“The Fourth Turning: The Grey Champion Assumes Command”
by James Quinn
"At each of these great gates of history, eighty to a hundred years apart, a similar generational drama unfolded. Four archetypes, aligned in the same order – elder Prophet, midlife Nomad, young adult Hero, child Artist – together produced the most enduring legends in our history. 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
"In September 2015 I wrote a five part article called "Fourth Turning: Crisis of Trust." In Part 2 of that article I pondered who might emerge as the Grey Champion, leading the country during the second half of this Fourth Turning Crisis. I had the above pictures of Franklin, Lincoln, and FDR, along with a flaming question mark. The question has been answered. Donald J. Trump is the Grey Champion.
When I wrote that article, only one GOP debate had taken place. There were eleven more to go. Trump was viewed by the establishment as a joke, ridiculed by the propaganda media, and disdained by the GOP and Democrats. I was still skeptical of his seriousness and desire to go the distance, but I attempted to view his candidacy through the lens of the Fourth Turning. I was convinced the mood of the country turning against the establishment could lead to his elevation to the presidency. I was definitely in the minority at the time:
"Until three months ago the 2016 presidential election was in control of the establishment. The Party was putting forth their chosen crony capitalist figureheads – Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. They are hand-picked known controllable entities who will not upset the existing corrupt system. They are equally acceptable to Goldman Sachs, the Federal Reserve, the military industrial complex, the sickcare industry, mega-corporate America, the moneyed interests, and the never changing government apparatchiks. The one party system is designed to give the appearance of choice, while in reality there is no difference between the policies of the two heads of one party and their candidate products. But now Donald Trump has stormed onto the scene from the reality TV world to tell the establishment – You’re Fired!!!
The linear thinking supporters of the status quo were flabbergasted and outraged by Trump’s popularity. The ruling classes never anticipated the mood shift of the peasants as they looked down on the masses from their gated estates and penthouse suites. The country was looking for someone who could tear down the entire fetid, corrupt, rotting structure. The onset of phase two of this Crisis in 2016 will produce a populace more desperate, less trusting of the establishment and likely to turn towards someone like Trump, in despair."
Strauss and Howe wrote their prophetic tome two decades ago. Their prognostications have played out exactly as they prophesied. They did not know which events or which people would catalyze this Fourth Turning. But they knew the mood change in the country would be driven by the predictable generational alignment which occurs every eighty years. Our regeneracy is now solidly under way.
“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. 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"
Linear thinking pundits, politicians, businessmen, bankers, bureaucrats, and citizens fail to grasp the cyclical nature of history. They think themselves progressives, falsely believing humanity and history move forward in a straight line. Nothing could be further from the truth. This is why they throw hissy fits when their predictions and beliefs are thrown into disarray by events and mood changes in the country.
The linear thinking establishment lost their proverbial minds over Trump’s landslide electoral victory, they never saw coming. They were flabbergasted, angry, and living in denial as history tracked a path it travels every eighty years or so. As the Greatest Generation departs this earth, there are few left who lived through the last Fourth Turning. That’s why the living generations are always surprised when another predictable crisis arrives. We never seem to learn the lessons of history.
Perpetual progress is a myth. Average American households haven’t seen economic progress in decades. Education continues to deteriorate, as the young become progressively dumber. Well-paying goods producing jobs have been shipped overseas, replaced by low paying, no benefits service jobs. Government is corrupt, inept, and discredited. Our culture is degraded, decadent, depraved, and despoiled.
Progress has devolved into regression. We’ve entered our saecular Winter and there is no turning back. It arrived with ferocious blizzard-like conditions in 2008, and had been in a debt induced lull until now. A bitter fierce wind has begun to whip across the plains and black swirling clouds portend a tempestuous future. As the gathering storm looms, the Grey Champion appears on the mountaintop.
“Americans have always been blind to the next turning until after it fully arrives. Most of today’s adult Americans grew up in a society whose citizens dreamed of perpetually improving outcomes: better jobs, fatter wallets, stronger government, finer culture, nicer families, smarter kids, all the usual fruits of progress. Today, deep into the Third Turning, these goals feel like they are slipping away. Many of us wish we could rewind time, but we know we can’t – and we fear for our children and grandchildren.
Many Americans wish that, somehow, they could bring back a saecular spring now. But seasons don’t work that way. As in nature, a saecular autumn can be warm or cool, long or short, but the leaves will surely fall. The saecular winter can hurry or wait, but history warns that it will surely be upon us.
We may not wish the Grey Champion to come again – but come he must, and come he will.”
– "The Fourth Turning" – Strauss & Howe
To those who have never read the book or understand generational theory, they are appalled I would declare Donald Trump as the Grey Champion. They interpret the word “champion” as having a positive connotation. It has nothing to do with whether the Grey Champion is a good person, moral person, or likeable person. It doesn’t even have to be one person. Ben Franklin and Samuel Adams, both from the Prophet generation, are considered the Grey Champions of the American Revolution Fourth Turning. One was a diplomat who used his guile and cunning to propel the revolution forward. The other was a firebrand, in the mold of our current Donald Trump.
In most cases the Grey Champions are not revered or glorified until decades after the Crisis is resolved. Lincoln was and still is despised by just about everyone living south of the Mason Dixon line. Outraged businessmen attempted to convince Smedley Butler to lead a coup against FDR. Large swaths of Americans believe he was responsible for creating our welfare state and the unfunded liabilities which are playing a large part in this current Fourth Turning. The unintended consequences of decisions made in previous Fourth Turnings often become the catalysts for the next crisis.
