the Crisis, smart executives will focus on making America great again and worry less about creating markets in tiny, failed economies overseas. Smart executives will think about making America great, not just their stockholders.

Apple and Ford have already indicated they get it. Or, at least, they’re pretending to get it. Apple is exploring ways to build iPhones in the USA. Ford has decided to keep some car lines in the USA. Expect other companies to follow suit. Pretty soon, “made in America” will make companies rich.

Meanwhile, American consumers, especially those who voted for Trump, should seek out and demand American-made products. I realize you can’t do this for everything. And I realize you’ll have to pay a little more. But, wouldn’t it say a lot if Trump voters consumed fewer things so they could buy mostly American things? I’ll bet that you could find ten things in the room your in that you really didn’t need. If you’d skipped those unnecessary, wasteful purchases, you might have been able to afford the American-made versions of the stuff you really needed. It’s easy to make the switch once you get started. You might even find yourself looking at the country of manufacture the next time you’re in a store.

America gave itself a new lease on life this year. Let’s spend it well. If we do, in just four years we’ll be able to say “America is back.”

The Centre Cannot Hold

Reading Time: 6 minutes

THE SECOND COMING
     –William Butler Yeats

Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

Surely some revelation is at hand;
Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

The darkness drops again but now I know
That twenty centuries of stony sleep
Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

Republican Establishment fears the party is spinning apart.

You probably know that I believe in the cyclical history. So did Yeats.

Cycles of History

In The Second Coming Yeats sees the old order in Europe dying as the gyre (2000 years) that began with Christ ends. The beast is Europe’s ruling class moving slowly as scavenger birds wait for the beast to drop.

America has a ruling class–a cabal of political, business, and media elite. On the surface, their factions war and clash, but when the lights and cameras and microphones power down, they plot together to keep the rabble in its place.

The rabble are awakened.

The End of the Old Establishment

Maybe it was one too-many hot mic accidents. Maybe it was the hubris of power and the ascension of elites less skilled in masking their contempt of the rank and file.

In the end, the reason won’t matter much. The Establishment beast is old and weary. Its parasites look for new, healthier hosts.

The Democrat Establishment candidate has a socialist nipping at her cankles. The Republicans have no clear Establishment leading candidate, but a muddle of pretenders and wannabes sitting miles behind a populist and a conservative evangelist.

The centre is gone. Not only is there political center between the two major parties, there’s no firm center within the parties. The New York Times article linked above explains it all in two short paragraphs:

Rank-and-file conservatives, after decades of deferring to party elites, are trying to stage what is effectively a people’s coup by selecting a standard-bearer who is not the preferred candidate of wealthy donors and elected officials.

And many of those traditional power brokers, in turn, are deeply uncomfortable and even hostile to Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz: Between them, the leading candidates do not have the backing of a single senator or governor.

Yet this isn’t just about electoral politics. Look what’s happening in the finance world.

Wall Street had its worst first week of a year in history. China’s competence narrative is falling apart, and taking the narrative of the omnipotent Central Banker with it.

[UPDATE: Asian markets continue free-fall on Monday]

Wall Street and Central Bankers were key to the old Establishment order. The Establishment of both parties gave Wall Street a veto on their candidates long ago. Right now, the financial world is too distracted with its own problems to pay more than scant attention to the election. Besides, they have ways of making eventual winners see things their way, and they count on their financial threats to keep any new president in line.

The Trough of the Crisis

The Fourth Turning, published in 1997, predicted that America would enter a Crisis period within the decade.

A spark will ignite a new mood. Today, the same spark would flame briefly but then extinguish, its last flicker merely confirming and deepening the Unraveling-era mind-set. This time, though, it will catalyze a Crisis. In retrospect, the spark might seem as ominous as a financial crash, as ordinary as a national election, or as trivial as a Tea Party. It could be a rapid succession of small events in which the ominous, the ordinary, and the trivial are commingled.

