In a prior post we analyzed the ramifications of Brexit under the Lenses of Wisdom. With Donald Trump's election to the Presidency in the United States, we can now see the same phenomenon arriving at our doorstep. Indeed, just like the British press covering Brexit, the Wall Street Journal has described the Trump election as an "earthquake." Bloomberg has demoted Brexit to "tremor" in preparation for the Trump "earthquake".
We also examined the collapses in the Republican party created by
the ascendency of Donald Trump ("The Former Candidate's Speech") and his estrangement from the rest of the party ("Watching An Avalanche In Real Time"), which we can now apply to the Democratic Party as well.
The possibility that a candidate like Donald Trump would ascend to leadership in this time period in the United States was foretold at least as early as 1997. In their seminal work, The Fourth Turning: An American Prophecy, historians and demographers William Strauss and Neil Howe, who coined the term "Millennial", employed cyclical or generational historical analysis to predict that the United States would enter a crisis period that would last from approximately 2005 to 2025. As they describe in their book -- again written in 1997:
"The next Fourth Turning is due to begin shortly after the new millennium, midway through the Oh-Oh decade. Around the year 2005, 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. Yet this time of trouble will bring seeds of social rebirth. Americans will share a regret about recent mistakes— and a resolute new consensus about what to do. The very survival of the nation will feel at stake. Sometime before the year 2025, America will pass through a great gate in history, commensurate with the American Revolution, Civil War, and twin emergencies of the Great Depression and World War II. The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule."
They are actually even more specific and offered the following as possible crises:
"Sometime around the year 2005, perhaps a few years before or after, America will enter the Fourth Turning. . . . [T]he following circa-2005 scenarios might seem plausible:
Well, we seem to already have had variations on three of those: Terrorists with planes, a financial crisis and a stalemate over the federal budget. Perhaps not fully believing what they wrote in 1997, the authors continue:
It's highly unlikely that any one of these scenarios will actually happen. What is likely, however, is that the catalyst will unfold according to a basic Crisis dynamic that underlies all of these scenarios: An initial spark will trigger a chain reaction of unyielding responses and further emergencies. The core elements of these scenarios (debt, civic decay, global disorder) will matter more than the details, which the catalyst will juxtapose and connect in some unknowable way. If foreign societies are also entering a Fourth Turning, this could accelerate the chain reaction.
As we have already seen from the Brexit post and elsewhere, foreign societies are also in the throes of this crisis phase.
Regarding the possibility of a Trump-like leader, they wrote what seemed rather implausible in 1997:
"A charismatic anti-intellectual demagogue could convert the ad slogans of the Third Turning into the political slogans of the Fourth: “No excuses.” “Why ask why?” “Just do it.” Start with a winner-take-all ethos that believes in action for action's sake, exalts strength, elevates impulse, and holds weakness and compassion in contempt. Add class desperation, antirationalism, and perceptions of national decline. The product, at its most extreme, could be a new American fascism."
And indeed, Donald Trump is made for TV marketing, anti-intellectual, holds weakness and compassion in contempt and based his campaign on "perceptions of national decline" seeking to "Make America Great Again." It remains too soon to tell whether this Presidency will resemble "a new American fascism," but that die has been cast.
Looking at this situation first through the Fractal Lens, we can again see that, like Brexit, the earthquake metaphor is an apt one, both in terms of the election itself and its effect on the Democratic Party. Both parties are best modeled by the sand-pile complexity model:
"[W]e can envision and model the two political parties as the sand-pile models of complexity theory. Each party builds its sand-pile slowly and carefully, building issues upon issues and attracting supporters. But eventually the piles become too high, the positions to brittle or outdated and the supporters die off, leaving fragile structures that are prone to collapse as more grains of sand are dropped. Alternative candidates represent grains of sand that might fall away harmlessly off the pile or might cause avalanches. Changes do not come gradually or in an orderly manner, but in fits and starts."
From the beginning of the United States, every person that has been elected president has either already served in public office or been a high-ranking member of the military. These were the essential prerequisites that virtually no one questioned. That trend has come to an abrupt end with the 45th President, who owes his fame to a long career in real estate and many other businesses, and a more recent stint on television.
Further, prior to this election, both parties were on more or less linear trends. The Republican trend was represented by the Bushes and the Democratic trend was represented by the Clintons, who were "supposed to" square off in this election if the linear view of history held.
As we discussed in the Brexit post, this kind of linear or teleological view of history is usually mistaken in the long run. In fact, as the sand-pile complexity model predicts, the larger and more rigid a structure becomes, the more it is prone to cracks and sudden collapses, like we have just witnessed.
Although they look not through the Fractal Lens at complexity theory, the Fourth Turning authors also recognized that the linear model is not accurate in the long term and leads to misjudgment about the future.
