Editor’s Note: I’m sharing this for entertainment purposes only as a theory to consider.
Here is an interesting take on the otherwise dull 2020 election.
It comes from The Fourth Turning and describes the very climax of Boomer ascendance in America when the country is plunged into a fiery ordeal on the scale of the Civil War or World War II.
“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 Gray Champion appeared marked the arrival of a moment of “darkness, and adversity, and peril,” the climax of the Fourth Turning of the saeculum. …
We may not wish the Gray Champion to come again—but come he must, and come he will. …
Eight or nine decades after his last appearance, America will be visited by the “figure of an ancient man … combining the leader and the saint (to) show the spirit of their sires.” Again will appear the heir to the righteous Puritan who stood his ground against Governor Andros, the old colonial governors of the American Revolution who broke from England, the aging radicals of the Civil War who pitted brother against brother with a “fiery gospel writ in burnished rows of steel,” and “the New Deal Isaiahs” who achieved their rendezvous with destiny.
Whence will come the Gray Champion? Picture the Boomer Overclass of the Unraveling, aged another twenty years. Picture William Bennett’s “Consequence and Confrontation” missives; Al Gore predicting an environmental cataclysm; James Webb’s summoning a “ruthless and overpowering” retaliation against foreign enemies; James Fallows rooting for a “7.0 magnitude diplo-economic shock”; “Apocalypse Darman” and “Default Newt” with their budget train wrecks; Earth First saboteurs, willing to sacrifice other people’s lives to save trees; and Army of God antiabortionists summoning the terminally ill to “use your final months to torch clinics.” Picture Boomers like these, older and harsher, uncalmed by anyone more senior, feeling their last full measure of strength, sensing their pending mortality, mounting their final crusade—all at a time of maximum public peril.
The full dimension of the Boomer persona will only emerge when today’s better-known 1940s birth cohorts (whose youth was marked by relatively few social pathologies) are joined in public life by the tougher-willed, more evangelical 1950s cohorts (whose youth was marked by many more pathologies). That is the mix that will beget this generation’s elder priest-warrior persona, vindicating the early Unraveling-era warning of Peter Collier and David Horowitz that Boomers are “a destructive generation whose work is not over yet.”
As the Crisis deepens, Boomers will confront the end result of their lifelong absorption with values. They will have laid a long trail of Unraveling-era rhetoric, much of it symbol and gesture, but now the words will matter. When James Redfield (or his elder equivalent) describes his peers as “a generation whose intuitions would help lead humanity toward a … great transformation,” the summons will no longer be for pensive spiritual reflection but for decisive civic action. Boomers will comply with Cornel West’s suggestion that “the mark of the prophet is to speak the truth in love with courage—come what may.” Their habitual tendency to enunciate unyielding principles will now carry the duty of enforcement.
The final Boomer leaders—authoritarian, severe, unyielding—will command broad support from younger people who will see in them a wisdom beyond the reckoning of youth. In domestic matters, old Boomers will recast the old arguments of the Culture Wars into a new context of community needs. They will redefine and reauthenticate a civic expansion—crafted from some mix of Unraveling-era cultural conservatism and public-sector liberalism. In foreign matters, they will narrowly define the acceptable behavior of other nations and broadly define the appropriate use of American arms.
The same Boomers who in youth chanted “Hell no, we won’t go!” will emerge as America’s most martial elder generation in living memory. Whatever the elements of Crisis, old Boomer leaders will up the moral ante beyond the point of possible retreat or compromise. The same Boomers who once chanted “Ho Ho Ho Chi Minh, the NLF is gonna win!” will demand not just an enemy’s defeat, but its utter destruction. They will risk enormous pain and consequence to command youth to fight and die in ways they themselves never would have tolerated in their own youth. They will believe, as did Cicero, that this moment in history assigns “young men for action, old men for counsel.”
Old Boomers will find transcendence in the Crisis climax. As they battle time and nature to win their release from history, they will feel themselves in position to steward the nation, and perhaps the world, across several painful thresholds. It is easy to envision old Aquarians as pillars of fire leading to the Promised Land—but just as easy to see them as Charonlike monsters abducting doomed souls across the Styx to Hades. Either is possible.
As the Crisis resolves, elder Boomers will have not the last word, but the deep word. If they triumph, they will collectively deserve the eulogy Winston Churchill offered to Franklin Roosevelt: to die “an enviable death.” If they fail, their misdeeds will cast a dark shadow over the entire twenty-first century, perhaps beyond. Whatever the outcome, posterity will remember the Boomers’ Gray Champion persona long after the hippie and yuppie images have been forgotten to all but the historian.”
Maybe the Gray Champion is Donald Trump?
Maybe it is the clash between Donald Trump and Joe Biden?
Maybe the epoch ending crisis is COVID-19, economic collapse and the riots? Maybe it is dealing with the rise of China? Seems like a tall enough challenge? Unfortunately, I fear this is far too generous. Rather than focus on such obvious enormous national challenges, the Gray Champion will instead focus on something intensely moralizing and polarizing in which there is absolutely no possibility of compromise? Maybe society is set on a collision course and plunged into some type of total conflagration?
The crisis could play out like this: the issue facing the country is “white privilege” and “systemic racism,” not COVID-19. White people are no good and have to be rooted out. They are oppressing People of Color and sustaining inequality. Unlike in the previous era, it is now URGENT. In hindsight, we made a mistake by not addressing the racial issue. Joe Biden could put himself at the head of the woke mob and support the violence. White America would have its back pushed against the wall not unlike the South in the 1860s. The wokesters force White people to choose between antiracism and self-preservation.
Note: Of course, this could all ultimately be nonsense, which we will know for sure in give or take a few years. There could be nothing to the theory. The center will hold and peace will prevail. The future will be a continuation of the recent past rather than taking a sudden jarring turn we hadn’t anticipated. In any case, it is fun to think about the election in such terms. It might not be seen as a momentous event until it is seen in retrospect. Then again, it could also just be a boring changing of the guard.