In 2009, the historian David Kaiser, then a professor at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island, got a call from a guy named Steve Bannon.As Blumenthal and Rieger note, the work of Strauss and Howe has been called pseudoscience by the historian Michael Lind. It strikes me as a mix of mildly interesting futurology and utter schlock:
Bannon wanted to interview Kaiser for a documentary he was making based on the work of the generational theorists William Strauss and Neil Howe. Kaiser, an expert on Strauss and Howe, didn’t know Bannon from Adam, but he agreed to participate. He went to the Washington headquarters of the conservative activist group Citizens United, where Bannon was then based, for a chat.
Kaiser was impressed by how much Bannon knew about Strauss and Howe, who argued that American history operates in four-stage cycles that move from major crisis to awakening to major crisis. These crises are called “Fourth Turnings” -- and Bannon believed the U.S. had entered one on Sept. 18, 2008, when Hank Paulson and Ben Bernanke went to Capitol Hill to ask for a bailout of the international banking system.
“He knew the theory,” Kaiser said. “He obviously enjoyed interviewing me.”
Strauss and Howe’s theory is based on a series of generational archetypes -- the Artists, the Prophets, the Nomads and the Heroes -- that sound like they were pulled from a dystopian young adult fiction series. Each complete four-part cycle, or saeculum, takes about 80 to 100 years, in Strauss and Howe’s reckoning. The Fourth Turning, which the authors published in 1997, focuses on the final, apocalyptic part of the cycle.Bannon's public utterances frequently allude to these ideas -- Blumenthal and Rieger have the quotes -- and he worked them into a 2010 "documentary" called Generation Zero.
Strauss and Howe postulate that during this Fourth Turning crisis, an unexpected leader will emerge from an older generation to lead the nation, and what they call the “Hero” generation (in this case, millennials), to a new order. This person is known as the Grey Champion. An election or another event -- perhaps a war -- will bring this person to power, and their regime will rule throughout the crisis.
It's bad enough that the top adviser to the president of the United States is an overgrown revenge-obsessed adolescent devoted to apocalyptic nonsense. What makes it worse is that if Bannon really is working from the Strauss and Howe playbook, then he's not at all interested in government initiatives that improve the lives of ordinary people. Just the opposite, in fact:
“The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda about which they had long dreamed and against which their adversaries had darkly warned,” Strauss and Howe wrote in The Fourth Turning. “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.” ...(Emphasis added.)
“We’re gonna have to have some dark days before we get to the blue sky of morning again in America,” Bannon warned in 2010. “We are going to have to take some massive pain. Anybody who thinks we don’t have to take pain is, I believe, fooling you.”
I'd already assumed that the Trump administration would try to mimic white nationalist parties in Europe, but without the enhancements of the social safety net that those parties generally advocate. Back in December I wrote about a Washington Post story on Poland's ruling Law and Justice Party, which preaches ethno-nationalism but has also increased government benefits. As Paul Krugman wrote,
Europe’s populist parties are actually populist; they pursue policies that really do help workers, as long as those workers are the right color and ethnicity. As someone put it, they’re selling a herrenvolk welfare state. Law and Justice has raised minimum wages and reduced the retirement age; France’s National Front advocates the same things.That's just mainstream Republicanism, of course -- but we see why Bannon wouldn't have a problem with it, despite his alleged working-class sympathies and his stated desire to crush the Establishment: Bannon thinks we need to suffer before we reach his Promised Land. Our pain is part of his great purging.
Trump, however, is different. He said lots of things on the campaign trail, but his personnel choices indicate that in practice he’s going to be a standard hard-line economic-right Republican. His Congressional allies are revving up to dismantle Obamacare, privatize Medicare, and raise the retirement age. His pick for Labor Secretary is a fast-food tycoon who loathes minimum wage hikes. And his pick for top economic advisor is the king of trickle-down.
So I'm not sure the Trump administration will even try to make its voters' lives better, apart from the occasional scolding of a company attempting to outsource jobs, if this is what the top strategist for the administration believes. Assuming we have elections in the future, that could be a problem for Trump.