"To linearists, the future can often be reduced to a straight-line extrapolation of the recent past. Because they don't see any bends or reversals in what has already happened, they can't see any in what will happen. “Trends, like horses, are easier to ride in the direction they are already going,” writes Megatrends' John Naisbitt. It is likewise typical of linearism, new and old, to herald the imminent arrival of history's last act. Today's avid believers, just like the crowds who gathered around Reformation preachers, are apparently flattered into believing that they just happen be alive at the moment of mankind's ultimate transformation."
The Republicans saw their linear trend come to an end during their primary season. And now, with the election completed, the Democrats have experienced the jarring effect of an avalanche on their sand pile as well. What made it even more jarring is that it was largely unanticipated. Some poll watchers gave Donald Trump as little as a 1% chance of winning, while betting markets only gave him a 20-30% chance. Interestingly, Nassim Taleb of "Black Swan" fame was one of the few who applied a fractal type of analysis (stochastic) and recognized that Trump's chances of success were probably significantly higher -- and likely close to 50%. The actual result was very close to that with Clinton winning the popular vote and Trump winning the electoral college by roughly three states.
The Democratic side was also quite rigidly constructed on their one candidate, who was almost pre-ordained to take the nomination. This kind of structure made the party "fragile" in the lexicon of Taleb, and prone to this sort of avalanche and collapse. Whether -- or more likely, how -- the Democratic party will rebuild after the collapse of the Clinton sand-pile is uncertain. But we have already seen other piles building around persons such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, to name two possibilities for reconstruction.
Looking now through the Prospecting Lens, from all reports, the campaigns for and against were hotly contested and emotionally driven. Voters did not decide based on a rational System 2 calculations of what the specific relative benefits or drawbacks to their individual situations were likely to be. Instead, as in the Brexit vote, voters on both sides instead relied largely on System 1 heuristics, and in particular:
COHERENT STORIES (ASSOCIATIVE COHERENCE) and THE NARRATIVE FALLACY. To make sense of the world we tell ourselves stories about what’s going on. We make associations between events, circumstances, and regular occurrences. In our continuous attempt to make sense of the world we often create flawed explanatory stories of the past that shape our views of the world and expectations of the future.
Here, there were two competing narratives. The first, which is the linear history narrative described above, was the narrative of the destiny of the progressivism represented by Obama and Clinton. The counter-narrative was that progressive and free-trade policies had not in fact improved the lives of some Americans, particularly those living outside major metropolitan areas, and that they would be better off turning lashing out against the foreign-born and otherwise turning inward. The latter harkened back to basic notions of patriotism and the triumph of the little man. As a demographic survey of Trump voters showed, Trump voters were largely, white, native born, rural, middle-income, relatively uneducated and self-identify as "American" when asked about their ancestry.
Which narrative one preferred was not based on mathematical calculations, but largely on two other heuristics:
AFFECT. Emotions influence judgment. “People let their likes and dislikes determine their beliefs about the world;” and
AFFECTIVE FORECASTING. We are terrible at predicting what will make us happy. When asked the very difficult question, “Overall, how happy is your life?” we substitute an easier question, “How happy am I right now?” We don’t know our future selves very well.
Emotions regarding the election ran high, and both pre- and post-election rallies reflected it. But the biggest reason that voters cited for their choice was being against the other option. Voters voted their dislikes. Over half of Trump supporters were voting against Clinton and nearly half of Clinton voters were actually voting against Trump (survey). This was most pronounced among women voting for Trump (61% really voting against Clinton) and people under 30 voting for Clinton (71% really voting against Trump).
As with Brexit, there were discrepencies between the well-educated and less well educated, who feel as if they are being left behind. Many of the latter feel that only some U.S. citizens are reaping the benefits of the modern tech and/or global economy or are reaping them disproportionately. Polls revealed that voters with more degrees were more likely to have voted for Clinton, while those with more working-class backgrounds were more likely to have voted for Trump.
Differing from Brexit, however, post-election financial markets suggest that the biggest beneficiaries of a Trump presidency will be large banks, health insurance companies and drug makers and the oil and gas industry. This does not jive with the Trump-side narrative of benefits actually flowing to the little guy, but looks more like a throw-back to the early 2000s, at least in terms of rational expectations.
As with Brexit, many were concerned about how much the country had changed. The demographics of the voters revealed that older voters were much more likely to have voted for Trump than younger voters.
One can envision a typical Trump voter as an older man who works or has worked in a traditional industry related to manufacturing, mining or agriculture and is white, native born, rural, middle-income, does not have a college degree and self-identifies as "American" when asked about their ancestry per the demographic survey above. He may have children who are having difficulty finding steady work and are not doing as well as he did when he was younger. The place he lives has shuttered factories that used to manufacture consumer goods.