Recall that a Crisis catalyst involves scenarios distinctly imaginable eight or ten years in advance. Based on recent Unraveling-era trends, the following circa-2005 scenarios might seem plausible:

  • Beset by a fiscal crisis, a state lays claim to its residents’ federal tax monies. Declaring this an act of secession, the president obtains a federal injunction. The governor refuses to back down. Federal marshals enforce the court order. Similar tax rebellions spring up in other states. Treasury bill auctions are suspended. Militia violence breaks out. Cyberterrorists destroy IRS databases. U.S. special forces are put on alert. Demands issue for a new Constitutional Convention.
  • A global terrorist group blows up an aircraft and announces it possesses portable nuclear weapons. The United States and its allies launch a preemptive strike. The terrorists threaten to retaliate against an American city. Congress declares war and authorizes unlimited house-to-house searches. Opponents charge that the president concocted the emergency for political purposes. A nationwide strike is declared. Foreign capital flees the U.S.
  • An impasse over the federal budget reaches a stalemate. The president and Congress both refuse to back down, triggering a near-total government shutdown. The president declares emergency powers. Congress rescinds his authority. Dollar and bond prices plummet. The president threatens to stop Social Security checks. Congress refuses to raise the debt ceiling. Default looms. Wall Street panics.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announce the spread of a new communicable virus. The disease reaches densely populated areas, killing some. Congress enacts mandatory quarantine measures. The president orders the National Guard to throw prophylactic cordons around unsafe neighborhoods. Mayors resist. Urban gangs battle suburban militias. Calls mount for the president to declare martial law.
  • Growing anarchy throughout the former Soviet republics prompts Russia to conduct training exercises around its borders. Lithuania erupts in civil war. Negotiations break down. U.S. diplomats are captured and publicly taunted. The president airlifts troops to rescue them and orders ships into the Black Sea. Iran declares its alliance with Russia. Gold and oil prices soar. Congress debates restoring the draft.

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 5645-5647). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.

Am I the only one who sees that, not one but ALL of those possible scenarios has played out or nearly played out since the financial crisis struck in 2007?

That Crisis era, they predicted, will last about 15 to 20 years, after which a new social order will emerge in America. From The Fourth Turning:

Before long, America’s old civic order will seem ruined beyond repair. People will feel like a magnet has passed over society’s disk drive, blanking out the social contract, wiping out old deals, clearing the books of vast unpayable promises to which people had once felt entitled. The economy could reach a trough that may look to be the start of a depression. With American weaknesses newly exposed, foreign dangers could erupt.

But before we get to the High, we will go through a climax according to The Fourth Turning:

Eventually, all of America’s lesser problems will combine into one giant problem. The very survival of the society will feel at stake, as leaders lead and people follow. Public issues will be newly simple, fitting within the contours of crisp yes-no choices. People will leave niches to join interlocking teams, each team dependent on (and trusting of) work done by other teams. People will share similar hopes and sacrifices—and a new sense of social equality. The splinterings, complexities, and cynicisms of the Unraveling will be but distant memories. The first glimpses of a new golden age will appear beyond: if only this one big problem can be fixed.

It’s been nine years since the Crisis began with the fall of Bear-Stearn. Eight years if you believe the Crisis started with Lehman Brothers.

The Climax

Either way, we are inching closer to the climax. With Trump and Cruz running as much against the Republican Establishment as they are against the Democrats, the pieces are in place for the climax to emerge.

It’s very likely that the 2016 election will bring about the long term realignment of the social contract as Howe and Strauss predicted in The Fourth Turning:

Soon after the catalyst, a national election will produce a sweeping political realignment, 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 of Awakening and Unraveling. The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incre-mentalist agenda about which they had long dreamed and against 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 regeneracy will be solidly under way.

When I read theories that attempt to explain Trump and Cruz, I’m surprised no one else stumbled onto this one.

Like it or not, we’re in the trough of the Crisis. And the worst is yet to come. Be ready to influence the new social contract. With or without a convention of states, America’s social contract has been digitized and opened for editing by anyone.

 

Why Conservatives Should Get Involved—Part 4

Reading Time: 13 minutes

In part 1 of this series, we clarified some misconceptions and falsehoods about the Franklin Project.

In part 2, we examined the debate on the right from 1990 with William F. Buckley and Milton Friedman.

Part 3 was a critique of the Franklin Project’s Plan of Action.

Today, we will look at the consequences should conservatives turn their backs on the concept of developing a service ethos in America.

