Generational Power Transfers During Political Crisis (Grant Williams, Neil Howe, Harald Malmgren)
GRANT WILLIAMS: Washington D.C. is home to many formidable institutions. But Neil's keen to point out another housed inconspicuously in the peaceful Virginia countryside. NEIL HOWE: You would never believe that in this wonderful pastural, leafy Vernal excerpts of D.C. that you would be seeing the heart of our imperial intelligence network, right? GRANT WILLIAMS: Langley, Virginia. NEIL HOWE: Huge part of our black budget and all these various special operations and intelligence agencies and commands are all actually run by this agency right next to Langley High School and next to the all these wonderful little parks. So, as you go down, you will see there will be a left turn lane for this nondescript agency. Don't take it unless you have security clearance because I tell you, innocent people like take that left turn, and they're stopped and interrogated for about 15 minutes before they let them turn their cars around. GRANT WILLIAMS: This is a nondescript left. NEIL HOWE: Yeah, this is not where you want to turn left. GRANT WILLIAMS: Okay. There's a big sign that says warning at the very least. Restricted US Government Installation. There we go. NEIL HOWE: There you go. But needless to say, all these trees around here are filled with various eavesdrops devices. GRANT WILLIAMS: They're listening to it right now. So, it's good that we're not doing that couple of karaoke I was talking about. Washington D.C. is the seat of power, not just for America, but in many instances, for the whole world. And amidst its familiar architecture, there are monuments to generational changes, which offer clues as to not just the personalities of those generations, but their character and the likely way the world would change as one makes way for the next. NEIL HOWE: So, Grant, this is it. You might call this an amphitheater of victory. Look at each of these states, as a garland of victory hung from them. This is the same garland you may give a give to a victor returning to Rome in a triumph. GRANT WILLIAMS: Yeah. The laurels over the head, yeah. NEIL HOWE: And they're enormous. You can imagine the crowd screaming on every side. By the way, another interesting thing about the GI generation is that you know where we built the biggest football stadiums in America, like Ohio Stadium and the Orange Ball and Stanford and UCLA, all these big- we built them in the 1920s for this generation and football. So, from the very beginning, Americans wanted to see this generation, these kids in huge public places. Just kind of in this size, right. And here you see it. When a boomer like Donald Trump begins to say make America great again, do you think he has some memories, some historical memory of an America like this? And you look at this thing, and there's another thing that comes to your mind about it. It's not only grand, but it's meant to be grand. And much of the criticism- because the time this thing was built, America was run by boomers. And so, what was their complaint about this thing? Looks like it was built by the very fascist they were fighting. And it reminds us something, right? It reminds us of the world of the '30s. And this is what we forget about it. Actually, I think that's part of the genius of this memorial, is that it is from the period. It's not supposed to reflect the sensibilities of the 2000, 00s the late 1990s. It reflects the sensibilities of the 1930s. You have on the one hand, this huge edifice saying Pacific. And on the other hand, this huge edifice, saying Atlantic, the global reach of what this generation did. CBs and thousands of miles away from here, clearing islands, developing airfields. Wherever they went, they remade the worlds. And look at this monument that said this is the birth of a Golden Age. But there's one thing we forget. All the Golden Ages of history always start with a huge crisis. There is no Golden Age that doesn't come after a crisis that reorders everything in the world and then it enables the new generation to be fresh molded into something, a generation that's able to fit all the pieces together in a new way. And that was this amazing generation. And all of those junior citizens we see in these murals that all join labor unions later on late '40s, 1950s, '60s. As soon as they started retiring from labor unions, they all joined AARP. GRANT WILLIAMS: Right, right. Yeah. NEIL HOWE: And they all voted for social security because that was a promise that FDR made to them, that they would be secure. Remember, risk aversion, security, they wanted that security. They would have the unions that would give them the defined benefit pension plan and all that stuff. And ultimately, they would have social security for the first time. And Social Security had legislated 1935 was very slow to get underway for retirees, and all they got, hundred percent call indexing and all the rest when the GI generations started to retire. So, it was a payback on FDR's promise to them. GRANT WILLIAMS: To listen to this is a very big reason why I wanted to come and talk to you here. But it's because the parallels are there. And people are going to be listening to this as I am and hear it all and thinking it's happening again. This idea of a crisis happening again, this idea of a generation that feel like they're owed something and in many cases are and promises made to them. And, it's