Donald Trump had his own Svengali. His name is Steve Bannon.
As it turns out, Donald Trump was, and probably still is, the key to Steve Bannon’s Fourth Turning apocalyptic vision of America. Steve Bannon, a strident determinist, is besotted with the ruminations of the late William Strauss and futurist Neil Howe as detailed in their 1997 bestseller, The Fourth Turning. The book postulates that history is divided into cycles of 80 to 100 years, each of which comprises a saeculum. Each seaculum consists of four turnings, the last of which is characterized by upheaval and chaos. We are, according to the book, well into the fourth turning of the current saeculum.
As such, Bannon believes the future is pre-ordained and that we’re all spectators, indeed, victims of a chaotic future. Bannon believes that an apocalyptic future is bearing down on us, and we can do nothing except, perhaps, help bring it about and shape its aftermath consistent with his view of what America should be. In that sense, Bannon looms as a menacing persona eager to play a major part in a surreal drama in which a new America emerges from the ashes of an old, and in his view, decrepit and misguided order.
He does not see the ebb and flow of momentous events and the continued and sometimes torturous evolution toward a more enlightened, inclusive, and prosperous society in America. He sees, instead, a downward slide toward disintegration. So, believing that chaos and disorder in America are inevitable, Bannon saw in Trump an opportunity to incite and guide the inevitable disorder to an outcome consistent with his notion of a better, more authoritarian, America. Something on the order of Hungry or Poland, or, perhaps, Turkey would, I suspect, do just fine.
True, Trump angrily fired Bannon early on as his Chief Strategic Advisor because the former Breitbart News chief was such a divisive presence in the west wing, a media lightning rod, and, viewed by many, as a sort of Svengali puppet-master, with Trump playing the puppet.
However, the former President had and has, knowingly or unknowingly, embraced Bannon’s vision of, and enthusiasm for, chaos and the politics of destruction. That’s what his election-hoax strategy is all about. He began telegraphing the election hoax strategy before the first vote was cast. In fact, he telegraphed an election hoax strategy before the Trump-Clinton election in 2016, which he assumed he was going to lose.
Trump lambasted Bannon when he dismissed him but has since described Bannon as “one of my best pupils.” Bannon, however, was, and probably still is, far more the teacher than the pupil, although the pupil would never admit or even understand that.
Bannon and Trump (actually, Trump because of Bannon) both believed that January 6th would (or could) be the pre-ordained penultimate event that would usher in the crisis and chaos that The Fourth Turning predicts is inevitable and which would presage a new authoritarian paradigm for America. While Trump has referred to the book as “too dark,” he has pursued the chaos predicted by The Fourth Turning with enthusiastic zeal. Just listen to the gleeful rantings of both Trump and Bannon before the deadly January 6th insurrection.
Trump: “Statistically impossible to have lost the 2020 Election… “Big protest in DC on January 6th. Be there. It will be wild!”
Bannon: “All hell will break loose tomorrow. It will be quite extraordinarily different. I’ll tell you this it’s not going to be like you think it’s going to happen. OK, it’s going to be quite extraordinarily different. And all I can say is strap in. Tomorrow is game day. So many people said, ‘Man if I were in a revolution, I would be in Washington.’ Well, this is your time in history.”
It certainly seems Bannon was envisioning something more than a hail, hail, the gangs all here peaceful protest. Steve Bannon has fully embraced the apocalyptic predictions laid out in The Fourth Turning and has worked zealously as a catalyst to accelerate the implosion of social and civic order in America, as predicted by Howe and Strauss. That Bannon saw January 6th as the linchpin for America’s fourth turning into darkness seems inescapable, and his “all hell is going to break loose tomorrow” broadcast on the eve of the insurrection certainly suggests there was nothing spontaneous about the deadly attack at the Capitol.
This is how Strauss and Howe described the great American collapse: “A sudden spark will catalyze a crisis mood… remnants of the old social order will disintegrate. Political and economic trust will implode. Real hardship will beset the land, with severe distress that could involve questions of class, race, nation, and empire.” Sometime before 2025 (Strauss and Howe wrote, a quarter-century ago), “America will pass through a great gate in history” and “the very survival of the nation will feel at stake.” And so, an election hoax strategy was conjured, and a Stop-the- Steal-Rally was meticulously planned and unleashed. Indeed, the nation’s very survival as a constitutional democracy was at stake at the January 6th insurrection that was kicked off at the Bannon-Trump Stop-the-Steal Rally.
This reasoning has become holy grail to Bannon. For the new order to take root, the old order has to come crashing down, and it seems clear that he believed January 6th could be the catalyzing event that ended American constitutional democracy. As Linette Lopez wrote in The Insider, “Bannon demonstrated…that he’s willing to advise Trump to enact policies disruptive to the current order to bring about what he perceives as a necessary new one.” In this sense, he was trying to bring about the Fourth Turning.
Because I am not a determinist, I am not overly impressed with The Fourth Turning. While judgments can be made and should be made based on historic trends and cycles, the certainty with which Strauss and Howe forecast apocalyptic collapse in America is extreme and, to the extent it energizes people like Bannon to influence people like Trump to bring about such a calamity it is both creepy and dangerous.
I question whether Donald Trump would knowingly or deliberately participate in an effort to cause mayhem as envisioned in The Fourth Turning, or the widespread collapse of civil order in America, but I certainly do believe he was willing to aggressively promote the negation of an election that didn’t go his way. Bannon saw the overthrow of the election as part of a much more significant historical event. He saw it as an essential requisite to the total collapse of America as we know it and the establishment of a new American order as he envisions it.
The Trump-Bannon phenomenon is alive and well, but January 6th did not turn out as they planned. Their efforts to corrupt the 2021 election failed, but they won’t stop trying. And you can bet the battle plan for 2024 is in place. Either Trump or his hand-selected candidate wins, or we’ll be traumatized with yet another attempt to overthrow an election.
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