Generations: Saying “No” Won’t Work

  1. Do you remember when Roosevelt died?
  2. Do you remember, however vaguely, Kennedy’s assassination?

  3. How about the Challenger disaster?

  4. The fall of Lehman Brothers?

Scoring:

A. If you answered Yes to 1, you are a Silent or WWII generation, but not a Boomer.

B. If you answered No to 1 and Yes to 2, you are a Boomer.

C. No to 2 and Yes to 3, you are Generation X.

D. No 3 and Yes to 4, you are a Millennial.

Based on statistical analysis of readers of this blog, about 10 percent of my readers fall into A, about 50 percent B, about 30 percent C and about 10 percent D.

In terms of population, D is the largest group, B is second, C is third, and A is fifth. There are more people alive in the USA younger than Millennials than there are older than Boomers.

Now, think about this. Gen X is fairly conservative. Boomers are fairly conservative. The remaining Silents and WWIIers are mostly conservative. Millennials are not.

God and His nature are producing no new Silents, no new Boomers, no new Xers. But Millennials reach voting age every day, and will until 2020.

By the time the last cohort of Millennials turns 18, Silents (born before 1942) will be at least 78 years old–beyond the life expectancy of their generation. Most Boomers will be retired. Generation Xers will be planning their departure from the work force. And Millennials will be taking over the vital years of their careers.

Millennials are the largest generation in American history, outnumbering Boomers by several million.

If you find this news depressing, you should. Conservatives have done little to attract the next generation of voters and leaders. As our numbers dwindle, we panic at what follows.

Winter Has Come

We are somewhere in the Winter of a secular era that began with Victory in Japan day in 1945. From 1945 until Kennedy’s assassination was the High, an era marked by feelings of hope, community, and growth. The 1960s to about 1984 was the Awakening in which the culture grew contemptuous of conformity and sought spiritual independence and enlightenment. With Reagan’s re-election, we entered the Unraveling as institutions lost their power and individuals fragmented into parties of one. The Unraveling gave way to Winter, a crisis era, with the fall of Lehman Brothers in 2008.

Looking back on past Winters, generational historians Howe and Strauss explain the feeling that continues to emerge. From The Fourth Turning:

As the community instinct regenerates, people resolve to do more than just relieve the symptoms of pending traumas. Intent on addressing root causes, they rediscover the value of unity, teamwork, and social discipline. Far more than before, people comply with authority, accept the need for public sacrifice, and shed anything extraneous to the survival needs of their community. This is a critical threshold: People either coalesce as a nation and culture—or rip hopelessly and permanently apart.

Some people might take lightly this whole debate over national service. It seems to some like the least of our problems.

But it might be the most important, if not most urgent, problem we face today. Crisis eras resolve into a new High, like the 1940s and 1950s, but only if society remains in tact. Right now, American society could go either way. We have no reason to believe that the United States will remain one nation through the next climax.

I am the oldest of Generation X, the most individualistic, narcissistic, and nihilistic generation alive. The institutions built during and after the last Crisis, from 1929 to 1945, are crumbling because we let them. We attacked them. We dance on their graves, and we have since we were kids.

We have good reasons for letting institutions fail, because we have evidence that the institutions failed us. Social Security? Medicare? Expenses we can’t reasonably expect to withdraw.

We had to let them decay. Society needs to purge itself of waste from the last saeculum so it can grow into the new order. Again, from The Fourth Turning:

This Crisis morphology occurs over the span of one turning, which (except for the U.S. Civil War) means that around fifteen to twenty-five years elapse between the catalyst and the resolution. The regeneracy usually occurs one to five years after the era begins, the climax one to five years before it ends.

Once this new mood is fully catalyzed, a society begins a process of re-generacy, a drawing together into whatever definition of community is available at the time. Out of the debris of the Unraveling, a new civic ethos arises. One set of post-Awakening ideals prevails over the others. People stop tolerating the weakening of institutions, the splintering of the culture, and the individualizing of daily behavior. Spiritual curiosity abates, manners traditionalize, and the culture is harnessed as propaganda for the purpose of overtly reinforcing good conduct. History teaches that, roughly one to three years after the initial catalyst, people begin acknowledging this new synergy in community life and begin deputizing government to enforce it. Collective action is now seen as vital to solving the society’s most fundamental problems.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t want it to happen, regeneracy occurs all around us. Milliennials–the oldest now in their mid-30s–work in teams and have faith in institutions. They don’t hate prior generations. If anything, they pity us. They also hope to learn from us and want us to lead them. But they want us to lead them to a better future built on the best ideas from the past blended and strengthened with new ideas or dormant ideas that withered in the Awaken of the 60s and 70s and the Unraveling of the 80s and 90s.

