The Saeculum Decoded
A Blog by Neil Howe
Jan 112010
 

In our book, The Fourth Turning, we describe the cycle of American history in terms of “Turnings” We are currently in The Fourth Turning, the Crisis, which arises in response to sudden threats that previously would have been ignored or deferred, but which are now perceived as dire. Great worldly perils boil off the clutter and complexity of life, leaving behind one simple imperative: The society must prevail. This requires a solid public consensus, aggressive institutions, and personal sacrifice.

Here are some trends we have been monitoring as we enter the new year:

1. Most Americans now believe they are living through very bad times—a period of decline for their government, for their economy, and for America as a world power. Approval of the new President has sunk very rapidly since the highs of his inauguration, says Gallup, and approval of Congress is (re-)reaching record lows. According to the latest NBC/WSJ poll, only 27 percent of Americans feel confident that their children’s generation will be better off than they are. According to Pew Researchthe share of Americans who believe that America’s role as a world leader has risen over the last decade (at 25%) has reached a record low since the first reading was taken in 1974. And the share who believe it has declined has reached a record high (at 41%, tied with 1979).

Another recent report by Pew Research reports that Americans have a much darker view of the last 00s decade (27% positive, 50% negative) than of any earlier decades surveyed going back to the 1960s. One can infer that we would have to go all the way back to the 1930s to find a decade most Americans would agree is worse. Indeed, media references to “World War II” (big after 9/11) and to “Great Depression” and “1930s” have been more frequent during the past decade than during any earlier decade since the 1930s and 1940s themselves. (This information comes from google.com.) Notably, every age group has a negative opinion of the 00s. And every age group has a more or less positive view of every earlier decade (today’s Generation X (born 1961-1981)ers are especially positive about the 1990s, Boomer (born 1943-1960) about the 1970s; no surprise there). Remarkably, given how terrible people rate the 2000s, roughly one-third think the 2010s will be even worse. The other two-thirds say there will be at least some improvement.

2. In domestic policy, the tide is running toward community, localism, personal risk-aversion, common-sense populism, and sweeping government authority to get big things done. Most of these forces are pushing in the Democrats’ direction—e.g., on massive health-care reform, higher taxes on “the rich,” broad new public infrastructure projects, and vigorous new regulations on financial institutions and corporate America generally. Of course, not everything works to the Democrats’ advantage. Some of the items that Democrats want (e.g., complicated carbon caps to alleviate global warming) fail the common-sense test. Others (e.g., higher federal taxes or more federal regulations) may fail the localism test—since (according to the recent Harris poll) Americans are just as likely to blame Congress for our problems (72%) as they are to blame Wall Street (71%). And, as the final versions of the health-care reform legislation make clear, the product of the Democrats’ bigger government is just as likely to contain logrolling, earmarks, and special deals—and just as likely to fall short of any lofty public purpose (in this case, cost control)—as anything the Republicans might have suggested or voted for. This is an important point. Dissatisfaction with Obama and the Democratic Congress is probably more fed by their failure to use government boldly and vigorously to face hard challenges than by their excessive boldness. The Democrats have acquiesced all too readily to the traditional politics of buy-now, pay-later entitlement. Remarkably, the public has explicitly told pollsters that the failure to control future health-care spending is the single biggest reason they don’t support Congress’ current proposals. By implication, the public would be more likely to support real reform that has teeth. But today’s reigning generation of political leaders do not yet have the stomach for this.

