Unit 9: 1980-2015 Reagan and The Modern Era


Reagan Era & Modern Times (Period 9)


Unit 8 Textbook Chapters: 

AMSCO Chapters 30-31 / American Pageant Chapters 41-42 Reading Guides (Optional but HIGHLY ENCOURAGED): 

American Pageant Chapters 41-42: 
If you do  not have your textbook yet, you may read American Pageant chapters online:

Chapter 41: The Conservative Revolution

Chapter 42: Facing the New Century


All videos are approximately 20 minutes each.

Nixon, Watergate and Carter (1969-81)

From Reagan To A New Century (1981-2005)


(alternate recorded lectures!)

The Resurgence of Conservatism, 1980–1992

Chapter Themes

Theme: Leading a conservative movement to power in Washington, Ronald Reagan vigorously pursued “new right” economic and social policies. Under Reagan and his successor George Bush, these policies brought both economic growth and massive budget deficits that put severe constraints on the federal government.

Theme: Religion pervaded American politics in the 1980’s; especially conspicuous was a coalition of conservative, evangelical Christians known as the religious right – led by Jerry Falwell, an evangelical from Virginia. An organization called the “Moral Majority” rose to oppose what they viewed as the moral deterioration of American values.

Theme: The 1980s saw a revival of Cold War confrontation, but the decade ended with the collapse of Communism, first in Eastern Europe and then in the Soviet Union itself. With the end of the Cold War and the U.S.-led victory over Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, America remained the world’s only superpower. A series of relatively small military interventions in the Caribbean, Africa, and the Balkans raised questions about the proper use of American force in the underdeveloped world.

Chapter Summary

Reagan led Republicans to sweeping victories in 1980 and 1984 over divided and demoralized Democrats. Riding a conservative national tide, Reagan pushed both his “supply-side” economic program of lower taxes and the “new-right” social policies, especially opposition to affirmative action, abortion, and drugs. These policies brought economic recovery and lower inflation, as well as record budget deficits that severely restricted “big government.”

The Supreme Court under Reagan and his successor, George Bush, became increasingly conservative, while the confirmation hearings of Justice Clarence Thomas highlighted issues of sexual harassment.

Reagan revived the Cold War confrontation with the Soviet Union, and engaged the United States in assertive military support for anti-leftist forces in Latin America and elsewhere. The ratcheting up of military spending, along with the attempted reforms led by Mikhail Gorbachev, contributed to the unraveling of Communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989–1991. With America as the only remaining superpower, George Bush led an international coalition to victory in the Persian Gulf War, but the Middle East remained a dangerous tinderbox despite new efforts to resolve the Israel-Arab conflict.

“Either we accept the responsibility for our own destiny, or we abandon the American Revolution and confess that an intellectual belief in a far-distant capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them for ourselves. You and I have a rendezvous with destiny. We can preserve for our children this last best hope of man on earth or we can sentence them to take the first step into a thousand years of darkness.”
 Ronald Reagan (1911–2004) (1964)

“Our decisions…establish that the party seeking to uphold a statute that classifies individuals on the basis of their gender must carry the burden of showing an ‘exceedingly persuasive justification’ for the classification.…That this statute discriminates against males rather than females does not exempt it from scrutiny or reduce the standard of review.” Sandra Day O’Connor (1930– ) (Opinion in Mississippi University for Women v. Hogan, 1982)

“We are not the sum of our possessions. They are not the measure of our lives. In our hearts we know what matters. We must give [our children] a sense of what it means to be a loyal friend, a loving parent, a citizen who leaves his home, neighborhood, and town better than he found it.” George Herbert Walker Bush (1924– ) (Inaugural address, 1989)



· The 1980s see the rise of neoconservatives in American politics and government. This group challenges most liberal domestic and foreign policies and favors laissez-faire capitalism.

· By 1980 the Republicans have recovered from Nixon’s resignation and Ford’s loss to Carter in 1976. Their candidate, former actor and Governor of CA Ronald Reagan, easily defeats Carter.

· Reagan promises to reduce the federal budget and bureaucracy and give more authority to the states. He slashes social programs that he sees as relics of a “welfare state” and seeks deep tax cuts. His supply-side economics has uneven results and does not dent unemployment.

· A staunch anti-communist, Reagan uses US troops for operations against leftist groups and government in the Western Hemisphere – in some cases, critics contend, a violation of the law.

· Reagan is reelected in a landslide, trouncing Democratic Senator Walter Mondale and Congresswoman Geraldine Ferraro.