all coalescing again. NEIL HOWE: And each location of the generation in its appropriate phase of life is lined up where it was back then meaning that, yeah, you have this new special, protected, sheltered, community-oriented conformist, achievement-minded, optimistic generation begin to come of age and you could say a lot of bad things about it too. Cobbold and Pollyanna-ish and all of this stuff. So, they're beginning to come of age. And then you have a generation that's entering midlife now, which is exactly like in the '30s. The last generation, which is Generation X. These are the pragmatists. These are the cynics. They never expected anything. And the last generation never expect anything, by the way, they never got it. GRANT WILLIAMS: They never got it. Right. Yeah. NEIL HOWE: So, they were the poorest generation of elders relative to the young in American history back in the late 50s, early 60s. So, that's the new generation X moving into midlife, they're going to be the decision makers in this next crisis that people have to make the decisions on the ground. And then you have a highly moralistic and visionary, idealistic generation of elders. That was FDR. That was Henry Stimson. That was Albert Einstein. That was that generation, a misionary generation, entering old age. That was the constellation back then. It's the constellation we have today. And one thing, as we go on today, we might look at who's going to play the role of the great champion. GRANT WILLIAMS: History provides many clues as to the nature of fourth turnings, and having Neil out, the unseen brought everything into much sharper relief. NEIL HOWE: This is the reflecting pool that goes along the mall. It is magnificent. Keep in mind that this layout of the mall and the reflecting pools is almost a laying out or putting on display all of America's fourth turnings. The one end, you've got the Lincoln Memorial with all of his Gettysburg address and the second inaugural address. In the middle, you have World War II monument. Further down, you have the Washington Memorial, the father of our country, the Revolutionary War. Slightly off to one side, you have the Jefferson Memorial. And then at the extreme far end, facing Lincoln, is Ulysses S. Grant in a very dynamic kinetic memorial to his more active role in that conflict. So, it's really amazing, right? You see all of our nation's foundational turning points or constitutional resets. All along this D.C. mall. GRANT WILLIAMS: And conflict, to your point, is conflict, it's resolution. It's always conflict. NEIL HOWE: It's always conflict. And in some cases, it's to what stress does the action? It's a great contrast here with the Grant Memorial, which is all about the guy who was in charge of bringing it to the completion, the executor, the general, the guy who had to send all these soldiers to their deaths. And on the other hand, the great champion, Abraham Lincoln, with all of his morals and principles about why we fought this war and what it represented. So, in one way, the symbol, the ideal, and on the other hand, the action. And when we talk about generational types, Grant and Lincoln, two very different generations that as so often the case in fourth turnings, they're able to work together. GRANT WILLIAMS: Yeah. The idea of conflict is everywhere and talking to Neil left me no doubt as to the importance of understanding that dynamic in the coming years. Something that the memorial to the Korean War made painfully obvious. So, this is a whole different ball of wax. That's what, they completed it. NEIL HOWE: This is a different war. This is a different generation. And this was the silent generation, man. Well, there's still a lot of GIs were still serving. This was the second war, right, meant to preserve the peace. Not to gain anything new, simply to preserve what had been won. The generation that fought in this was very much known for bringing a whole different dimension to you. This generation made its news as a college class of '49 taking no chances as Fortune magazine said at the bottom of their magazine. They didn't want to change the world. They wanted- or change the system, they went to work within the system, right? So, they kept their heads down. This is the generation that didn't want anything to go on their permanent record. During the McCarthy era, in the early '50s when the GIs, now beginning to settle down with kids were chewing themselves apart for who was and was not a member of the Communist Party. This generation said nothing. They were squeaky clean, right? And they were going to get in all the plump positions by remaining spotless, taking no risk. They were the ones who wanted the 30 or invisible handshakes with their employer, getting married in their early age, wearing the suit and ties- just doing everything by the letter, right? And this somewhat traumatized generation, because they were the children of the Great Depression and World War II. So, they knew at what cost this new order had been built. Their mission was not to mess it up. Not to mess it up. To be the technicians to keep it going. Now, Korean war came alliance, Truman declared it was a police action. And it had no possibility of victory. That old Warhurst MacArthur was jettison, we were actually going to beat China or do anything like that, just to maintain the status quo. So, here you have this generation, and think of the different psychological