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Why Donald Trump’s Victory Shouldn’t Have Surprised Us

November 29, 2016


“What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, ‘See, this is new’? It has been already in the ages before us” (Ecc. 1:9-10).




If history is such a reliable predictor, why are we so habitually surprised by world events? Almost nobody predicted Donald Trump would win this election:


Mark Cuban: It’s a landslide for Hillary. No question.


Tom Hanks: I think that Donald Trump will be President right about the time

that spaceships come down with dinosaurs in red capes.


Seth Meyers: Donald Trump has said that he’s running for President as a

Republican, which is surprising, since I just assumed he was running as a joke.


And a bunch of others...




I just finished reading a book called The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe and William Strauss. The premise of the book is that history is not just linear, as Western thinkers presume, but cyclical, as most ancients knew. Just as the seasons of the earth change from Spring to Summer to Fall to Winter, human history travels through similar seasons over the course of four generations.


Every “Fourth Turning” of the generations presents a new Crisis. America experienced a Fourth Turning during the American Revolution, the Civil War, the Great Depression/World War II… and… Now.[1] Each turning lasts about twenty years—the time it takes for the next generation to “come of age”—but the “climax” of the Fourth Turning Crisis can be much shorter.


Now back to Trump, and why this might not be so surprising, through the cyclical lens of history… here’s what Howe and Strauss wrote in 1997 about what would come about in the Fourth Turning:


“…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… The winners will now have the power to pursue the more potent, less incrementalist agenda… against which their adversaries had darkly warned… Where leaders had once been inclined to alleviate societal pressures, they will now aggravate them to command the nation’s attention.”


What will that new leader’s policies be like?


“In foreign affairs, America’s initial Fourth Turning instinct will be to look away from other countries and focus total energy on the domestic birth of a new order (i.e., “America First”, “Make America Great Again”, “Drain the Swamp”). Later, provoked by real or imagined outside provocations, the society will turn newly martial (“Beat the Hell out of ISIS” sounds pretty close). America will become more isolationist than today in its unwillingness to coordinate its affairs with other countries (“NAFTA is the worst deal ever signed!” “I will destroy TPP!” “NATO is unfair!”) but less isolationist in its insistence that vital national interests not be compromised.”


What will the leader himself (or herself) be like?


Strauss and Howe refer to him as a “Grey Champion”:


At each of these great gates of history, eighty to a hundred years apart, a similar generational drama unfolded... Each time the Grey Champion appeared marked the arrival of a moment of darkness, and adversity, and peril...


“Grey” refers to this person’s age—a grey-haired (or dyed blonde?) senior will command the attention of the nation. [2] “Champion” does not mean “good”. The person could, in fact, be bad. But he is a “Champion” in that he champions the causes of many, stirring them through strong rhetoric for massive, sweeping change.


Through the lens of history, this election wasn’t quite as unpredictable as it seemed. Every four generations, society experiences an upheaval. Donald Trump could never have won in a First, Second, or Third Turning. The reason all these celebrities and pundits predicted he wouldn’t win is because they were thinking linearly. They were thinking with “Third Turning” brains. They (and I!) failed to recognize our season of history.


Is there hope for America?


In the short/mid term, yes. The strife and cynicism you see today were also prevalent in prior “turnings” throughout our history, yet these feelings ultimately gave way to optimism and hope. America’s prior three “Fourth Turnings” each produced a new birth for our nation: the American Revolution birthed a new nation; the Civil War birthed a free(-er) nation; World War II birthed America as a Global Superpower. Each of these “new births” came about through the “death” of the old order, but the brightness of the eventual new order made it worth the price.


In the long-term, every kingdom eventually crumbles, except one:


“And in the days of those kings the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that shall never be destroyed, nor shall the kingdom be left to another people. It shall break in pieces all these kingdoms and bring them to an end, and it shall stand forever” (Dan. 2:44).


History and Scripture testify that politicians come and go like cycles of rain – there’s nothing new under the sun.


So don’t ignore the cycles.


And don’t place your hope in anything that’s under the sun.



[1] Neil Howe believes the catalyst for the current Fourth Turning was the Great Recession of 2008. He says, It’s only after 2008 that issues like standard of living growth, income inequality and fundamental doubts about the ability of America’s economy to recover, came to the forefront, as well as much longer term questions about geopolitical anarchy (http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-07-03/fourth-turning-–-interview-neil-howe). Incidentally, interest rates have been at “crisis” levels since that time.


[2] This is not an "endorsement" for Donald Trump. I find some of his words and actions to be heartless and cruel. At the same time, I hope he does well, since his success is our success. If you want to see the criteria for how I decided to vote in this election, read my blog, “How Should Christians Vote?” (http://www.wellspringdfw.org/single-post/2016/10/11/How-Should-Christians-Vote).


[3] Quote by Winston Churchill



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