A Meditation Upon
The Fourth Turning,
A Fourth Reich,
And The Fragility
There’s been a lot of talk and press and postings recently about The Fourth Turning, a book by William Strauss and the late Neil Howe that hypothesizes a pattern in human history, both for the world at large and the United States in particular.
There’s a lot to recommend in Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis — and a lot to be skeptical of. While a strong argument can be made for broad generational patterns in history, Strauss and Howe are very flexible with their terms and conditions.
Like The Amazing Randi’s infamous faux horoscope, Strauss and Howe give themselves enough wiggle room to squeeze a large camel through (“It will be the best of times, it will be the worst of times…”).
One gets the feeling there may indeed be something to their hypothesis, but they haven’t proven their case yet.
No matter; this post isn’t about Strauss and Howe but rather about the reported fascination Steve Bannon, Trump’s NSC advisor and BFF, seems to have with it.
If reports are true — and God knows the Trump administration and their neo-nazi trolls on the alt-right strive to eradicate public trust in anything — then Bannon believes the U.S. is entering it’s fourth Great Turning, the Revolution (1776), the Civil War (1860), and the Great Depression (1927) being the previous examples.
According to reports, Bannon believes the fourth turning to have been triggered by the economic crisis of 2007-08, the meltdown of the housing industry’s notorious sub-prime mortgage scam. Bannon apparently sees that as a beginning of a collapse in faith in our institutions and the start of a new fascist future.
If there is something to Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis, I don’t think another economic crisis is the trigger.
I base this on the fact that once a culture goes through a traumatic event, the reaction to the next such event is not the shock of the new and the unexpected but more along the lines of “Oh, #%@&, not this again!”
If Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis holds true for the U.S., then the triggering event for the Revolution was irritation at not being allowed representation in Parliament after being mildly taxed for starting a global war. While there have been a few minor insurrections over taxes since then, there have been no further large scale violent uprisings based on tax protests.
The Civil War fits more into Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis, as it was a truly existential challenge to the unity of the United States, the very existence of the South’s slave labor economy, and a massive redefinition of race relations vis-à-vis citizenship in this country.
So why then no similar crisis when women gained the vote in the late 19th / early 20th century? Why no upheavals as manufacturing in cities grew at an explosive rate in the second half of the 19th century, or the corresponding growth of the labor movement?
Strauss and Howe suggest the third turning was an extended period from 1927 (the start of the Great Depression) to 1933 (Hitler’s rise to power in Germany) to 1939 (the official start of World War Two) to 1945 (the end of WWII, and the start of the Atomic Age and the Cold War). There’s a lot of support to their argument but again the dates and events are so flexible as to accommodate almost any interpretation.
Two things spring out at me:
First, while there had been other depressions and financial crisis in the U.S. economy prior to 1927 that include numerous bank failures, the Great Depression was a systemic shock that was felt at all levels of society. This was a gargantuan upheaval that left millions destitute and homeless.
Second, and not included in Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis because it was an unpredictable outside influence from the natural world, the Dust Bowl, which wiped out hundreds of thousands of people’s homes, livelihoods, and savings yet did so without being the result of direct public policy choices. The Dust Bowl was a heretofore unpredicted and wholly unexpected natural disaster that proved as destructive as the Great Depression and subsequently became a force multiplier when coupled with Prohibition. It was a game changer like no other.
But we learned from that experience!
As devastating as the mortgage meltdown of 2007-08 was, we had systems in place to check the worst ravages and keep the failure from spreading. The Dust Bowl was topped by Hurricane Katrina and the flooding of New Orleans as the worst natural disaster in American history, but despite that body blow we kept functioning as a nation based on the lessons we learned from the Dust Bowl. And Prohibition set a new bar for corruption and organized crime that Americans have come to accept as normal; we scarcely blink at big banks being more corrupt than the drug lords whose money they launder.
No, a financial crisis ala the mortgage meltdown is not the trigger for a fourth turning (if Strauss and Howe’s hypothesis holds true), nor climate change, which albeit real, occurs so slowly as to be safely ignored.
If the fourth turning has been triggered, it hasn’t been by anything we’ve already endured and survived.
The fourth turning, if Strauss and Howe’s predictions are accurate, has been triggered by something else entirely: The election of Barack Hussein Obama.
I am not blaming Obama; quite the contrary, he was a vitally needed element in the story of America, a scalpel with which to lance the sorry boil of festering racism and finally begin draining out the bigotry plaguing this country, an ugly and painful process we are only just starting to endure.
But Obama’s election and re-election, both times by clear cut majorities in the popular vote, basically caused millions of white people to lose their shit.
Do not read this as a blanket condemnation of whites as racists and bigots — racists aplenty there are, and enough of them are genuine hate mongering bigots — but the more typical white person’s reaction was stunned disbelief followed by an eager search for anything — no matter how bogus — that would bolster their fragile egos.
I’ve written before about a dear family friend, a person possessing not a single mean spirited or hate filled bone in their body, who was absolutely convinced that the United States was in the middle of an epically horrendous crime wave — and when that was speedily disproven thanks to the Internet, to then claim California was in the midst of a crime wave even if the rest of the country wasn’t — and when that was disproved then to claim their neighborhood was in a crime wave — and then the truth came out that their neighborhood wasn’t more dangerous, their neighborhood was merely more brown, the Sanchez family replacing the Smiths, the Dominguez family replacing the Davidsons, the Hernandez replacing the Hendersons.