feelings. You look at this from the GI Memorial, right? So, you've got 38 soldiers, 38 months, fighting for the 38th parallel, and then it's all here. A meaningless number, the Chosen Few. But I think when you look at this, these guys, the one thing that always interests me is they all look very interesting as individuals. Not like with you, guys, not like you were [inaudible], where they're all just- they all have an interior life. And they're all wandering with these paunches through horrible weather to where? GRANT WILLIAMS: Well, and they sit apart, they sit apart from each other. NEIL HOWE: Yeah, they sit apart. And who knows where they're going exactly? GRANT WILLIAMS: But, this is it rather, they're all looking in different directions. NEIL HOWE: Exactly. So, it's a little bit of that. We're obeying orders, we're doing our duty, but to win it. And ultimately, to win was a great word except simply finally, at the end, to redraw the same ceasefire line at the beginning of the war? Wow, that's an achievement. GRANT WILLIAMS: Yeah. To your point earlier on. It just shows you the different mindset of a generation. So, they're not just the generation depicted by these memorials, but the generation who've commissioned it and built it and designed it and maybe they're the same generation, but I suspect not. NEIL HOWE: So, interestingly, this was done in the early '90s. I think this is actually Christened or brought out to the public in 1993, much before the World War II Memorial. And in a second, we're going to go over to the Vietnam Memorial, which is actually brought out even earlier. It just shows you how boomers dominate everything, right? Boomers got their monument first. And what we see with the Vietnam Memorial is something completely different than this very human, personal, sophisticated portrait of a generation that we really feel you want to know as people. This isn't the greatest generation. This is the nicest generation. GRANT WILLIAMS: I find this one really moving. And I think it is just because it's so personal. NEIL HOWE: It's pointed. GRANT WILLIAMS: It's pointed. Exactly right. NEIL HOWE: You look at each one of these people and you almost recognize someone. Yeah, I totally agree with that. GRANT WILLIAMS: But let's go and take a look at the Vietnam War because it is very different. And again, it just tells this continuing story about how the generations change. And there's a lot to talk about, and specifically the boomer generation, which, when we get to the capital, and we talk a little bit about the policies of it all. It's so important to understand the whole they've had over the entire American society for such a long time that's now under threat. Well, let's go take a look. NEIL HOWE: All right. GRANT WILLIAMS: The Vietnam War caused a painful schism in American society, one reflected in the starkness of its memorial. And Neil explained to me why that was important in shaping the decades to follow. NEIL HOWE: Here we have a monument to the war fought by boomers, the next generation. The next war. This war was fought by the children of the greatest generation. This war was much more costly than Korea. And it didn't end up as a stalemate, it ended up as a failure in the minds of many people. Now, you could make a long geopolitical argument about how this was a holding action on behalf of the effort to stem China and Russia and so on. But it was widely regarded at the time by all sides as a failure. McNamara and Dean Raskin, FDR and LBJ and all the people who supported it thought they'd failed. And those who opposed it certainly thought it was a failure. So, there you have it. The names of 50,000 odd casualties written on the wall in this very moralistic statement, and I will have to say, the design caused a tremendous amount of countries you can imagine, culture wars prompted by boomers even then, what was this angry scar of shame that we have. What's the triumph? There's nothing ennobling here and to a lot of boomers, that's the point. Nothing didn't know why and this is the truth. So, boomers are a generation that are experts on the truth. They know what the truth really is. And they insisted on it. This was their truth. This design prevailed. That's the kind of memorial we have. GRANT WILLIAMS: Yeah. You bring up truth. And it's something that we'll talk about a little bit later on, because this was really the first generation that started to just fundamentally disbelieve the government. Their most important principle was to disbelieve the government. There was a lot of controversy around what they were hiding, what they weren't talking about, what they were trying to keep from the public. And was this the really the beginning of the death of truth or the reinvention of truth? NEIL HOWE: It's the reinvention of truth. And remember, this was part of the whole awakening. This is all part of the late '60s and '70s. Truth is what's inside each one of us. Truth was not embodied by institutions or by officials or by bureaucracies or hierarchies. Truth is what each one of us knows. And the only reality in that war, it's like almost Hemingway coming back to life- are the names and dates and places of the dead. And that's what we will show, right? And so, this has become, with boomers, part of this very much, this postmodern sensibility. There's a lot more to talk about there and unpack, but certainly, boomers have redefined truth as something