People do want employers or government or somebody to protect them better against risks—like the risk of losing health insurance. Millennial (born 1982-200?), today’s new crop of young adults, name health insurance at the very top of what they want from their employers, a fairly “middle-aged” attitude for youth but a cutting-edge indicator of the popular Zeitgeist. Another trend that is heightened by the current Great Recession is the new localism, which is best reflected in the steady decline in American mobility. Amazingly, by 2008, only about 12% of Americans are moving every year, the lowest-ever figure in the post-World War II era and a huge decline from the 20% annual figure back in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s. Why? Boomers no longer want to move to “leisure worlds” or “planned care communities”; they are “aging in place” and expect special services to come to them, where they live, rather than the other way around. Millennials like to live with or near their parents. They and their Boomer parents like to listen to the same music, watch the same movies, advise each other on everything from dress to careers. The old “generation gap” is dead, and the “multi-generational” family is back. Meanwhile, people of all age express more attachment to their “community.” Geographic lifestyle expert Joel Kotkin calls this trend the “new localism.”

3. In foreign policy, the tide is running toward disillusionment, cool pragmatism, and isolationism. When the Pew survey asked Americans to choose their own word to describe the change in America’s standing in the world over the 2000s decade, the single-most chosen word was “downhill.” The public is now thoroughly disillusioned with many of the more lofty and ambitious goals of long-term U.S. engagement with the rest of the world—goals that marked the official stance of the both the Clinton and Bush administrations (or at least, Bush after 9/11). Promoting democracy abroad? Defending human rights? Extending NATO or the EU? Strengthening the UN? Polls show that all of these goals are much less popular by the end of 2009 than they were in 2000. In 2009, 54% of Americans said that torture of terrorist suspects can be often or sometimes justified, marking—if anything—a rise since the beginning of the decade. The Obama administration, riding the trend, is downplaying democracy and human rights—and softplaying Gitmo and torture now that the issue seems not to resonate with voters. “Pragmatism” is the administration’s new watchword.

The Pew survey finds that the American public today is both more isolationist than ever before and more unilateralist than ever before. A record share of Americans (49%) think that the United States should “mind its own business” and let other countries get along on their own. Yet a record share of Americans (44%) since 1964 also say that the United States should “go our own way” regardless of what the rest of the world thinks. Are Americans both more “liberal” and yet also more “conservative” in foreign policy than ever before? No. A better read is that isolationism has always had both a liberal side (let’s make sure we don’t rule or ruin the world) and a conservative side (let’s make sure the world doesn’t rule or ruin us). Today’s isolationism contains both strains. For example, most of the public does not share Obama’s confidence that fighting the Taliban will make Afghanistan or the world a better place. On the other hand, if we do in, the public believes we ought to make sure we get the job done decisively and with minimal loss to American life—regardless of what the rest of the world may say about how we do it.

4. On opinions about America’s future, a growing rift is now emerging between the experts and the public. Today’s experts tend to focus on near-term and on a fairly narrow range of conventionally defined outcomes—and they are generally more optimistic. Today’s public tends to focus on the long-term and on a fairly broad range of possible options—and the public is generally more pessimistic. On the economy, experts talk a lot about the next year or two and they typically apply an aggregate demand model that has been tested over the normal postwar recessions. Most of them are projecting a steady if not dramatic recovery. The public—and many less conventional experts—focus more on changes in household and corporate balance sheets, on structural changes in consumer behavior (toward more savings and less risk), and on the long-term erosion of institutional trust. They’re interested in longer-term outcomes, like whether I can change jobs, retire on time, or feel good about my kids’ prospects. And, with all that on their minds, they’re coming to more pessimistic conclusions about the economy’s direction.

When Pew compared the foreign-policy views of the public to the views of the 642 members of the Council of Foreign Relations, they found a similar rift. On almost every issue, the CFR members were more optimistic—and their optimism had declined less during the 2000s decade—than the public. The public, for example, is much more worried about nuclear IranNorth Korea, the rising power of China, the tension between Russia and its neighbors, and terrorist attacks on America than the CFR members. They are also more worried about how foreign policy can save their jobs and prevent illegal immigration. The list of issues that worried the experts more than the public (global warming, instability in Pakistan) was much shorter.

