“That party could find itself out of power for a generation.”

What this election means will become more clear over time. The demographic data during the campaigns was interesting, indicating a voting public that was in flux with shifting patterns. It will be interesting to look at the data about who did (and did not) vote and how they voted.

The long term consequences might mean parties that no longer resemble anything from the past. The two parties might essentially switch places. Democrats could become the new big biz party, if the Clinton cronies maintain power. Meanwhile, Republicans might become the new working class party with strong union member support and an economic populist agenda.

Another possibility is that we might see the eventual death of one of the main parties. At the moment, Republicans could be in the more dangerous position. They have the numbers and power in Washington DC to do almost anything they want. They better pick their battles wisely and ensure they gain victories worth winning. They have one shot to show themselves to be a party of reform. If they fail, they could be facing a dire situation far beyond merely losing the mid-term elections.

In a book published in 1997, William Strauss and Neil Howe made a prediction. I read that book not long after that and so the prediction has been on my mind for a while. They wrote that whichever party was in power when the crisis hit “could find itself out of power for a generation.” They saw the beginning of the Fourth Turning as happening sometime early in this century and then in the years following would come the crisis, but this involves predictions of large historical cycles that could be off by a decade or so. Here is the full quote (The Fourth Turning, p. 312):

“Come the Fourth Turning, America will need both personal sacrifice and public authority. The saeculum will favor whichever party moves more quickly and persuasively toward a paradigm that accommodates both. Both parties should lend seasonality to their thinking: Democrats a concept of civic duty that limits the harvest, Republicans a concept of civic authority that limits the scattering. If they do not, the opportunity will arise for a third party to fill the void – after which one or both of today’s two dominant parties could go the way of the Whigs.

“History warns that when a Crisis catalyzes, a previously dominant political party (or regime) can find itself directly blamed for perceived “mistakes” that led to the national emergency. Whoever holds power when the Fourth Turning arrives could join the unlucky roster of the circa 1470 Lancastrians, circa 1570 Catholics, circa 1680 Stuarts, circa 1770 Tories, circa 1860 Democrats, and circa 1929 Republicans. That party could find itself out of power for a generation. Key persons associated with it could find themselves defamed, stigmatized, harassed, economically ruined, personally punished—or worse.”

Barack Obama’s presidency didn’t seem to fit this prediction, despite some fearing it would. He has retained his favorable ratings and nothing horrible went wrong during his administration. It’s just that he turned out to be an ordinary professional politician, but still he succeeded in creating healthcare (insurance) ‘reform’ and under his watch the US military took out Osama bin Laden who was America’s most hated enemy. Even the earlier Bush presidency is still remembered without too much negativity, as it was a time of growing patriotic fervor, even with it having ended on the sour note of the Great Recession.

Donald Trump, however, is an entirely different kind of creature. He will either take Republicans in a new direction or he will take them over a cliff. Upwards and onwards or down and out. It’s hard to see a third option of maintaining stasis. The problems that might come barreling down on the Trump administration could be more than can be handled, even if the Republicans had a worthy vision to offer and workable plans to implement.

Democrats are lucky for power having slipped from their grasp. Now that Clinton lost the election, her sins will slowly but surely disappear from public awareness. She might as well be a non-entity at this point. Anything that happens in the immediate future won’t be blamed on Democrats. They have been sent to wander in the political desert. Upon their return, they can act as prophets from the wilderness, pretending they were never a part of what caused all the problems in the first place.

Voters have short memories. It doesn’t matter who is to blame. What wins elections is who gets blamed. I almost feel sorry for Republicans in their victory. They have some tough years ahead of them. It could very well turn out to be a no-win situation, no matter what they try to do.

Even some on the political right have had these exact same concerns, based on the same prediction of Strauss and Howe. Back in March over at Red State, Ausonius wrote about “this ominous warning for Republicans, who think Trump is the answer for 2016”. The author continues:

“Since 1992, we have endured three Baby-Boomer presidents, a mediocrity, a passable one, and one complete disaster. We currently have two more Baby-Boomer candidates near 70 years of age, whose characters are less than savory, and whose ideas are stale, ridiculous, or formulas for destruction. It is quite possible that a Trump or H.R. Clinton presidency will not address the crisis, but will instead contribute to it by a combination of egotism, incompetence, and ideological blindness. […]

“Republicans could become 21st-century versions of their 1929 ancestors, if they select candidates – and not only for the presidency – incapable of dealing with the chaos around us. Our politicians, and certainly the president, must have a character derived from virtues: the charming, smooth-talking, tell-’em-what-they-wanna-hear techniques of the sociopathic salesman are dominant because a large minority (I hope it is not a majority) of the electorate is thinking on the 12-year old level used by television, the only level it can use.”