very perceptible, very relativistic and atavistic to each person's convictions. And how that's changing now a we get closer to the next crisis perhaps is very interesting and how it's changing in the hands of millennials. GRANT WILLIAMS: Well, I want to talk about that. Because I think that's a key part of this battle now that we're- you and I have been working our way through Washington today to hopefully talk about this really important battle that is just unashamed. It's not just about the fourth turning and what happens at that stage, but it's about the battle within that, for power, for control, for politics, for the hearts and minds of the people and how that battle is being fought. NEIL HOWE: Well, one of the great truths that boomers brought to the culture was this idea that whatever you're most passionate about, who's ever most passionate has the truth, right? And who's ever feeling the most pain is closest to the truth. Right? And that's very much what I would consider a postmodern doctrine, right? The personal side of truth. Well, what that means is, as this generation has become the dominate America, right? They're clearly the elder leadership generation of America. It means that's how we see truth on all sides, right? If you're the most passionate about it, regardless of whether it accords with the facts, that becomes the truth. GRANT WILLIAMS: Well, that's exactly what's happening. NEIL HOWE: So, ironically, boomers quest for the passionate and the truthful, or the truthful in the passionate has led to today what we call fantasy land, a post-truth world. GRANT WILLIAMS: A post-truth world. NEIL HOWE: And where each side invents the truth depending on their own degree of passion. GRANT WILLIAMS: And then put and clings onto it with such passion. NEIL HOWE: Right, because it's the passion that creates the truth. And that's true both on the left and right today. I think with Trump's victory in 2016, that was the right moving that direction. Yeah, Trump, not really can't- you remember the great comment after Trump won by all the conservatives, just playing in their progressives, they basically said you took them literally, you didn't take them seriously. And now with the rise of AOC and the rise of many people now on the left, it's their turn to say that. AOC is saying that. You take me literally, you don't take me seriously. So, the left is finding their own post-truth voice. And that's where we're going into now as we move on to 2019 and 2020. GRANT WILLIAMS: The post-truth world really amplifies the dangerous post by fourth turning. Fittingly, the sky is dark, and the rain began to fall as Neil and I walked towards the Capitol where waiting for us was a man who's seen generational change in politics from the inside as a trusted advisor to four presidents of Economics and Trade. A mutual friend, Dr. Harald Malmgren. HARALD MALMGREN: It is quite remarkable how we are going now through reexamination of the fundamentals. And even the Constitution of the US which looked for a long time, rock solid is being tested probe as to who has which power, the President, the Congress, the courts. NEIL HOWE: This is connected to a broader thing that I see happening, not just in America but around the world. And that is this rise of populism and authoritarian models of government. It's happening in Europe. It's happening big time, we saw last year in Latin America. We saw with Amlo taking over Mexico and then Jair Bolsonaro. And then we look at Southeast Asia and all these new charismatic popular leaders appealing to their ethnic religious majority. That's just a pattern over all of the large nations from the Philippines, all the way to India. So, that's where we are and it's just important to realize that we get so caught up in Trump and the left and where the millennials going socialist and so on. We don't stop and pause and think this is part of a broader rhythm. GRANT WILLIAMS: But it makes sense because the generations are global. This is not an American generation, it's a global generation. NEIL HOWE: Because remember that the post-World War II settlement of that era was a global settlement. HARALD MALMGREN: To me, there's another overlay which goes back to something you said partly. We're seeing the appearance of more and more autocrats, personalityNEIL HOWE: Strong man. HARALD MALMGREN: Strong man. And I've been thinking about this years ago, in the '70s and '80s. I sometimes I go into Moscow and so I got familiar with that decision system. And it was all built around the chairman of the party, but it was a country run by a handful of strong men. Looking around today, what's been quietly going on without our paying much attention is gradually, our businesses and our economy are increasingly concentrated in two or three dominant players in each field, the airlines, example, for airlines, that's it. We are becoming highly concentrated. In the '70s, it wouldn't have happened. We would have had the monopoly policies that work. But now, to me, it's oligarchies. We're looking a lot like Russia. And if you know China well enough, it's a certain number of interests that are either stay enterprise or wealthy families. And they are in a way, a group of oligarchs that have chosen to run the economy. It's not something we think about, but we are edging towards highly concentrated power in the hands of few. So, where does this go? With artificial intelligence and the