5. All of these trends have generational drivers, and they are starting to define the overall mood of America’s Fourth Turning (Crisis). Gen-Xers, now moving into midlife leadership positions (as CEOs in business, as news anchors in the media, as field-grade officers in the armed forces, as legislators in Congress, and as PTA/PTO parents), are now the dominant mood-setting generation. And so many of these trends reflect the Gen-X take on life—their pragmatism, their localism, their exhaustion with ideology, their alienation from the experts. They voted (marginally) for Obama because they are only weakly attached to the current system and enjoy the prospect of big institutional changes that would shake everything down to the ground. Yet they remain (over their lifetime; they came of age in the Reagan years) a GOP-leaning generation that distrusts big government and party affiliation. Gen-Xers will always remain politically flippable. Many are showing up in the rowdy “tea party” crowds which cast curses at both parties. Boomers, who disproportionately represent America’s aging and polarized culture warriors, remain—as ever—more pessimistic than other generations about the future. Americans age 50 to 65 are almost evenly divided about whether the 2010s will be better than the 2000s—unlike every older or younger age bracket, which is much more positive about the next decade. Most positive of all is the Millennial Generation, which, across the board, expresses not just the most optimism about the future, but also the most trust in government, in corporations, and in technology.  According to a poll conducted last month by Harris, Millennials are the least likely of all generations to blame their financial situation on leaders or on any of America’s major institutions. (Boomers and Silent (born 1925-1942)are the most likely.)

What does this say about the broad shape of the Fourth Turning. Recall that Second Turning (Awakening) (Awakenings, like the Consciousness Revolution of the late 60s and 70s) nearly always begin on a high note of optimism, trust, and civic confidence—and nearly always end in a low note of cynicism, distrust, isolationism, and society-wide demoralization (I believe Jimmy Carter used the word “malaise” in his notorious 1979 speech). Fourth Turnings proceed in the opposite order.

Be Sociable, Share!
  • docbadwrench

    Thanks so much for this post. It's a very nice way to bring people up-to-date about the Generational outlook on American culture and what your arguments are for *why* things feel the way they do.

    I'm a very, very big fan of this outlook, but remain somewhat skeptical about the methodology involved in these pronouncements. Of course, I'm a Gen X'er, so you could safely have assumed some skepticism. :)

    All that said, however, I find your posts very stimulating. I still find this perspective to be far more valuable than the hodge-podge of opinion that *doesn't* try to draw from historical roles.

    It's further inspiration to me in my readings. Also, there are a few typos – it's no big deal, but I just wanted to make you aware of them. You were probably excited to get this post out.

  • pbrower2a

    Much is distressing — yet almost obvious. Americans will be obliged to simplify their lives even by making great sacrifices in divesting themselves of the accumulated goods acquired in “good” times. We can expect no technological fixes to anything. Many of us Americans are going to end up far poorer in the mid-2010s than now.

    You are right on the current decade (I call it the Double-Zero Decade as a reference to a high-risk position on a roulette wheel); it is NOT the sort that will ever create nostalgia for it. Even if it is superficially better than the decade that follows, it will be a “soiled” decade cursed for the ruin that it ensured in the next.

    It is worth remembering that the late 1930s were better for Americans than the early 1930s because America shored up once-sleazy institutions and ran the corruption of the 1920s out of life. By the late 1930s, poverty was less severe, economic institutions were more honest. Most significantly, people were thinking of the long term and low yield with little chance of abandoning a poor situation.

    But are we in the equivalent of 1930 (an 80-year rule applied strictly) , 1934 (if we compare the 2006 and 2008 elections, arguably among the most important in American history, to those of 1930 and 1932), or 1932 (if we equate the stock market peak of 2007 to that of 1929)?

    George W. Bush was not Herbert Hoover; Herbert Hoover at the least had a clear moral compass, if not an economic one. Such explains how the economic collapse followed the collapse of the GOP majority. The Dubya era was a degenerate time in American history in about every aspect. That allows an ambiguity in analogies.

    Things were getting better in 1934… and maybe they are in 2010, if not as fast as people wish.