* * *

The Most Significant U.S. Political Development In Over 30 Years
by Neil Howe, Hedgeye

Neil Howe Warns The ‘Professional Class’ Is Still In Denial Of The Fourth Turning
by Tyler Durden, Zero Hedge

Has The Fourth Turning Brought Us Trump?
by Scott Beeken, Bee Line

From Generational Theory Forum:
Presidential election, 2016
The Most Significant U.S. Political Development In Over 30 Years
Neil Howe: It’s going to get worse; more financial crises coming
Neil Howe: ‘Civil War Is More Likely Than People Think’
It Ain’t Over, Folks
Grey Champions and the Election of 2016
Has the regeneracy arrived?
A Realignment Theory
Will a nationalist/cosmopolitan divide be the political axis of the coming saeculum?
Political Polarity To Reverse On Gun Control, States’ Rights?

 

Generation of Clowns in the Fourth Turning

Here are a few videos that I thought worth posting… along with some of my own commentary.

We need to have more public debate about generations. Demographics are destiny. We have lived through a time ruled by Boomers and part of the shift we’re experiencing is that of the younger generations gaining power.

By the way, not all or even most Boomers were hippies. The fundamentalist backlash and the culture wars were also products of Boomers. Bush is the perfect example of a Boomer.

I’ve heard that some Washington politicians were aware of the Fourth Turning theory back in the 90s when the book first came out. What if some of these politicians decided to use the theory for the purposes of social engineering. The author said that Obama hasn’t been very successful in using the crises to create change, but maybe that isn’t the agenda in Washington. There are definitely those who’d like to avoid change and re-establish the status quo.

I’d point out one factor not considered. The clowns (Glenn Beck, Jon Stewart, Stephen Colbert) are all GenXers. If you’re familiar with the generation theory expoused by Strauss and Howe, you wouldn’t be surprised that GenXers play the role of clowns. GenXers serve two purposes: 1) to push the system over the edge into the Fourth Turning; and 2) to act as leaders to the young generations as we shift into a new era. Whether or not they play their role well is a whole other issue.

Their viewers don’t get their news from Jon Stewart & Stephen Colbert. Their viewers are mostly young and mostly liberal, both demographics getting more news from alternative sources than any other demographics. On the other hand, older conservatives are more likely to trust mainstream media which is why they are so uninformed compared to young liberals. The difference might be that viewers of satire realize the entire mainstream media is comedy.

Failure of Conservative Morality in Politics

I’ve been reading about American society from a few different directions. I have just read some books about political history (such as the writings of Richard Hofstadter), but most recently I’ve focused on the the generational theory of Strauss and Howe (I’ve perused several of their books) and the moral frames model written about by George Lakoff in his book Moral Politics.

Last night at work, I was reading Lakoff’s book and found it quite fascinating. His main premise is that conservatives use the Strict Father family model to frame their political views and liberals use the Nurturant Parent family model to frame their political views. It makes a lot of sense to me, but that isn’t what got me thinking.

Lakoff was using Reagan and Bush sr as an example of how conservative morality plays out in politics. Conservatives use the rhetoric of small government, but obviously there are many exceptions to this rule and many moral principles they hold higher than the ideal of small government. Basically, when a conservative speaks of big government they’re referring to social programs that benefit the people who conservatives don’t believe are deserving. It’s not about saving taxpayers’ money but about doing the right thing. Those who do right should be rewarded and those who do wrong should be punished.

So, in terms of Reagan and Bush sr, who was rewarded and who was punished? By giving tax cuts to the rich and increasing the size of the military, what was the moral purpose that conservatives were trying to achieve? Increasing the military seems more obvious on the surface. The evil, Godless commies needed to be punished and it was the righteous duty of God-fearing Americans to punish them. So, what did the rich do to deserve tax cuts? Well, the basic idea is that we live in a meritocracy and so the rich have earned their wealth through hard work and ingenuity. It’s wrong to take away from the rich what they’ve earned fair and square. The corollary of this is that the poor deserve to be poor and so it’s perfectly fine that the tax cuts don’t benefit the poor (including the working class poor). As the Bible says (Matthew 25:29), “For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath.”

Still, Lakoff takes this one step further and it’s the best explanation that I’ve ever come across. He argues that Reagan and Bush sr (along with their advisors) weren’t stupid. They fully realized they were increasing the size of government and creating a massive deficit as had never been seen in all of US history. This wasn’t an accident. It was quite intentional. If social programs benefit the undeserving, this becomes a moral problem that must be solved no matter what the cost. If the country becomes immoral at the core, then all is lost and nothing else matters. By creating an enormous deficit, this forced Congress to tighten its belt and cut funding to all social programs. And that is exactly what happened. It’s so clever it’s evil.

This brings me to something else I read in of the books written by Strauss and Howe (I don’t remember which one). They pointed out that the GI generation was the most politically powerful generation in all of US history. The GI generation had more than three decades of GI presidents and two of those were Reagan and Bush sr.

The GI generation came to see itself as the Greatest Generation. They fought hard and worked hard. For most of their life, they saw American wealth and power ever increasing. They believed two things about this situation. First, they took personal credit for all of it and so they thought they were deserving of being rewarded for that they had done. Second, they assumed that this trajectory of increase would continue for a very long time. They were wrong on both accounts. There were complex reasons for America’s rise to wealth and power, but the main reason was that Europe was decimated by WWII. Without much competition, America’s exports dominated the global economy. This situation wouldn’t last for very long since the European countries were able to rebuild.

