History of the United States (1980–91)

The history of the United States from 1980 until 1991 includes the last year of the Jimmy Carter presidency, eight years of the Ronald Reagan administration, and the first three years of the George H. W. Bush presidency, up to the collapse of the Soviet Union. Plagued by the Iran hostage crisis, runaway inflation, and mounting domestic opposition, Carter lost the 1980 presidential election to Republican Reagan.

In his first term, Reagan introduced expansionary fiscal policies aimed at stimulating the American economy after a recession in 1981 and 1982, including oil deregulation policies which led to the 1980s oil glut. He met with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev in four summit conferences, culminating with the signing of the INF Treaty. These actions accelerated the end of the Cold War, which occurred in 1989-91, as typified by the collapse of communism both in Eastern Europe, and in the Soviet Union, and in numerous Third World clients. The economy was in recession in 1981-83, but recovered and grew sharply after that.

The Iran-Contra affair was the most prominent scandal during this time, wherein the Reagan Administration sold weapons to Iran, and used the money for CIA aid to pro-American guerrilla Contras in left-leaning Nicaragua.

Changing demographics and the growth of the Sun Belt

A widely discussed demographic phenomenon of the 1970s was the rise of the " Sun Belt", a region encapsulating the Southwest, Southeast, and especially Florida and California (surpassing New York as the nation's most populous state in 1964). By 1980, the population of the Sun Belt had risen to exceed that of the industrial regions of the Northeast and Midwest—the Rust Belt, which had steadily lost industry and had little population growth. [1] The rise of the Sun Belt was the culmination of changes that began in American society starting in the 1950s, as cheap air travel, automobiles, the interstate system, and the advent of air conditioning all spurred a mass migration south and west. Young, working-age Americans and affluent retirees all flocked to the Sun Belt. [2]

The rise of the Sun Belt has been producing a change in the nation's political climate, strengthening conservatism. The boom mentality in this growing region conflicted sharply with the concerns of the Rust Belt, populated mainly by those either unable or unwilling to move elsewhere, particularly minority groups and senior citizens. The Northeast and Midwest have remained more committed to social programs and more interested in regulated growth than the wide-open, sprawling states of the South and West. Electoral trends in the regions reflect this divergence—the Northeast and Midwest have been increasingly voting for Democratic candidates in federal, state and local elections while the South and West are now the solid base for the Republican Party. [3] [4]

As manufacturing industry gradually moved out of its traditional centers in the Northeast and Midwest, joblessness and poverty increased. The liberal response, typified by Mayor John Lindsay of New York City was to dramatically increase welfare services and education, as well as public employment and public salaries, at a time when the tax base was shrinking. New York City barely averted bankruptcy in 1975; it was rescued using state and federal money, along with strict state control of its budget. [5] [6]

Meanwhile, conservatives, based in the suburbs, the rural areas, and the Sunbelt railed against what they identified as the failures of liberal social programs, as well as their enormous expenses. This was a potent theme in the 1980 presidential race and the 1994 mid-term elections, when the GOP captured the House of Representatives after 40 years of Democratic control. [7]

The liberal leaders of the 1960s, characteristic of the era of the Great Society and the civil rights movement, gave way to conservative urban politicians in the 1970s across the country, such as New York City's Mayor, Ed Koch, a conservative Democrat. [8]