America’s Current Crisis

A Look At the State of America Through the Scope of Generational Theory

By Chris Swineford


“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” — George Santayana

To properly analyze recent events it is necessary to first establish a sound understanding of history. Not just different events within history, but how those events are connected and what distinct patterns are forming. There are many patterns throughout Anglo-American history that help provide us with a foreshadowing of what is yet to come. Nothing articulates these trends better than the Generational Theory by William Strauss and Neil Howe.

The theory describes a cycle within Anglo-American history that repeats every 80–100 years. Each cycle is made up of four different generational archetypes; with each generation spanning approximately 20 years. The generations are labeled Hero (GI), Artist (Homelander/Silent), Prophet (Boomer), and Nomad (Gen X). The next Hero generation being the millennials.

Each generation faces unique types of events and cultural developments. There are four different period types to match up with the four generational archetypes.

1) High

Also referred to as the First Turning. Exactly as it sounds, this period is a time of societal high. With widespread conformity, there is an emphasis on community and family values; along with a fast-paced progression of culture and technology. The gap between gender roles is at a maximum; typically leaving men the sole bread winners. These conditions are a result of the end of a crisis period. The Nomads now enter their elder years. The Heroes who dealt with the previous crisis now enter into midlife. The Artists enter young adulthood and will shape shape the culture until the next turning. Lastly, a new Prophet generation is born.

A First Turning is an era in which both the availability of social order and the demand for social order are high. Examples of earlier First Turnings include the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, sometimes called the Victorian High of industrial growth and stable families, and the post-Constitution Era of Good Feelings, when Thomas Jefferson celebrated the advance of science and empire.

2) Awakening

The second turning is a time of subtle liberation. Societal norms are questioned and there is a push towards individualism. Institutions are attacked and conformity is viewed as regression. Heroes become elder, Artists enter mid-life, Prophets come of age, and Nomads are born.

A Second Turning is an era in which the availability of social order is high, but the demand for such order is low. Examples of earlier Second Turnings include the Third Great Awakening around 1900, marked by labor protests, Billy Sunday evangelicals, and “new woman” feminists, and the Transcendental Awakening, which Henry David Thoreau described as a period “when we have lost the world…and begin to find ourselves.

3) Unraveling

The third turning is a time of unravel. With individual values at an all time high, there is a minimal sense of community. An importance is placed on the self and personal enjoyment, along with a distrust of leaders and institutions. The gap between gender roles is at a minimum. This is a period that typically serves as a lesson to society. Artists become elder, Prophets enter midlife, Nomads come of age, and Heroes are born.

A Third Turning is an era in which both the availability of social order and the demand for such order are low. Examples of earlier Unravelings include the periods around the “roaring” 1920s of Prohibition, the Mexican War in the 1850s, and the French and Indian Wars in the 1760s. These were all periods of cynicism and bad manners, when civic authority felt weak, social disorder felt pervasive, and the culture felt exhausted.

4) Crisis

The Fourth Turning is a time of crisis. Institutions are destroyed and must be rebuilt. There is a push towards an importance of community due to the individualistic ways of life becoming unsustainable. The values that are established during this period will set the tone for the upcoming High. Prophets become elder, Nomads enter mid-life, Heroes come of age, and Artists are born.

A Fourth Turning is an era in which the availability of social order is low, but the demand for such order is high. Examples of earlier Fourth Turnings include the Civil War in the 1860s and the American Revolution in the 1770s — both periods of momentous crisis, when the identity of the nation hung in the balance.

Where We Are

We currently find ourselves within a fourth turning. The starting point of the turn was likely the financial crisis of 2008. Considering that each period lasts roughly 20 years, it is safe to say that we are approaching the half-way mark with 10–15 years to go. So far this crisis has been somewhat nonviolent. A stark contrast to previous crises (WWII, Civil War, Revolution). However, with the friction caused by the 2016 election, the likelihood of violent conflict appears to be growing.

During this period we will be forced to not only acknowledge key issues, but to address them and provide solutions. Whether or not this is achieved through violence is up to the current Hero generation.

The Grey Champion

The Gettysburg Address

Each fourth turning signals the return of a Grey Champion. A figure belonging to the Prophet generation and serves as an agent of change to lead the Heroes through times of hardship. The GI generation led by FDR, pulled themselves out of the depression and achieved victory during WWII. Abraham Lincoln navigated the American people through the turmoil of the Civil War. The champion is not always necessarily one person but could be many. The Revolutionary war had several, including Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, etc.

The Champion is not always unanimously popular either. In fact, they are more likely to be disliked by half the populace. The Champion usually places priority on change. Disregarding the status quo, their agenda is victory of the people at all costs.

“Each time the Grey Champion appeared marked the arrival of a moment of “darkness, and adversity, and peril,” the climax of the Fourth Turning of the saeculum. ”— The Fourth Turning — Strauss & Howe

The 2016 Presidential Election

“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.” — Strauss & Howe — The Fourth Turning

With a new wave of conservatism on the rise, Democrats find themselves in an identity crisis. Once the worker’s party, they are now forced to either stay the course of traditional centrist democratic ideals or embrace the rise of far-left progressivism.

Donald Trump has not only given conservatism life but has rebranded it. He is easily the most liberal Republican candidate in decades. The rise of Trump has forced the Republican Party to expand its reach to Libertarians and those disenfranchised center-left Democrats. He is by no means afraid of controversy either. With a quick tweet he can dominate the 24 hour news cycle, and in turn, agitate half the country.

“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.” — Strauss & Howe — The Fourth Turning

If Donald Trump is anything, he is an agent of change. Whether that change is to our benefit depends on who you ask. He has no doubt shook the country to its core and made it’s people address uncomfortable issues. Whether he is the Grey Champion of this generation has yet to be seen. Perhaps a more suitable candidate will make themselves known. So far no one else has met the criteria.

Where We’re Going

Society is in dire need of a makeover and it is up to Millennial generation to make her beautiful. Despite all the criticism received by Millennials, they have no choice but to rise to the occasion and restructure the country moving forward.

It has become increasingly apparent that the survival of the human race depends on expanding it’s reach into space. With all the talk of going to mars and discovery of Earth like planets; there is no doubt that the next High involves space travel. It’s the responsibility of the current Heroes to foster a future where the Artist, Prophets, and Nomads of tomorrow have room to Awaken, Unravel, and fall into Crisis.