When Reagan and Bush sr were presidents, the GI generation was at the height of its power. They were golden and they were mostly free to use their power as they so desired. Since they thought they had earned it, they redicrected America’s wealth towards their own generation. The tax cuts to the rich were disproportionately directed to the GI generation since their generation was (and is) the wealthiest generation in US history. They also redirected money to their generation by funding expensive social programs for the elderly. So, where did this money come from? As I pointed out, social programs for the undeserving (i.e., the poor) were cut. A related example was Reagan’s kicking the mentally ill out of the psychiatric hospitals (and created a large population of mentally disturbed homeless people who then needed to be rounded up and put in prison).

Even more interesting is the fact that social programs directed at youth (from welfare to school funding) were all cut. This had two impacts. First, starting with young Boomers and ending with Generation X, the quality of public education decreased and SAT scores decreased. Second, Generation X became the most poverty prone generation in a century. While the GI generation remained wealthy, GenXers grew up to discover that their employment opportunities were as bad as was experienced by the whole country during the Bust Years of the Great Depression.

What must be understood is that GIs such as Reagan and Bush sr did all of this out of their sense of morality. They were simply doing what they thought was right. They were rewarding those who they thought deserved it and they were punishing those they thought deserved it. In doing so, the made America into a deficit-driven militarized empire which they saw as forcing America into its role of being the greatest nation in the world. The heavy costs of this were worth it in their minds.

The problem is that they couldn’t see the long term consequences. I don’t think they realized that creating such a deficit would increase out of control and end up crippling our entire country. They didn’t foresee how deregulation of markets would eventually lessen the power of the American economy. They saw the world through the lense of their own generation and didn’t realize how differently it would look to later generations.

They thought that benefitting the rich was the right thing to do since they believed the rich deserved the wealth they earned. It’s easy to argue against this in pointing out that it takes everyone in a society and not just those at the top to make an economy successful, but there is an even more important factor they didn’t understand. Many GIs became wealthy during a time when there were high taxes on the rich. How is that possible? How did the GIs become so wealthy despite being heavily taxed? This cuts to the heart of the misunderstanding that motivated Reagan and Bush sr.

There are many arguments about who deserves what, but there is a more essential issue about who can use wealth to the greatest benefit of society as a whole. To conservatives, those who become rich deserve their wealth because they theoretically will put their extra wealth towards wise investment in the economy. Sadly, it doesn’t work out this way. Innovation happens from the bottom up. Reagan and Bush sr implemented policies that increased the wealth gap which concentrated the wealth at the top. I forget the source, but I was watching an interview recently where the person was referring to data about wealth. That person pointed out that wealthy people don’t invest their wealth wisely. Beyond a certain level of wealth, extra money loses any practical worth. What the super rich tend to do with their extra money is gamble it in risky investments because it doesn’t really matter to them if they lose it. What they generally don’t do with it is invest it in further innovation. That is what happened recently with our economy. There were too many people making risky gambles and not enough people investing in industries that produce concrete products. Our economy has become dependent on the banking business and America has lost its innovative edge.

The conservative moral vision of Reagan and Bush sr has backfired.

Lakoff puts all of this into a larger context of the metaphorical frames used by conservatives and liberals. Reagan and Bush sr as GIs were seeing the world according to the experience of their generational cohort. And as conservatives they were seeing the world according to the Strict Father moral frame. It was because of their being GI conservatives that they implemented those particular policies. Like most of us, they couldn’t see outside of their reality tunnel. But the consequences of their narrow vision have been immense. Bush jr, although of the Boomer generation, was simply the ultimate endpoint of this particular worldview. Under Bush jr (aka The Decider), the military was strengthened and regulation was paralyzed (with eventual consequences as we now see with the BP oil spill), the deserving were rewarded and the undeserving were punished. Bush jr certainly was trying to return America to the conservative moral vision of a righteous country, but it’s become obvious that this vision has failed. The costs are just too high: undermined Constitutional rights, massive deficit, crippled economy, struggling small businesses, ever increasing wealth gap, shrinking middle class, environmental disasters, etc.

An opening has developed in the status quo of recent decades. People are hungering for a new vision. Many hoped that Obama could bring that new vision, but many have been or become doubtful. Lakoff sees the liberal vision as being in a difficult position. For various reasons, conservatives have been very successful in framing most of the political discourse in recent history. Liberals have an opportunity right now. It’s just not clear if liberals are presently capable of organizing their own moral vision and communicating it well. Even though conservatives have indisputably failed in their attempt, it isn’t yet determined if liberals will likewise fail during this time of change. What is for certain is that many cultural narratives are being formulated right now. The narrative that gains the most traction will most likely be dominant in politics for the next several decades… or so that is the prediction of Strauss and Howe. I guess we’ll find out.