  • An angry Millennial

    As a 1988 Millennial one would expect, according to you, that I am blindly optimistic, trusting of the government, and convinced that the “sun'll come out, tommorrow”. This is not the case, although as you said in earlier publications, individuals do not always reflect the trends seen in larger generational groupings and movements. However I do find that your description roughly describes the mood of the majority of my peers who voted for the current president a couple of months ago. Despite what you say, Millennials see this debate over health care reform as a big waste of time of the government. Sure we think it's important in the long run, but it's not the most pressing issue for us–the economy and job market are. After all, more Millennials are finding that getting work is almost impossible. And how does anyone expect us to succeed in society when we've got a massive load of financial debt from student loans to pay off–more than any other generation that previously existed–and no way to pay them off? I've heard more and more complaints from my peers (younger and older) who say that all this health care reform debate is a smokescreen for corrupt Boomer Congressmen to keep from doing any serious reform on the economy and the debt problem. Their current solution has only been to tie us more to China's economy–so that as long as China grows, we'll be riding on their tailcoats–information that wasn't released in American publications. Judging from the past that didn't really work well for England when it did the same tying itself to the American economy in 1927. More and more Congress and this President are doing nothing, arguing more about Boomer health insurance issues than anything concerning the economy and/or the job market. After all it was Boomers who for the last twenty years have been pushing for health care reform–Clinton tried and failed after all–and while we as Millennials might agree that that is a good idea–even supporting it–it's not what's most important right now.

  • mrreed

    I disagree that the 00s will create no nostalgia. Just look at all of the nostalgia that has surrounded the 1930s in the postwar decades. Yeah. the 00s was exceedingly bad on many fronts. Its music sucked, for one. And then, there is of course the string of national disasters, a vitriolic political climate, war and upheaval. But this decade had many bright spots. The US has seen more progress and change than recent decades. There has been a dramatic rebirth of social movements. People are increasingly taking control of their own lives in these times of trouble. And we are living in the golden age of the geek/nerd, which also tends to happen during Crisis Eras.

  • pbrower2a

    1. Technological progress had no connection to the depravities of the Double-Zero Decade. It could have just as easily occurred in times more benign.

    2. The geek and nerd are of course part of the cure for economic stagnation. Technological innovation does not come from Bohemian types.

    Look — even the 1920s had their share of innovations, too, including talking pictures, animation, and of course radio.

    3. We may be entering the Regeneracy. The political norms have shifted dramatically.

    4.People are going to make different choices in careers. Science and engineering may be drudgery, but in a 4T the steady pay is enough to attract people who might otherwise become real estate developers and loan officers. Science and engineering create technological progress as little else does — even in undoing the environmental damage of recent years.

    Many who thought that they would latch onto Big Business will find better chances in starting small businesses on shoestrings… face it — we need small business to fill the gaps that Big Business has created.

    Steady pay will make such activities as nursing, teaching, and police work more attractive. The easy money available to the most ruthless and daring is already gone — which is just as well, as ruthlessness in economic life serves the ruthless alone.

    5. Our personalities will change. We will become less materialistic. We will judge people more for conduct than for their wealth; indeed we might begin to have a healthy doubt that wealth is a measure of honor. Circumstances will force a healthy dose of humility upon current narcissists and deter many others from becoming narcissists.

    6. “Do something good and expect modest rewards” is far better than “Go for broke and demand a bailout upon failure”. That is a typical change in a 4T.

  • Xhausted

    “Their pragmatism, their localism, their exhaustion with ideology, their alienation from the experts.” You said it, pal. Are we really GOP leaning? Maybe. I think that stereotype is based on the Alex P. Keaton/Tucker Carlson archetype. I'd prefer to see Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert as representatives of this gen.

  • rmmarti1

    Reading this I stopped to watch the state of union address because my 18 year old son said “Mom, why aren't you watching this. . . its the state of the union”. His comment underlined your reference to the millennial belief in our institutions. Also have you seen the 18 Jan 2010 article in Newsweek titled, “The Recession Generation”. It documents another dimension / change towards pessimism about the future.