National service, and a service ethic, is coming fast whether conservatives like it or not.

Lead, Follow or Get Out of the Way

That smug motto of the 90s comes back to bite us. And it exposes a major flaw in modern conservative behavior.

When we on the right see something that looks “hippy” or “liberal” or “do-gooder,” we tend to roll our eyes and turn away. Admit it. I do it, and so do you.

We’ve turned our backs on journalism, literature, music, photography, art, education, show business, conservation, and law. We believed we had some “moral authority” to look back at those abandoned fields and yell “knock it off!”

But they don’t listen.

Why do you think that is?

I don’t have time to fight those battles because a new battlefield just opened up: national service.

You might not like the Aspen Institute. There’s good reason to suspect what all those elites do out there in Colorado.

But we don’t have the moral authority to tell them to stop. Just as we think what they do is crazy, they think what we do is pointless. And they are ahead of us on money, time, and position.

They’re not watching us stomp our feet, and they’re not hearing our shouts of “no!” They don’t think what they’re doing is wrong, and our telling them they’re wrong wins no converts.

The Jewish Lawyer

A Jewish lawyer in New York ran into a Catholic church to get out of terrible storm. The church was empty. He sat in the last pew and caught up on paperwork until the storm passed.

Appreciating the silent peacefulness of the church, he began spending afternoons in that pew. No one would bother him there. The smell of candles and incense lent an air of peace and solemnity that bolstered his focus. People came in silently and prayed, but no one disturbed him.

He would notice, from time to time, a priest enter the sanctuary and open a safe. The priest would remove something with great reverence, bow, and close the safe. He would say a prayer and depart. Hours later, the priest would return and repeat the process in reverse.

Over the course of years, the lawyer became increasingly amazed at the priest’s reverence and care. The priest never looked to see if anyone was watching. Most times, the priest could not have seen the lawyer hunched in the dark last pew. With or without an audience, the priest performed the ritual identically every time.

The lawyer eventually converted to Catholicism. Though he embraced the entire catechism, his inspiration was the simple, humble consistency of that priest who treated the sacristy and the host with such remarkable reverence and dignity when no one was watching. No one but God and a Jewish lawyer in the last pew.

A church’s nave is not a workspace for lawyers seeking refuge from the bustle of an office. It’s a place of prayer and worship. The priest, and the parishioners who came into pray, would have been well within their rights to confront the man who used the church as an office.

If the priest had confronted the lawyer and told him to get out, would he have converted?

No One Cares If We’re Right

Some of the people who influenced the terrible Plan of Action adopted at Franklin Project’s conclave two years ago may want to transform America into a socialist experiment. I would bet some do.

Some (I’m looking at Cisco and Bank of America) want to use national service as a tool to protect their incumbency and bludgeon their competitors.

Many want to renew a national ethos of service and respect (gratitude) for the great privileges we enjoy as Americans.

And a handful might even be conservatives recognizing a need and responding to William F. Buckley’s call.

None of them will pay heed to angry conservatives stomping their feet and yelling “stop.”

A Quarter of a Century Has Passed

I turned 25-years-old on October 5, 1988. My boat, the USS Woodrow Wilson, was in Charleston Naval Shipyard for a refueling overhaul. I remember thinking, “I’m a quarter century old.”

I’m older now. A quarter century ago, I read Gratitude for the first time. It was a difficult book to read. Like Milton Friedman, I asked myself, “what’s gotten into you, Bill?” Why is Bill Buckley advocating for a big federal program?

It took a long time for me to come to grips with the idea. I still haven’t completely accepted the concept of a new federal agency. Perhaps Buckley was hoping to overshoot the need so we’d settle for a more federalist system that achieved the same end.

Over the years I’ve come to realize that Buckley was absolutely right in pointing out the need for a new national ethos of service.

As petty officer first class in the Navy, I’d been living service for four years. I’d matured a decade in that time. I’d learned to look around for jobs to be done, not for leisure to be enjoyed. I’d changed.

Buckley saw a generation change in World War II. Those who’ve taken time off from life to serve a higher calling never return to the world they left. They pass into a new world where the colors are brighter, the candy sweeter, and the air cleaner than the one they departed. They appreciate smaller things and lose patience with the trivial. They learn to make decisions and move on, dealing with the fallout of their actions. They learn the beauty and majesty of the shining city on a hill.