Chinese social credit system, you can watch everybody, you can manage everybody, you have control theoretically. You can coerce to a certain extent. And how long before society goes against that once again. But we're at that point now. We're not really looking at ourselves allowing this high concentration, which is also resulting in high concentration of wealth and widening wealth gap. So, which is going to be an increasingly central part of political debate. GRANT WILLIAMS: When we're talking about this generational change in politics, and you were obviously in the White House when Kennedy was in office and there was a point where we had a young, generational change of a leader of a country. So, just take us back and just talk about the mood and the feeling both before Kennedy took office and after and any shifts that you saw in terms of the public- I don't know, just whether it's a feel-good factor or whether it's a sense of a torch that had actually been passed, and we could forget the tension. HARALD MALMGREN: That was a really exciting time. Because if you had something you think should be done, and you had the determination, you would get the authority to go do it. Nixon, strangely enough for all is worth, understood exactly what I'm talking about. So, when I was brought back, he has been privately telling me, are you a Republican or Democrat? I said, yes. He said, what does that mean? I said, I'm a problem solver. I'm interested in getting things done. And that requires gathering a number of people that have a sense of common purpose and making something happen. Well, that worked at that time. But now if you can imagine it today, it just doesn't exist. Everything is polarized and people talking to each other cross-party is treated as treason. The collegiality is dead. GRANT WILLIAMS: When you look at the millennial generation today, both of you, what do you see as perhaps the advantage of them coming through? And what do you see as perhaps the drawback's based on? NEIL HOWE: The first thing is I always point out because it's unfair to compare any generation at the current age like millennials. Well, it's very important to remember because before World War II, if you ask most people what they would have thought the greatest generation, no one would have thought they were great. There were these poor kids that are getting battered by the Great Depression, but no one knew what they were capable of. If you just confined yourself to the early elements which is protected upbringing, moral panic over kids, the faith in community, and the optimism and the rebirth of a new much more solidaristic peer community, which polices each other. That was actually noticed by a number of sociologists back in the 1920s of teens and people in their early 20s, about how these young people were actually policing their own behavior. Just, it reminds me Facebook today, right? You police your own behavior. You call people out. They don't say something that's right. So, I say it has all the early elements of that. And the tremendous achievement orientation. This, the GI generation was a left-brain generation. They really thought if you have a project, start with a- plan it from the top down. You can get it done. And I think the millennials in a way are also a very left-brain generation. And they think if you can define it digitally, put together Google and Pentagon and they can build it. HARALD MALMGREN: True. I think the spirit of getting together and doing something is there with this emerging array of generations, but not much feel for how do you execute? GRANT WILLIAMS: How does politics- because regardless of whether the millennials take over power just yet, they're voting. And so, politics is going to have to change to adapt to policies that will attract millennial votes. I mean it's the biggest generation we've ever seen, how do you see politics changing to try and appeal to millennials? HARALD MALMGREN: Right now, to take what's going on the Democratic Party, everybody is trying out their plan to resolve something. People are trying to win by talking to each other on grand ideas, but it's almost irrelevant to governing the country. The ideas don't govern, people govern, and they have toGRANT WILLIAMS: But you have to galvanize the electorate around something. HARALD MALMGREN: Yeah. That's right. So, how do you do that? They have to move around not just with the farmers or the people in Iowa, you have to move around the whole economy and in a sense, to me, you have to build a base with a wide range of the economy. And a lot of these young people want to do something tomorrow morning, it takes time to do that, to build that power structure. It's a multi, almost multidecade process. And I don't see any politicians doing that right now. But they will have to get there if they've got all this stuff. Being in a scramble, how do we get this done? So, we'll come to that. But we're not there yet. Right now, we're in ideological warfare. And that's unproductive. NEIL HOWE: But I would say beneath the obvious better polarization and the red zone, blue zone and all that, is this ebbing of any kind of trust to a record low level. And what that means is, and we already saw it on the conservative side in 2016. I think we're going to see it. I think we began to see it in 2018 in the byelection, we're going to see a big time in 2020. So, you can see same thing on the progressive side, and that