The Grey Champion or Champions are Prophet Generation leaders who command respect due to their age, attitude and warlike demeanor. They were born shortly after the previous Great War Crisis and became the narcissistic young crusaders during the Awakening, driven achievers during the midlife Unraveling, and principled moralists summoning great deeds during the next Crisis.
They tend to inspire through their words and rhetoric, rather than through grand deeds. They are human beings, and as with all humans, they exhibit both positive and negative traits. Prominent positive traits include being principled, resolute and creative. Detrimental traits include being narcissistic, presumptuous, and ruthless. The Grey Champion arrives when the situation looks grim and the people need a jolt of courage to meet the frightful challenges ahead.
One afternoon in April 1689, as the American colonies boiled with rumors that King James II was about to strip them of their liberties, the King’s hand-picked governor of New England, Sir Edmund Andros, marched his troops menacingly through Boston. His purpose was to crush any thought of colonial self-rule. To everyone present, the future looked grim.
Just at that moment, seemingly from nowhere, there appeared on the streets “the figure of an ancient man” with “the eye, the face, the attitude of command.” His manner “combining the leader and the saint,” the old man planted himself directly in the path of the approaching British soldiers and demanded that they stop. “The solemn, yet warlike peal of that voice, fit either to rule a host in the battlefield or be raised to God in prayer, were irresistible. At the old man’s word and outstretched arm, the roll of the drum was hushed at once, and the advancing line stood still.” Inspired by this single act of defiance, the people of Boston roused their courage and acted. Within the day, Andros was deposed and jailed, the liberty of Boston saved, and the corner turned on the colonial Glorious Revolution.
“Who was this Gray Champion?” Nathaniel Hawthorne asked near the end of this story in his "Twice-Told Tales." No one knew, except that he had once been among the fire-hearted young Puritans who had first settled New England more than a half century earlier. Later that evening, just before the old priest-warrior disappeared, the townspeople saw him embracing the 85-year-old Simon Bradstreet, a kindred spirit and one of the few original Puritans still alive. Would the Gray Champion ever return? “I have heard,” added Hawthorne, “that whenever the descendants of the Puritans are to show the spirit of their sires, the old man appears again.”
– "The Fourth Turning" – Strauss & Howe
The old man has appeared again. Just as he appeared eighty years after the glorious revolution behind the breastworks on Bunker Hill, providing spiritual inspiration to the farmer militia. The greying peer of Samuel Adams and Ben Franklin was just playing his role in the generational alignment which occurs every eighty years like clockwork. As the hour of darkness, adversity and peril arrives, the virtuous, fiery and unrepentant Gray Champion(s) appear through the fog of history like an apparition.
As the clock counted down to 1860, seventy-nine years after the climax of the previous Crisis, ideologues, warriors and righteous politician Grey Champions like John Brown, William Tecumseh Sherman, Robert E. Lee and Abraham Lincoln stepped into the breach, as the terrible swift sword felled over 700,000 citizens.
Seven decades later as financial markets collapsed, the world sank into a global depression, with world war just over the horizon, a moralistic no-nonsense prophet generation leader arose to lead his nation towards their rendezvous with destiny. As ancestral generations entered the constellation that reoccurs every eighty years, elder warriors FDR, Douglas MacArthur, and Winston Churchill appeared to revive the spirits of their countrymen and fight the scourge of fascism.
No one can make the argument these three Crisis leaders were likeable. In fact, their personalities were grating and they were detested by friends and foes alike. What they did was ignore protocol, feelings, and minutia, to focus on the only thing that mattered – prevailing at all costs.
The previous two Grey Champion leaders – Lincoln and Roosevelt – are still reviled by many Americans, as they were by millions during their time. Unconstitutional policies and executive actions during the gloomy ambiguous days of the Civil War, Great Depression, and World War II left a long lasting impression on the country and play a major role in our current crisis. Both centralized power with the Federal government, drastically weakening the power of the states. Both set the country on a path towards increased taxation, spending and waging war.
Lincoln and FDR were elected Grey Champions, but Lincoln only received 39.9% of the popular vote in a four way race, while FDR won in a landslide with 57% of the vote over Hoover. It was clear Lincoln didn’t have a mandate, as Southern states began seceding after his election. Lincoln’s support in the North was halfhearted at best.
Lincoln captured only 55% of the vote in the 1864 election, with only northern states voting. His cabinet of rivals despised him. They plotted against him, actively opposed his policies, and gloried in his failures. After four grim years of slaughter and failure, he was assassinated just as his armies’ attained victory. To this day he is still despised by liberty minded states’ rights proponents.
Even though FDR won landslide popular vote victories in 1932 and 1936, his detractors and adversaries were numerous. FDR’s confiscation of gold, antagonism toward big business, and dictatorial style, convinced a number of wealthy businessmen to approach General Smedley Butler to lead a coup against FDR and install a fascist regime to run the country. His New Deal “make work” projects and socialist policies were widely scorned by free market capitalists, as they prolonged the Great Depression.
No one can assert Lincoln or FDR united all Americans in a common cause. Grey Champions are not universally adored or defended. They aggravated societal pressures that had been ignored or deferred by their predecessors. Compromise was not an alternative for these men. They were going to lead in a confrontational style suited to the times, using unyielding principles to vanquish their enemies. Grey Champions have a particular set of personality traits making them well suited to lead during a Crisis. They have the facility to overlook the complexities of life and focus on one simple imperative: society must prevail. In Part Two of this article I will assess the prospects of success for our new Grey Champion – Donald J. Trump and why this Fourth Turning is about to turn nasty."