They grow up.

A Service Ethos Is Coming

Whether you like it or not, a new ethos of service is coming. Conservatives can huddle in our affinity bubbles and crack wise about the hippies and their service ethic, or we can get involved to influence the way the programs evolve.

If we choose to get involved, we wont’ be completely satisfied with the result. We will lose some battles.

If we stand back and complain, we will lose them all.

The Fourth Turning: Climax

Private life also transforms beyond prior recognition. Now less important than the team, individuals are expected to comply with new Fourth Turning standards of virtue. Family order strengthens, and personal violence and substance abuse decline. Those who persist in free-wheeling self-oriented behavior now face implacable public stigma, even punishment. Winner-take-all arrangements give way to enforceable new mechanisms of social sharing. Questions about who does what are settled on grounds of survival, not fairness. This leads to a renewed social division of labor by age and sex. In the realm of public activity, elders are expected to step aside for the young, women for men. When danger looms, children are expected to be protected before parents, mothers before fathers. All social arrangements are evaluated anew; pre-Crisis promises and expectations count for little. Where the Unraveling had been an era of fast-paced personal lives against a background of public gridlock, in the Crisis the pace of daily life will seem to slow down just as political and social change accelerates.

Howe and Strauss might not get the details exactly right. They’re painting a likely scenario, not predicting a specific event. But the feeling of the era is dead on. We are in the eye of the storm. And we have the chance to influence its direction.

Normally occurring late in the Fourth Turning, the climax gathers energy from an accumulation of unmet needs, unpaid bills, and unresolved problems. It then spends that energy on an upheaval whose direction and dimension were beyond comprehension during the prior Unraveling era. The climax shakes a society to its roots, transforms its institutions, redirects its purposes, and marks its people (and its generations) for life. The climax can end in triumph, or tragedy, or some combination of both. Whatever the event and whatever the outcome, a society passes through a great gate of history, fundamentally altering the course of civilization.

If you think the Franklin Project’s Plan of Action is bad now, imagine if there’d been NO conservatives (or emerging conservatives) on its panel?

And if you say, “they shouldn’t have done it,” what have we done to fill the need?

In 1990, Buckley found that 72.8 percent of Americans favored “national service,” though that that number fell to 44 percent if it required an increase of five percent in taxes to fund it.

A survey in 2013 found that recognition of a need for national service has increased since 1990.

  • Eighty percent support voluntary national service, including 88 percent of Democrats, 74 percent of Independents and 76 percent of Republicans
  • Seventy-one percent OPPOSE mandatory national service, including 52 percent who strongly oppose
  • Ninety-three support national service programs to assist veterans, the military, and their families
  • Ninety-one percent support tutoring programs for students
  • Ninety-one percent support volunteer disaster relief programs

The list goes on. Granted, people don’t want to pay taxes to fund the programs, but they might be willing to help fund private or charitable programs to fulfill these ends.

If conservatives don’t get involved, they won’t like what the programs become.

Buckley foresaw a tidal change in American attitudes toward service:

It is possible that the general public, apparently already on the way, will someday soon reach the point where they are resolutely behind the idea. If that were to happen, one might anticipate a day when, notwithstanding that national service continued to be voluntary, the sense of duty to volunteer would be felt by the typical citizen as keenly as, say, most young men felt a call to duty on December 7, 1941.

. . .

If we are engaged in promoting national service, we are engaged in the subtle business of trying to shape the national ethos. Somewhere along the line I have written that in my lifetime I have detected only two sea changes in national attitude, of them on a lesser scale, the second on a larger scale. The first has to do with the environment, the second with racial toleration.

Do you remember the episode of Mad Men when Don and Betty took the kids to a park for a picnic? After enjoying a meal and drinks, the family stood up and dumped their bottles, cans, plates, napkins, and chicken bones onto the ground and left.

The scene was shocking to today’s viewers. Being just younger than the Draper kids (almost exactly little Gene’s age), I remember those days well. I remember tossing trash out the windows of moving cars. It’s what everybody did.

Today, we’d consider such behavior boorish, if not evil.

When I was born in 1963, there were still segregated drinking fountains in America. And that’s just one symptom of racism that seems like fiction today.