· In his one term as president, George H.W. Bush’s most significant accomplishment is his organization of Operation Desert Storm, which drives the invading Iraqi army from Kuwait. Bush is unable to address the nation’s economic problems; his 1988 campaign promise not to raise new taxes is embarrassingly reversed. He loses the 1992 presidential race.

· Critics of Reagan’s supply-side economics contend that it merely allowed the rich to get richer. The nation was woefully in debt by the end of his presidency. Supporters, however, contend that Reagan’s policies reduced citizens’ dependence on the government, shrank the bureaucracy, and built an impressive military that persuaded the Soviet leadership to end the Cold War.

· Due in part to the ability of its leaders (some of whom were televangelists) to organize successfully at the grassroots level, the religious right began to play an increasingly important role in elections across the nation.

The America People Face a New Century

Chapter Themes

Theme: The United States underwent drastic economic and social change in the final decades of the twentieth century. The economic transformation from an “industrial age” to an “information age” produced new economic advances as well as a rapidly increasing income gap between the wealthy and the poor. Changes in women’s roles, the family, and the arrival of new immigrant groups substantially altered the ways Americans live and work.

Theme: Despite the weaknesses of television and problems in U.S. education, American culture, literature, and art remained the most dynamic and influential in the world. The new diversity of gender, ethnic, and racial voices contributed to the vital energy that made American democracy not simply a political system but an ever-changing source of fresh ideas and popular images.

chapter summary

In the 1980s and 1990s, the American culture and economy underwent dynamic changes from an age of heavy industry to an age of computerized information and mass culture. Science and education increasingly drove the new forms of wealth, and growth of new media and the Internet helped fuel a new economy linked with the rest of the world. The benefits of the new wealth did not reach everyone, however, as the gaps between those with education and those without contributed to an increasingly severe inequality in Americans’ wealth and income.

The decades-long movement into the workforce of women, including mothers of young children, opened ever-wider doors of opportunity, and contributed to changes in men’s roles as well as in family life. Women’s concern for issues of health and child care created a persistent political “gender gap” between Democrats and Republicans in national elections. With fewer families being formed, and fewer children being born to native-born Americans, the population began to age and the elderly became a potent lobbying force.

A vast new wave of immigration, especially from Asia and Latin America, brought newcomers seeking economic opportunity and liberties unavailable in their homelands. Hispanics, Asians, and Indians all asserted their own identity and pride, and made areas like the American Southwest a “bi-cultural zone.”

The problems of poverty, increasingly concentrated in inner cities ringed by affluent suburbs, remained stubborn and frustrating to millions of Americans, including many minorities. The African American community made great strides in education, politics, and other areas, but there was a growing gap between the upwardly mobile and those left behind. America’s cities were plagued by problems of drugs and crime, but the soaring crime rates of the 1980s were reversed and turned downward in the 1990s. In the same decade many cities began to show signs of renewal.

American culture remained incredibly dynamic and inventive, both in “high culture” and “pop culture.” The new voices of westerners, women, African Americans, Asians, and others were increasingly influential and popular, contributing to the variety, energy, and humor of U.S. society. Beginning with the postwar “abstract expressionist” movement in New York City, American visual arts and architecture also led worldwide revolutions in taste and transformed the nature of urban life.

America was born a revolutionary force in the world. In the twentieth century it became more conservative in a world swept by global change. Yet the powerful values of American democracy presented persistent challenges to Americans to live up to their high ideals as “the last, best hope on earth.”


· Science and technology have an enormous impact on nearly every aspect of American life. In addition, they open up new employment fields while eliminating outmoded means of production.

· The gap between wealth and poverty widens.

· Women continue to make significant strides in entering every aspect of American life, including what were once male professional and educational bastions.

· With older baby boomers retiring, an enormous burden is being placed on the institutions and agencies designed to assist senior citizens.

· A new wave of immigrants, some illegal, has reshaped the American demographic landscape. Many of today’s immigrants hail from Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia, and Africa.

· Minorities have made significant strides but still lag behind in most economic indicators of financial success.

· Historically, the nation has had the resources to address its domestic and international concerns. The challenges posed in the twenty-first century will test how effectively we continue to use those resources

· Slightly more than one in three American lives at or below the poverty lines.

· Given their numbers, need for social services, and traditionally low-paying jobs, illegal immigrants have become a hot-button issue. Debates rages over whether illegal immigrants contribute more to the economy in taxes and consumer spending than they extract.

Reagan Era Review