Meanwhile, the typical Clinton voter might be characterized as a recent college graduate who is female and had recently moved to a larger metropolitan area where the main industries are technology, education and healthcare. She may or may not be white and is probably most concerned with student loan debt and diversity or fair treatment in the workplace. She expects to stay in her current job five years or less. She sees little value in the past, as she associates it with discrimination against women and minorities, and is looking forward to the future. She views the world as getting smaller and herself as a "global citizen." (See additional voter survey.)
This leads to this additional System 1 heuristic:
THE HALO EFFECT. The warm emotion we feel toward a person, place, or thing predisposes us to like everything about that person, place, or thing. Good impressions tend to positively color later negative impressions and conversely, negative first impressions can negatively color later positive impressions.
In this case the Halo Effect attaches to the Clinton voter as an attachment to the idea of a progressive multi-cultural future, and attached to the Trump voter as an attachment to the nostalgia of a past that now seems relatively idyllic and certainly less complicated.
Both halos are idealized, but taken to extremes by the deranged have resulted in tragedies. Thus, in the months and weeks before the election we saw a man in Dallas Texas shoot a number of police officers on the motive of responding to police shootings of black people, and a man in Des Moines, Iowa shoot two police officers after being removed from a high school football game for displaying a Confederate flag during the national anthem and causing a disturbance. The perpetrator in the second incident said that he was angry with people, especially blacks, sitting during the national anthem. He also stalked one of the involved black parents a week later after another game. These incidents are still relatively rare, despite media-driven impressions to the contrary. Nevertheless, they do exist and there have been more incidents of violence and vandalism since the election, both by Trump supporters and opposers.
Finally, a look through the Mimetic Lens reveals just a little more that is similar to our view of Brexit.
The two narratives and their political representatives are obviously mimetic rivals. Both sides relied largely on emotional appeals and scare tactics to goad voters into supporting their side -- or more directly, to vote against the other side. Negative voting was the thing. What was perhaps most striking was division of rivals within political parties themselves, notably with many prominent Republican disavowing Trump. On the left, turnout and support for Clinton was down among young voters, who overwhelmingly supporter Bernie Sanders in the primary season. While Clinton still won the Millennial vote by a landslide over Trump, eight percent of Millennials voted for third parties, more than double who voted for third parties in 2012.
Much of the ugliest parts of the campaigns involved veiled or outright scapegoating. Some of the Trump side scapegoated immigrants and rallied around that issue. As discussed in an early post, Trump's rallies appealed to scapegoating in mass crowds.
Following the vote, the losing side has already taken to its own scapegoating. The Democratic party operatives who supported and facilitated the Clinton candidacy are taking the brunt of it.
"On Thursday, Democratic Party officials held their first staff meeting since Hillary Clinton’s stunning loss to Donald Trump in the presidential race. It didn’t go well.
Donna Brazile, the interim leader of the Democratic National Committee, was giving what one attendee described as “a rip-roaring speech” to about 150 employees, about the need to have hope for wins going forward, when a staffer identified only as Zach stood up with a question.
“Why should we trust you as chair to lead us through this?” he asked, according to two people in the room. “You backed a flawed candidate, and your friend [former DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz] plotted through this to support your own gain and yourself.""
But the real blaming has yet to begin. Aside from Trump himself, the relatively uneducated rural populace are the most likely targets, particularly in U.S. urban centers, which voted overwhelmingly for Clinton. There have been nightly protests in many cities since the election, as there were after the Brexit vote in places like London. Note that some in California are calling for a "Calexit", although it is difficult to take that effort very seriously at this point. Pro-Trump politicians and supporters will most certainly also be blamed for any negative effects outcomes, real or perceived. Meanwhile, the media on the Trump side are already scapegoating the protestors as well. And of course, everyone is claiming victimhood for their side as Rene Girard predicted was the result of the secularization of Christianity. From an earlier post:
"Girard takes the view that by upholding the rights of individuals not to be scapegoated by their communities, Christianity is in fact, the destroyer of religions and leads directly to current Western culture, which is fixated on individualism and the rights of victims."
If you compare this post to the one on Brexit, you will see that many of the words are the same and only the identity of the players has changed. This is because the patterns are the same, which is made crystal clear through the Lenses of Wisdom. As Mark Twain is reputed to have said (but probably didn't), "History does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme."
And so we will continue through our period of crisis, or Fourth Turning. We are left with the sobering thought from that book:
"The risk of catastrophe will be very high. The nation could erupt into insurrection or civil violence, crack up geographically, or succumb to authoritarian rule."
And finally, we harken back to the words of another crisis period that we survived by moving forward, albeit with a lot of ugly scars:
"The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise -- with the occasion. As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves [as in System 2 thinking, not System 1], and then we shall save our country."
I have always been curious about the way the world works and the most elegant ideas for describing and explaining it. I think I have found three of them.
I was very fond of James Burke's Connections series that explored interesting intersections between ideas, and hope to create some of that magic here.