I think Buckley’s recognition of national service as the third great sea change in America was dead on. And it’s happening now.

If conservatives refuse to get involved, they will hate the way it turns out.

I Could Be Wrong

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Millennials will decide to act more like us Gen Xers, mocking institutions and joking about their slackerness. If that’s the case, then there’s no need for conservatives to get involved in shaping a national service program.

If I’m right, if Americans are sick of the winner-take-all, don’t-get-caught attitude that’s grown since the early 90s, then conservatives better get involved or prepare to live with the consequences.

National service could save free markets. I don’t want the government capping executive compensation. But I also don’t want executives issuing bonds to buy back their own stock to boost their compensation at the expense of the firm’s future viability. A generation (or more) of MBAs believes hollowing out companies for immediate profit is good business.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Paul Lawrence of Harvard Business School. Professor Lawrence attended Harvard after World War II, using the GI Bill to earn a masters and doctorate. He remained at Harvard as a professor until he passed away on Thanksgiving a couple years ago.

Dr. Lawrence told me how Milton Friedman’s op-ed about the social purpose of business changed everything. I argued with him, politely, but he was there; I wasn’t.

At the time, Friedman’s doctrine–that the only purpose of a business is to maximize return to shareholders–seemed like a ray of sunlight into business. At the time (the early 1970s) companies were going with berserk with crazy ideas of social good. Friedman gave them permission to think about nothing but profits for shareholders. It made sense at the time.

Harvard Business School accepted the thinking and adopted “agency theory” of business. Executives were agents of shareholders and were responsible only to get as much profit out of the company as they could. As an incentive, executive compensation shifted from salary to stock incentives. The higher the stock goes, the more the executive makes.

“When did you change your mind about agency model?” I asked Dr. Lawrence.

“I’d been worried about excesses for a long time,” he told me. But the telling moment came just after he semi-retired in 2000. He was watching a news program on corporate scandals–Enron and the like–when the TV displayed a 3×3 grid of executives in jail, on trial, or under investigation for fraud.

“Six of the nine were my students,” he said. “I realized I’d been part of a corrupt system that created monsters.”

Dr. Lawrence believed strongly in free markets, and recognized that agency theory threatens to destroy capitalism, not grow it.

“I had to do something.”

Dr. Lawrence emerged from a short retirement and teamed up with Nitin Nohria, now Dean of Harvard Business School, to try to correct the wrongs of agency theory.

When GE uses its influence to ban 100-watt incandescent bulbs so you have no choice but to buy more expensive condensed fluorescent lamps, agency theory is winning over free market capitalism.

I believe–and I could be wrong–that a stronger national service ethos would upend agency theory. A service-oriented CEO would be ashamed to gut a great company for his own enrichment. A service-oriented CEO would quit before manipulating (bribing) Congress to protect his business from innovation and competition. A service-oriented manager would tell shareholders to be patient before laying off good, hardworking people just to meet a quarterly profit target.

Free markets and free nations rely on people with a strong moral compass. Either we govern ourselves, or others rule over us. The absence of a strong national service ethos, I believe, helped create the twisted, selfish, “take what you can get” attitude that defines much of modern life in America.

And the kids know it.

Millennials–the largest generation in American history–look at agency theory the way we look at the Drapers tossing garbage in a park. To them, it’s a sad reminder of history. Millennials have strong sense of service, even if without a national or state programs to answer the call.

Millennials will fill the void. The founders of Franklin Project are eager to help them, to guide them, and influence them.

Conservatives can jump into the parade and help lead it, or we can stand back and gripe about the consequences. But stomping our feet and yelling “no” won’t stop the sea change in national attitude Buckley warned of twenty-five years ago.

Rather than criticizing Eric Greitens for joining Franklin Project, I thank God at least one of us is in its ranks.

Tomorrow, I will propose a simple conservative alternative the Franklin Project here in Missouri.

Thanks for your time. I’ll leave with one last “prophecy” from The Fourth Turning:

With or without war, American society will be transformed into something different. The emergent society may be something better, a nation that sustains its Framers’ visions with a robust new pride. Or it may be something unspeakably worse. The Fourth Turning will be a time of glory or ruin.

Howe, Neil; Strauss, William (2009-01-16). The Fourth Turning (Kindle Locations 5781-5783). Random House, Inc.. Kindle Edition.