Our dear friend can truthfully say “some of my best friends are…” and mean it with Filipino and Korean and African-Americans in their close circle of friends, but all their life they lived in a culture that was white, a culture where white Christian values were the only values that mattered, that anybody different in appearance or thought or action or belief was at best tolerated as “exotic” (i.e., okay, but not really white, not really one of us) and at worst an enemy of all that is good and pure and holy.
Muslims share 99% of conservative white Christian American social values, differing only in specifics of religious practice and occasionally in manner of dress, yet they are regarded by those similar to our dear family friend as satanic fiends intent on murdering / maiming / terrorizing / enslaving America.
Obama’s election, while never a real or intentional threat to conservative white Christians, so badly shook their perception of the world that they have effectively gone insane, electing a demonstrably evil, incompetent, lying con artist and tossing him the keys to the country and a stack of credit cards.
The reaction of white Christian America to Obama was not the same thing as the South losing the Civil War.
While the South fought to maintain slavery, slavery was merely a means to an end. Replace actual bona fide slavery with Jim Crow and the system soon fell back into place, with whites on top and blacks on the bottom, soon to be joined by Asians and Jews and Italians and Mexicans and queers and socialists and labor organizers and anybody else who did not fit into white Christian America’s image of itself.
The country has elected some truly deplorable human beings as president but never ever as grotesque a caricature of America as the cheeto now s
hitting in the Oval Office.
This is what white Christian America wanted!
If our presidents are symbols to what we aspire to as a nation, then Trump is a repudiation of everything Obama represented.
Do not deny this is true! Look at their first order of business, see what they struck down to thunderous applause from neo-nazis and home schooled Christians alike, watch what they poise to do next, and admit the truth: This is white America not screaming in rage but screaming in fear.
White Americans will not be annihilated, they will not be denied any rights. There will be no pogroms or camps for white Christian Americans, despite their fears and projections of same.
Presuming we are entering a fourth turning, it is not what Bannon and his bigots think it is. Spiritually, emotionally, and intellectually too stunted to see the truth slapping them in the face, Bannon and company want to wage
unholy war on all of Islam (1.6 billion people) and China (1.35 billion), thinking somehow magically — by virtue of their white skin and lip service to a perverse prosperity gospel — that they will come out on top, dominating half the planet through sheer military intimidation while miraculously and simultaneously defeating millions of years of human nature to impose a ridiculous moral code on the rest of us, a moral code that they have repeatedly demonstrated they have no intention of following themselves.
If we are to enter Strauss and Howe’s fourth turning, this is what the crisis will be: Not yet another failure of free market capitalism, not a war against billions of people who just want to be left alone to determine their own destinies, but the shrieking / screaming moment of true horror ala H.P. Lovecraft’s The Outsider in which white Christian America recoils in horror at the monster before it, stretching out its hand to ward off the repellant fiend…
“…and touch a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.”
May God have mercy on our souls.
art by Harry Clarke
(Yeah, I know it’s from
Poe’s The Masque Of The Red Death
but it’s the best I could do, okay?)
 Real historians find their work interesting but far from convincing, and have laid out a skeptical case against it.
 Even here the weakness of Strauss and Howe’s claims are apparent: They predict a turning every 80-88 years yet allow enough wiggle room to include so a wide variety of historical events that almost any incident can be shoe horned in. Did the second turning trigger in 1856 or 1864 or somewhere between? Was the third turning in 1936 — nine years after the start of the Great Depression — or in 1944, the height of WWII? Is the start of the fourth turning 2016 or is it yet to come in 2032? Inquiring minds want to know…
 See The Big Short; it’s on Netflix and explains this very well in an extremely entertaining manner. And it’s got Christian Bale as an insane billionaire with uncanny super-vision.
 What we refer to in passing in U.S. history books as The French & Indian War, to us a relatively minor series of skirmishes, is what Europe calls The Seven Years’ War, a massive conflict that cost tens of thousands of lives and drained several national treasuries.
 The Whiskey Rebellion being most prominent.
 Human error certainly did contribute mightily to the Dust Bowl, but had the prairie ecology been different there would have been no subsequent disaster.
 A moral panic that opened the doors for truly monumental corruption and lawlessness to further undermine public confidence.
 I have made this prediction before and am standing by it: Someday somebody will figure out how to market Islam to white Americans and when they do 90% of the fundamentalist white Christians will abandon the Bible and embrace the Q’ran, turning on their former religion with a viciousness so intense that long time Muslims will have to intercede on behalf of a now besieged American Christian minority. Allah Akbar, mammy-jammers.
 In my lifetime I would say only Eisenhower, Ford, Carter, and Obama earned a C, while Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Reagan, Clinton, and both Bushes — for any and all positive moments in their administrations — ultimately failed themselves and their country, producing far more harm than good. And, yes, I know some of them were wonderfully charismatic; they still fncked us over seven ways from sundown.
 An apt term as he is unnaturally orange colored, greasy, appealing yet empty, and ultimately extremely fragile.
 They, on the other hand, have repeatedly called for the punishment and execution of non-white Christian Americans for the heinous sin-crime of being non-white / non-Christian / non-American, yet in the dim recesses of their memory recall Sunday School verses in which Jesus taught “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again” and they tremble in fear of being treated in the exact same manner they and their ancestors have treated Native Americans and African-Americans and Mexicans and Asians and Jews and Muslims and Hindus and Sikhs and Irish and Italians and the poor and the disabled and the sexually unconventional. And the kneeslapper is this: Nobody gives a fnck about them; people have their own problems and don’t want to waste time / energy harassing white people.
 Looking at you, Mike Pence!