Two politicians where walking down the street and fell into a deep hole. The first said, “Wow it is really dark in here.” The second replied, “I don’t know because I can’t see.” Not the funniest joke, but certainly one that accurately describes the cluelessness of the political elites of our country. The authors of The Fourth Turning, the basis for Core Principle #8, the Seasons of our Discontent, nailed a description of what type of leaders would emerge during a CRISIS when they wrote:
“A CRISIS does not guarantee that the new governing policies will be
well designed or will work as intended. What makes a CRISIS special
is the Public’s willingness to let leaders lead even when they falter and
to let authorities be authoritative even when they make mistakes.”
Please remember this was written in 1997, long before anyone had any idea of who would emerge as candidates. Donald Trump promises to build a wall to keep out illegal aliens. He suggests that all Muslims be prohibited from entry into the country until such time as the government can guarantee they are not threats to the peace of the country. Naturally, the left and the right go ballistic over what they perceive as clearly discriminatory, jingoistic, and Nazi-like behavior. But when their bombastic responses get no traction among his supporters, they stand around looking at each other wandering why the normal rules don’t seem to be working.
A historical example of this deference to leaders is seen during the start of World War II. Franklin D. Roosevelt, and the military brass at Pearl Harbor, were at the very least negligent for their conduct in not anticipating and guarding against the Japanese attack. Some information suggests an almost willful intent on F.D.R.’s part to let the attack take place to ensure that America became involved in WWII. Whatever, your take on this historical controversy, what is clear is that F.D.R. was not condemned for his role in not preparing for the attack. In fact he was lauded for this fearless leadership. This is exactly what is expected in a Fourth Turning. A leader can make mistakes, but survival dictates unity and resolve. Historical blame is a game for historians to play, not nations whose survival is at stake.
The normal rules don’t work because the nation is clamoring for social order based upon a unity of purpose. While the supply for this social order is still not available, the demand is ever increasing. When you look at a Trump, or for that matter Ted Cruz, Rand Paul, Ben Carson, and Bernie Sanders, you are seeing the phenomenon in full bloom. It is not necessarily their policy solutions that are the main attraction, although they have successfully tapped into part of the electorate’s psyche. It is the sense that these are real leaders, with real ideas, that are not bought and paid for by the establishment camp. They are candidates who will take tough principled stands for the benefit of the country and not for the benefit of a political party or corporate interests.
A Fourth Turning is analogous to winter. The leader you want in the harsh difficult winter is not the same leader you accept in the lazy, hazy bountiful days of summer. Consequently, the quiet spoken Bush, the good uncle John Kasich, and all the other fair weather politicians, will never get traction. They are talking about planting in Spring or harvesting in Autumn, when the only thing that matters is surviving the Winter.
Trump is like General George Patton. He speaks his mind and gets things done. Occasionally, he says or does something that is “politically incorrect”. In August of 1943 while touring a field hospital, General Patton came upon a private who was suffering from battle fatigue. The general in a rage slapped the private and created a furry in the media that resulted in Patton being forced to apologize to the soldier and those who witnessed the incident. Because his apology wasn’t considered heartfelt, and because of other military decisions unrelated to this incident, Patton was largely sidelined for a year. He eventually ended up in England and was used by the allied command as the leader of a decoy army to fool the Germans about the real plans for the invasion of Europe.
But one fact is clear looking at the historical record. General George Patton was not going to be sidelined for the entire war. General Eisenhower and his staff always new that Patton was critical to the war effort and would be used when the time was right. The General Staff never gave up on Patton. Neither did the public or the troops who served with him. Neither did the Germans, as they bought into the deception that Patton would lead the invasion at the Pas de Calais in France, even when the real invasion at Normandy had begun. The top brass in the Army eventually gave Patton command of the 3rd Army and as they say, the rest is history. His race across Europe, and his role in Battle of the Bulge, are legendary in the annals of the U.S. Army. It is not critical that a servant of a CRISIS be universally adored. He may be a S.O.B., but he’s our S.O.B.
So what is the point? It is that in times of mortal danger, an army, or a country will overlook conventionally outrageous comments or actions and a decent degree of eccentricity —-Trump’s hair, braggadocio, and billionaire lifestyle; Patton’s pearl handled revolver, decidedly unique uniforms, and slapping incidents —- when they feel the stakes are not only important, but when they feel their country’s existence is in mortal danger. The downside of this type of leader is that their brilliance can also be their downfall or their countries downfall. You may recall Patton seriously argued that the Allies should attack the Russians after Germany had been defeated. His fellow generals considered such talk madness.
As the book explains, establishment candidates downplay problems, defer solutions, tolerate diversity, and promise you can have your cake and eat it to. Fourth Turning candidates exaggerate problems, accelerate solutions, demand consensus, and ask for sacrifice. Leaders in times of CRISIS will be judged not just on their actions and words, but also on the perceived severity of the times in which these decisions are made. F.D.R. put loyal Japanese citizens in internment camps. Abraham Lincoln couldn’t pick a good General for the first half of the Civil War. The story is not Trump. The story is the mood of the country. Trump is not a guy that understands a middle class lifestyle, he is a guy that middle class folks feel is honest and can get something done. Whether that perception is real, remains to be seen.
A Fourth Turning forces a decision on the direction of the country. The need for a Fourth turning or CRISIS leader does not mean we will choose wisely. What if the country had chosen Stephen Douglass instead of Abraham Lincoln? Or what if we choose the equivalent of an American Adolf Hitler instead of a Franklin Roosevelt? Our choice will say more about us than it does about any of the candidates.
In the ebb and flow of the election, if Trump stumbles, Cruz or Carson or someone else will be waiting in the wings for the Republicans, as Bernie Sanders waits in the wings for the Democrats, or maybe an Elizabeth Warren. The elites can’t understand why their playbooks don’t work. They don’t work because they blindly refuse to acknowledge what is directly in front of them, that the American people are playing a game the elites don’t recognize. A high stakes game to be sure, with the promise of great rewards and terrible consequences, but a completely different game non-the-less.