is, I'm not afraid to make a big leap. And then yeah, things might be dicey. They might be scary, but we'll just learn on the fly. I think we're at that moment. And I think that the one of the reasons why people were willing to elect Trump was that a lot of people and a lot of independence, not just Republicans just said, I just want something really different. GRANT WILLIAMS: Yeah. How bad can it be? NEIL HOWE: I don't want to repair the old system. I want a wrecking ball to come in there and just start building over. And I think you now see that. I think that's ominous actually, because you see the same thing on the Democratic side. Let's go for socialism, let's go for social democracy or democratic socialism, or do you even care about the difference between the two of them anyway? Well, I don't think anyone even knows the difference between it. But this is new. Now, back when we wrote- Bill and I wrote generations and later on the fourth turning, we have a lot of what I call down cards when it comes to what millennials are going to be? That is to say things which we predicted about them but hadn't yet appeared. And one by one, they all started appearing. The closeness with parents and the risk aversion and all these various things started appearing. But the one thing that did not appear, was just a new political activism. And we have predicted that. We have predicted this was going to be as politically dominant a generation young as Gen Xers were politically recessive generation young. And I think there's no question that Gen Xers have been a very recessive generation. Gen X and I'm talking about anyone born between 1961 and 1981 basically, that group have been record slow to arrive to power that is to say fill the governorships, fill the House members, fill the Senate. Millennials, when were they going to show this political activism? I think the first sign of that might have been 2018 when they had a 50% rise, unprecedented rise in their voter participation rate in the byelection. GRANT WILLIAMS: But that was a direct reaction to Trump's election. NEIL HOWE: Totally. GRANT WILLIAMS: Yeah. NEIL HOWE: And it says- whatever you want to believe about Trump, Trump has absolutely succeeded in getting Americans participate in politics. We have a story about that in this country, right? Americans aren't participating in politics, Trump has remedied that. GRANT WILLIAMS: But did you think this millennial generation and their objection to anything being labeled, nothing should be labeled. Everything should become fluid. Does that help this idea of socialism? Because people almost rebel. Once you label something, this generation almost instinctively rebels against it. Does that help the cause of socialism? Because they don't remember. They don't really pay attention. If you label it as that, it's kind of no, we're not going to listen to your label. We may call it something else. NEIL HOWE: I don't think millennials care one way or another about labels. And I think that millennials don't like to deemphasize a lot of the ideological divisions in the so-called litmus test that older generations often have. And so, what the millennial idea would be, okay, what if I'm a socialist? What if I'm not a socialist? Let's get beyond that. Let's try to solve certain problems here. GRANT WILLIAMS: Harald, do you seeHARALD MALMGREN: There are two things that I see. I can't, myself, judge well, but there's a streak on that, in that next gen broadly speaking of we need to do things, climate change, or the income disparities and so forth. There is an element of we need coercion, we need to find ways for coercion of the people who won't go along, especially EPE type of stuff. We have to create laws and punish. That worries me because we're entering a time when it's going to increasingly be possible for governments to maintain almost omnipresent surveillance. And so, coercion, the tools will be there. So, there's some risk that the way this ends up is centralized autarky because the tools are there. And the temptation is to use the tools. NEIL HOWE: This whole business of coercion is really interesting. When the words we've been usingauthoritarian, strong man, dictatorial, centralized- is all implied coercion. What justifies coercion? Crisis. GRANT WILLIAMS: Yeah. Back there again. NEIL HOWE: Right? That's been true throughout history. And what better to strengthen the public sector government, top down executive authority, even the executive relative to the other branches of government? Nothing does that better than crisis. Because in a crisis, you know you've got to act as one unit, and people are scared. GRANT WILLIAMS: In the next episode, Neil and I continue our conversation with Harald Melbourne, before weighing up all what we've learned about a day in D.C. on trying to figure out what the lessons of history can teach us about the likely future for markets, politics and society on the other side of the fourth turning. HARALD MALMGREN: Let's take a scenario that within a year or two, we'll have a financial crash, revolutionary things will happen, and it will challenge capitalism as people see it. NEIL HOWE: Financial crisis is very much linked to economic crisis, which is very often linked to military and geopolitical crisis, right? And it all has to be solved with one enormous effort. And once that is resolved, once that is overcome, we then get to reset all the rules of the game.