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Current time:0:00Total duration:9:43

Video transcript

- [Instructor] From our first lesson focusing on the migration of indigenous people to the landmass that today comprises the United States, we've made it all the way to the present, a journey in time of more than 15,000 years. We've looked most closely at the last 500 years starting with the arrival of Europeans in the Americas. Now, in this last unit we're focused just on the last 40 years of American history from 1980 until the present. How can we examine something that's so close to us in time? We're still in this era. It doesn't have a name, not like the Gilded Age or the Revolutionary Era, at least not yet. Maybe this is the post-Cold War era or the post-9/11 era? Maybe it will be defined by the changes brought by technology and we'll call it the Information Age. Trying to think historically about the present gives us a better understanding of what it was like to live in the past, to not know what was coming next or how to interpret all the complex threads of politics, society, and culture weaving together around you. Life is messy and confusing. We don't know if we're living in a tragic era or a triumphant one, neither did the people who lived in 1940 or 1860 or 1770. So years from now when historians write about the period from 1980 to 2020 in the United States what will they say? Well, let's pretend for a few minutes that we are those historians from the future. Maybe we're living on a space station a few hundred years from now enjoying a Raktajino by the Replicator and discussing the United States at the turn of the 21st century. Would we be discussing a golden age or a dark period? Let's apply some of our historical thinking skills to this era and see if we can determine what effects changes in this period had on American national identity. First, let's talk about America's role in the world. In 1980, the United States was still locked in a Cold War with the Soviet Union, and when Ronald Reagan took over as president he moved the country away from the policy of Detente, or relaxation of tension, kind of live and let live with the soviets that was pursued in the 1970s towards a more active, anticommunist stance. The end of the decade saw the collapse of the Soviet Union. So after more then 40 years of foreign policy that was aimed at containing communism and the influence of the Soviet Union, capitalism and democracy were now the dominant economic and political systems, and the United States was the world's lone superpower. After the Cold War ended it wasn't immediately clear what the new US role in the world should be. Should it return to an isolationist stance like it had before World War II. Should it serve as the world's police officer keeping the peace and countering the actions of hostile powers that might try to arise. During the 1990s, the United States had a few limited engagements abroad and the Gulf War, the United States defended Kuwait from an Iraqi invasion, and it sent troops to Kosovo as part of a NATO peacekeeping force. But the terrorist attacks of September 11th, 2001 on the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. began a new era of American foreign policy. US President George W. Bush articulated what's been called the Bush Doctrine which asserted that the United States has the right to secure itself against countries that harbor or give aid to terrorist groups. So under this doctrine, the United States went to war with Afghanistan in 2001 and Iraq in 2003 after those countries refused to surrender Osama bin Laden and the terrorists responsible for September 11th. The war in Afghanistan became the longest war in US history continuing through 2019. At the end of this era from 1980 to 2020, Americans were continuing to debate the proper US role in the world. Should the United States withdraw from wars abroad to save the lives of American troops and the massive budget expenditures of war? Or would leaving the Middle East further destabilize the region and lead to even bigger problems in the future? Some questions that we might think about in the broader scope of US history, how does the Bush doctrine compare to earlier presidential doctrines on foreign policy like the Nixon Doctrine, the Truman Doctrine, or even the Monroe Doctrine? And how does the war in Afghanistan compare to the United States' second longest war, the war in Vietnam. The end of the Cold War and the rise of the war on terror weren't the only major changes in this time period. There were also far-reaching social changes. How work was done, how much people were paid for it, and who did that work. In the late 20th century, the emergence of the personal computer and the internet made it possible to communicate and to do business all over the world in an instant. At the same time, barriers to trade fell between countries. In 1994, the United States signed the North American Free Trade Agreement or NAFTA to reduce or eliminate tariffs on trade goods between the United States, Mexico and Canada. The growing international interdependence of business and the mixing of cultures that business carries along with it is called globalization. But the availability of cheap goods and cheap labor that globalization made possible also had some economic consequences for American workers. Manufacturing generally moved overseas to take advantage of lower wages and regulations and union membership fell to a record low. Meanwhile, the share of Americans working in service-oriented jobs rose. The largest employer in the United States in 2019 was Walmart. Wages have stagnated for low and middle class American workers while wages have soared for the richest Americans. A study by the federal reserve found that although the total net worth of US households more than quadrupled between 1989 and 2018, most of those gains were for the wealthy, with the top 10% of households controlling 64% of overall wealth. The top 1% alone controlled 32%. Another social change of the late 20th and early 21st century was the growth of immigration. The 1965 immigration act ended national quotas in immigration which had barred immigration for most countries other than Western Europe. As a result, immigration from Latin America, Asia and Africa grew changing the racial demographics of the United States. Some of the biggest questions of American politics at the end of this era concerned the effects of globalization and immigration. Putting this in a broader historical context we might ask how did the developments in this time period compare with say the Second Industrial Revolution in the Gilded Age when new manufacturing technology opened up many new factory jobs, and lured many immigrants to American cities, but also bred great inequality of wealth. Politics in this period also differed sharply from the era that came before it. From 1932 to 1980, liberal ideas had dominated American politics that government should be active in securing the welfare of people, and that taxation should pay for those initiatives. But there was a growing conservative movement starting in the 1960s and Ronald Reagan's election in 1980 began a period of limiting government regulation and lowering taxes. And when democrat Bill Clinton took office in 1993, he largely adopted that same stance. He declared that the era of big government is over and reduced welfare benefits significantly. The 1990s saw the emergence of the culture wars. Battles over the growing multiculturalism, secularism, and cultural acceptance of non-traditional marriage and family relationships. Many conservative Christians feared that the traditional American nuclear family with Christian, heterosexual married parents was disappearing. Meanwhile, liberal progressive celebrated the growing acceptance of LGBTQ citizens in diversity and public life. This was also a time of bitter partisan divisions with citizens not only more strongly identifying with one party but increasingly vilifying members of the other party is immoral or unpatriotic. To put this in a broader historical context we might ask, do these partisan divisions suggest that American national identity was fractured beyond repair or that a party realignment was underway? How does this period compare with the 1850s when the beliefs of the north and south diverged sharply over the institution of slavery? These are very difficult question and I'm glad we're here in the 23rd century enjoying the benefits of hindsight to assess that strange period from 1980 to 2020.