American Changes: The 1970s and 1980s

The period of 1970-1990 was marked by dramatic changes in economic, social and cultural life of the United States; they were caused by both domestic and external influences. These two decades can be characterized by significant shifts in foreign policy and in public opinion. In this paper, we need to discuss the new tendencies and identify those factors which contributed to them. First, it should be pointed out that the exact timelines are rather conventional because new trends in the society began to manifest themselves even earlier, approximately in late sixties but they became more acute during the presidency of Richard Nixon, who had to adopt radical strategies in order to address the problems which American people had to face (Heffner, 2002).

On the whole, political course taken by the government was shaped by international situation in the world. At that moment, the Cold War was very far from its close and confrontation with the Soviet Union was one of the major concerns for the US Foreign Office. A part of this rivalry with the USSR was military conflict in Vietnam (Faragher, 2000). It stands to reason that this immensely affected beliefs and attitudes of average citizens. In fact, according to the opinion poll which was carried out in early seventies, the vast majority of people were dissatisfied with internal and external course, taken by the Oval Cabinet (Zinn, 2003 p 542). Additionally, many politicians on both sides of the Iron Curtain understood that this struggle of superpowers had been harmful for both countries. While analyzing this period we should also remember 1973 oil crisis that took place mostly because of the controversies between Nixon administration and Arabic countries which were reluctant to sell oil products to the US (Heffner, 2002, p 469). These events left a considerable trace in the US history and gave rise to new economic and political course.

For example, scholars usually set stress on a set of economic measures which were aimed at preventing dollar from inflation. They necessitated the reduction of governments expenses that included education, medicine, social insurance and so forth. Although, this course is often heavily criticized by average citizens some historians believe that this was the only possible strategy to avert the calamity similar to the Great Depression (Heffner, 2002). This economic crisis was closely intertwined with a different approach to international relations. In particular, scholars emphasize the fact that the Cold War entered a new stage and interactions between the United States and the Soviet Union became more collaborative (Faragher, 2000).

This decade was also notorious for a wave of students demonstrations and protests against the War in Vietnam; soon this lead to the adoption of new legislative acts such as the Twenty-sixth Amendment to the US constitution; according to this law each person at the age of 18 could vote in the elections. Secondly, at that moment feminist movement enjoyed considerable support of the public and this resulted in several laws enhancing womens rights in the workplace. Apart from that, the advent of Counter Culture indicated that some part of the population did not accept the rules set in the community (Zinn, 2003). Their impacts may seem to be unnoticeable nowadays but in part, they altered our perceptions of free speech, gender roles, the status of ethnic minorities, racial relations etc. Overall, we can argue that these trends in American society took their origins in the Cold War, and civil and cultural movements arose out of publics discontent with the government.

The presidency of Jimmy Carter did not change the state of affairs. But when Ronald Reagan came to power, domestic and foreign policies deviated from the established tradition. Reagan administration stabilized the economy of the country: as a political leader he advocated the reduction of military expenses, his cabinet promoted rights of sexual minorities, racial groups. Actually, we can say that his team addressed those issues that had been neglected by the predecessors. Yet, the most crucial thing was the renewal of the struggle with the Soviet Union. Modern scholars do not know for sure whether this was the decisive factor in the fall of the US major opponent. Still, it has to be admitted that America achieved the palm of supremacy and Reagans contribution to this victory was immense (Zinn, 2002). There were several features in the eighties that should be thoroughly examined. First, counter culture as well as numerous civil rights movements became less and less active. This phenomenon can be attributed to the efficiency of Reagan cabinet. Additionally, historians mark out the rise of Neo-conservatism in the public opinion (Faragher, 2000; Zinn 2002). In this case, the concept of conservatism comprises the belief in exceptional nature of the United States in the world geopolitics, governments non-interference in the economy of the country, promotion of traditional family values, and complete rejection of behaviors practiced by the representatives of counter culture (such as hippie and their sexual promiscuity).

These two decades are very interesting from historical perspective because they slightly remind the swing of the pendulum: in the seventies the public was opposed to the policies of the state, while in later years the government managed to meet the demands of the population. Furthermore, the state deliberately drew the citizens attention to external problem, the USSR. The collapse of “the Evil Empire” decreased dissatisfaction with the governments policies. The analysis of this period is very helpful to our understanding of historical processes in the United States and all over the world.


  1. Faragher. J.M (2000). Out of many: a history of the American people. Prentice Hall
  2. Heffner (2002). R. A documentary history of the United States. Signet Classic.
  3. Zinn. H (2003). A people’s history of the United States: 1492-present. Pearson Education
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