  • princeofcats

    4T is definitely underway. The archetypes are playing-out their generational roles in many facets of life, but none more visible than politics(from my Xer POV). I could go on for hours, but I'll just say this: The Xers will NOT allow the Boomers to manipulate the Millenials. Xers who were preparing to survive the Crisis now realize that the possibility of mandatory participation in Govt Programs leaves us no place to hide. The economic and social freedoms of future generations must be protected; Their destiny is their own, not that of Boomers'.
    To Boomers: When your “too big to fail” US Govt as a solution implodes b/c of a Credit Rating downgrade and subsequent panic out of US Treasuries/$USDs, don't ask for Xer help in defending you from the “torches and pitchforks”; We'll be too busy at our 4th job trying to fix the mess you created!
    To Millenials: Think before you vote next time!
    Taleb's(Black Swan)answer of simple, effective systems(institutions)is the most viable solution, but we are moving in the opposite direction. A smaller, more effective Fed Govt will be needed to adapt to the Crisis with sustainable results.
    Xers are the ant/Boomers the grasshopper; We SEE what you are doing whether or not you realize how dangerous your unrealistc visions are; You will be defeated even if it costs we Xers our own future financial security.
    Mandating Healthcare, Climate Change, Legislating Equality?……Go back to the commune and smoke your dope; Just leave us alone. If you keep arrogantly pushing, you'll regret it.

  • danielmc999

    As a fellow Millenial, I agree with you. There is a lot more anger and frustration within the Millenials I hang out with, but perhaps this too is a small sample bias.

    I and most of friends have also viewed this health care debate as a smoke screen with which Obama was seeking to evade economic issues … that is, until the loss in Massachusetts. His subsequent “enthusiasm” over the Volcker Rule and populist “fat cat” rhetoric came off as more than a bit hollow. A lot of us voted for Obama, myself included, but I must say, almost every single one of us has become highly disillusioned since then.

    Unfortunately, I believe more and more people of all generations are coming to the realization that there is no silver bullet out of this. The silver bullet was to have read Neil Howe's highly prescient book on entitlement spending, and not load our $14 trillion finance-heavy economy up with an estimated $160 trillion of debt, when you dot your i's and cross your t's. We pulled forward a lot of demand, the Boomers spent a lot of it, and there is no way we will be able to continue this leveraging cycle on a going forward basis. Running the printing press has held this off in 2009, but that will not last. Why should I be optimistic about the next 10 years again?

  • Ed Song

    I'm skeptical of Howe's theory because it relies too much on determinism. Also, while he praises his generation as being dominant and idealistic, he frowns on others by calling them reactive, adoptive and/or narcistic. But assuming that his theory is valid, it's becoming clear that the Baby Boom generation has failed at leadership, and the long awaited civic realignment will not materialize. The baby-boom generation is too polarized to be effective leaders and disillusionment of government will grow among the millennial generation when a few years from now they will realize that Obama accomplished nothing because the Republicans fillibustered every single bill that the Democrats proposed. Yes, the stimulus will be his one major legislation passed, but its only a short term fix that will expire next year. In effect, the Millennial generation will become what Howe calls a reactive generation.

    The reason why the Baby Boom generation are such unsuccessful leaders is because they are the first American generation (Outside of the generation that fought for the Confederacy) to fight a losing war. I think losing the Vietnam War has a deep negative psychological effect on the generation that they will never recover from. The so called previous “prophet” generations witnessed or participated in wars where America was victorious. This gave the liberals of those generations confidence and gave them the belief that government could be used as a tool to help people and expand individual rights. I think the lack of a confident liberal faction is the big difference that the Baby Boom generation has with the other previous “Prophet” generations. In previous prophetic generations, men like Jefferson, Lincoln and FDR had enough confidence not to back down on their liberal ideals. Without a confident liberal faction, there can be no civic realignment.

