People often claim that the current election, whichever one it may be, is “the most important election of your lifetime.” That’s always a fairly accurate statement – mostly because it is the only one you can have an immediate impact on.
But this one, November 2020, is different. I would even argue that it is only the second most important election of your lifetime: the first was in 2016, and this one – like the election in 1864 – only settles the deal made four years previously.
I am a fan of a particular book, The Fourth Turning by Neil Howe and William Strauss, originally published in 1996. The authors make the case that every 80 years or so a major crisis is brought to a head, with 20 years of tumult known as a “fourth turning” leading up to the critical point where the crisis must be resolved. Hopefully, it is solved in a positive manner culminating in stability until the next “fourth turning.” According to their original theory, the modern-day crisis was to start somewhere around 2005, and it has since been theorized that the 2008 recession heralded the beginning of the two-decade crisis period.
The period around 1860 – 160 years ago – was one of these “fourth turnings,” as was the period including the Great Depression and World War II, 80 years ago.
All of the markers of a crisis period as described in the book are present: a lack of faith in institutions, an economic collapse, political leaders who are much more demagogic in their behavior, leaders aggravating public pressure, and ultimately a long partisan tug of war that will be fully and finally settled (often including a political realignment).
Which begs the question: what major crisis is currently brewing? Personally, I think it is the fundamental question of socialism versus free-market capitalism. Control by the few for the benefit of the few (which includes both socialism and crony capitalism), versus control by the many for the benefit of the many. Socialism versus capitalism has become a heated debate, central to both the 2016 and 2020 presidential elections.
Into this fray came Donald Trump – and for that matter, Bernie Sanders. Trump, for all of his faults, has recognized this problem of socialism versus capitalism since the 80s. He doesn’t approach it like a professor of cultural studies; he speaks like a construction worker (or farmer or factory worker) about politicians making stupid deals that hurt regular Americans, about regulations that kill business and the jobs those businesses create. He talks about our leaders getting us into wars without end, and about the rest of the world taking advantage of us. He has been remarkably consistent on these themes since the 1980s.
The election in 2016 was between Trump and a continuation of the status quo. Between bringing opportunity back to regular Americans or more lopsided trade deals, wars without end, and more control by Washington D.C. regulators. It was a battle for opportunity for regular people, especially those in the areas most devastated by decades of trade deals that favored the rest of the world over every American who wasn’t in finance, technology, or entertainment – in other words, all of middle America.
And Trump won.
The insiders who had power for decades started fighting back immediately.
By the way, the same thing happened in 1860 – they tried to assassinate Abraham Lincoln on his way to the inauguration!
They were relatively easier on Trump; they used all of the power of the state (and most of the media) to try to delegitimize his presidency with the ultimate goal of having him removed from office. Nice try – they failed.
In spite of all their efforts, Trump delivered. He is in the process of rebuilding America as a country of opportunity for the forgotten men and women of fly-over country. From new trade deals to regulatory relief, he has delivered on his promises. Whether in trade or mutual defense, no other country is taking advantage of the US. He said he would appoint judges who would protect our Constitution and he has. No more endless wars; he is the first president in forty years to not start a war.
But just like in 1864, the deal isn’t done yet.
In the summer of 1864, it looked like Lincoln would be defeated by one of the generals that he had fired, Democrat George McClellan. Had McClellan won, it is widely believed that he would have accepted a peace deal with the South and the United States would not exist as we know it today. For that matter, the whole world would be different. There would have been no nation strong enough to stand up to both Germany and Japan 80 years later. See, a Fourth Turning is indeed a big deal. Fortunately, due to the successes of Sherman and Sheridan in Atlanta and the Shenandoah Valley, respectively, prior to the election, Lincoln cruised into November with momentum in the war on his side, and the United States remained united.
This summer, the media ensured us that Trump would lose the election. I do not think that is the case; Trump already has the clear victories that he said he would win. A new trade deal with Japan where they will buy our agricultural products without tariffs for the first time ever. A much better agreement with Mexico and Canada to prevent Europeans circumventing the rules to gain an advantage over us. He stood up to China, the first American president to recognize the threat they pose, and he made NATO pay its fair share. He cut silly, onerous regulations at a breakneck pace, replacing them with smart, modern regulations that achieve desired goals without crushing entrepreneurs. In short, he did what he said he would do: he accomplished vital goals that resonated with the forgotten men and women of fly-over country.
Just like the election in 1864, if this one goes the wrong way a die will be cast that will change America forever, and likely the rest of the world. Think about what the world today and history would look like if Lincoln had not won: not only would there not have existed a country to save the world from Japan and Germany, but one of the best presidents in our history would likely be remembered as one of the worst. Had Lincoln not been re-elected, he would be remembered as the president who lost the Union, who shredded the constitution by suspending the writ of habeas corpus, and as the president who arrested most of the Maryland State Legislature to keep them from voting to secede. His actions would have been remembered as dreadful mistakes, not drastic but necessary measures that preserved the country we live in today.
And like 1864, the path we would go down with the Democrats would be a path to a future that is less bright. A future with fewer opportunities for Americans; one that would likely be dominated by China rather than America.
McClellan clearly did not want to defeat the South and win the Civil War, and Biden clearly does not think China is a threat.
This election will most likely settle the question of how we will live for the next 80 years, until the next Fourth Turning. Just like Lincoln in 1860, it all started when an unlikely champion of the people won an improbable victory and became president of the greatest nation on earth at an incredibly important turning point. It is second, in your lifetime, only to the election of 2016.