  • jimgoulding

    Part of my job is to find those who can predict societies behavior and trends. I've studied S&H's work since the release of The Fourth Turning, in 1997. I wrote a book based on their work and have gone on to try and describe their work in pictures and colors. In 2002 I indexed the book The Fourth Turning and placed in on my web site, where I have all my work on generational theory.
    (http://www.jamesgoulding.com/generations.htm)

    Looking back at all the research I've completed, over the last 13 years, I've still not found anyone who comes close to predicting how society will behave, the way S&H's theory has.

    If I can't predict the future, in some way, I cannot make a living. This is true in many industries. After the first reading of the 4th T, it was so obvious how many applications their book had in the business world. It's a marketing directors dream. There's a blueprint for how to market to any of the generations alive and those who are just being born. If you're in the music, or the publishing, or fashion industry, predicting the future is vital. May I recommend S&H's work? You need not look anywhere else. It's all right there, in their work. I'd purchase Generations, The Fourth Turning, and Millennials Go College. Everything you need to predict the coming trends are in those books.

    After reading, indexing, dissecting, writing about, and pretty much able to recite S&H's work, I have every confidence that I've found what I was looking for 13 years ago, and that is, a guide to predicting the future of society and its trends.

    Thanks much,
    Jim Goulding

  • Michael Shores

    I find much to admire and to agree with in ‘The Fourth Turning’. But there does seem to be a very important factor that is not considered in the fourth turning that is now under way, and that is the broad range of environmental challenges we presently, or will soon, face. nnEarlier fourth turnings have concerned themselves with the affairs of mankind; how shall we govern ourselves (succession, revolution, civil war), dealing with our foes (war) and who should be rewarded (economics). In these turnings, it is man against man, man remaking his systems of government and economics or nation against nation. These are battles fought on human terms within human time scales.nnThe challenges of global warming, depleted aquifers, loss of biological diversity, declines in soil fertility and many other large and small environmental issues represent a different set of challenges, both in magnitude and kind.nnNature, the laws of physics, chemistry and biology, dance to their own tune. We can only pretend that we are the masters of Earth for a brief moment. The laws of nature will not engage us in war as equal adversaries, but will instead simply ignore us and either force us to adapt to their reality or overwhelm us without knowing or caring.nnIt seems that this particular fourth turning may be extraordinarily dangerous as we are coping with generational societal issues at a time when we should be focusing on a set of physical challenges that operate far beyond our concepts of time and relationships.

  • Lconway

    This story about two millennial heroes who might otherwise have been mistaken for Beavis and butthead illustrates the culture change. They have the stuff of greatness hidden behind otherwise drab exteriors: http://www.mlive.com/news/jackson/index.ssf/2010/11/teenagers_helped_comfort_child.html#incart_mce

  • menil

    As one on the upper side of GenX, I got really ticked off when reading the part in Forth Turning when it decribed the role that the idealism of the Boomers was taking in the 3T. Through their “conservative” voting, they have given us war monger leaders who wasted our country’s lives and treasure (to say nothing of the lives of Iraqi’s and Afghans), fiscal NON-conservatives to deregulate our financial system, politicians who are bought and paid for by multi-national corporations, the Texas school board to dumb down and propagandize America’s youth through their curriculum (also taken such founding fathers as Jefferson out of their history books), back alley abortions, the withholding of marital rights for all Americans, the demonization of the middle class, unemployed and union workers…I could go on and on. Also among the idealistic Boomers are those willing to vote against their best interest, and that of the country, based on their archaic social morality (gay rights, evolution, prayer in school, etc.)

    The next 10 years will only be better if Americans start waking up and banding together. That means supporting local business that support the local tax base. Local farmers so that we know what’s in our food supply. Local manufacturers (when available) who have safe, regulated products (no lead paint for the toddlers) made by our family, friends and neighbors. Local owned BANKS who invest and loan money to their citizens. It’s time to rebuild our country!

  • Theultimateenemy89

    Here’s my prediction: neither party, Republican or Democrat, will be able to do much about the massive deficit. I saw how much anger there was in the proposed cuts that nearly caused a government shutdown, and they were NOTHING! We borrow more in a single day than those cuts were worth. 

    I can easily see us going through our equivalent of the Lost Decade. We’re doing pretty much everything Japan did to get into this mess. It was described as a “Loser’s Paradise” where the Japanese government continued to bail out all these companies who were crumbling to the point where they couldn’t recover and all they could do was ask for more bailouts. Hell, some of the companies we bailed out are already asking for more taxpayer money. We’re bailed companies out before, but not to this degree. 

    I belong to the Millennial generation (1989) although my cynicism would fit far better in Generation X. I actually considered voting for Obama, although I ultimately changed my mind. He’s even worse than I expected, which rarely happens. I expected more spending and bailouts, but not this attempt to completely transform the country into a Europe-like nation. 

    Course, what actually disturbs is Libya. He didn’t ask for congressional authorization; he didn’t even consult them. His party is giving him a mess, which is not entirely unexpected, and so is most of the media, which I think is a disgrace. They aren’t doing their jobs; Obama is their darling. I didn’t like Bush that much, either, but I think he is even worse. I don’t remember a single president in my lifetime that I’ve actually liked. 

    What we will cut to a great degree is the military, since that doesn’t raise as much anger as the others do. It will also be a mistake that we end up regretting down the line. In other to have anything resembling a balanced budget, we’re going to have to make big cuts on everything. Looking at the budget right now, we’d have to raise taxes 50 percent to break even and that’s assuming a freeze on spending, which under the current administration, i highly doubt it’ll happen. I’d be willing to pay higher taxes IF they use the extra money to reduce the deficit instead of more programs, but that won’t happen. 

    Therefore, I think if this is a 4th turning, it’s only begun. we’ve fought the war on terror very much as a third turning war; we haven’t united in purpose the way we should, which makes me think that either this is a repeat of the Civil War hiccup, or the worst of the crisis has yet to happen; I’m inclined to think the latter.

  • Mark Knight432

    As a Millennial, looking around, I have to say I’m not optimistic in the slightest about the next decade. But after 2020, I am very optimistic that we can make needed changes to help our society, with the worst behind us. And I think that’s what Neil Howe refers to when describing the bulk of the Millennials as optimistic. Most of my similar-aged friends agree that we’re heading into horrible times that will last several years, but we generally have faith that things will get better in the long-run. I believe it’s that underlying hope that drives us forward, willing to stick this out together.

  • pbrower2a

    Howe and Strauss call Boomers and their Missionary (Churchill), Transcendental (Lincoln), and Awakening (Franklin) analogues “idealists”. Idealists have typically been the big thinkers of history, the religious innovators and political revolutionaries. That’s not to say that all revolutionaries are Gandhi or Garibaldi. They can be nasty people. Just look at the Boomers as an executive elite — they stop at no indulgence irrespective of the harm to subordinates, customers, or suppliers. These people have never been humbled, but they have oppressed Americans other themselves — including Boomers.

    If Howe and Strauss see Idealist generations strong in religion, education, and culture they also see some unpleasant vices — arrogance, ruthlessness, and selfishness. In that I see Karl Rove. It may be that history sorts out the virtues from the vices, Virtues usually prevail because they are attractive outside their generation. Vices usually implode because they invariably turn into unsupportable burdens. It may be that boomers are unable to sort that out themselves — but Generation X and the Millennial Generation, if unable to do the Idealist efforts, will be able to decide which Idealist agendas succeed and which fail based upon pragmatism and rationality.

    The Lost and GIs determined that the FDR coalition of conservationists, Big Labor, feminists, western agrarians, and Dixie populists would prevail. It may be that Asian and Latino intellectuals from Generation X will do what Jewish Lost did, providing the pragmatic basis of a new political order.