The Vietnam War served as a catalyst for the political transformation of the 1970s. The war was a polarizing force in the country, leading to nationwide protests that often intersected with the politics of the women's rights movement and the environmental movement. The continued fight for Civil Rights was also a hallmark of the political transformation that occurred within this decade.
Another defining aspect of politics in the 1970s was the Watergate Scandal. After President Nixon was reelected in 1972, five of his committee members were found in the Democratic National Committee office in the Watergate building. Nixon later ordered the FBI to cease its investigation of the burglary and a 1974 Congressional committee decided to impeach him as a result. Before he could be impeached, Nixon resigned and was pardoned by his successor, President Ford. The Watergate scandal led many Americans to become cynical about the political process and fostered a national culture of personal liberation among American youth.
The economic transformation that occurred during the 1970s was tumultuous, and it can best be illustrated by the double-digit inflation that occurred throughout the decade. This occurrence later became known as The Great Inflation. President Ford led a now infamous campaign to reduce inflation by requesting that Americans spend less money. The campaign failed and inflation continued to rise by 10 percent each year. The 1970s were also a period of chaos for the stock market, with a 40-percent loss over just 18 months. As a result, many investors lost interest in the stock market. Interest rates and oil prices also rose rapidly around the country. The Great Inflation naturally led to a recession and coincided with the job shortage that characterized the early 1980s.
The 1970s saw the continuation of the Civil Rights Movement that gained momentum in the 1960s with various activists and groups around the country speaking out in public and academic forums. It is this period that can most heavily be associated with the merge of academia and social justice interests. The Left-leaning intellectual orientations of the 1960s also led to a backlash movement known as the "New Right" in the 1970s, which marked an intellectual shift towards more conservative ideals in much of the country. As a result, this decade was characterized by the competing intellectual currents of the Left and Right ends of the American political spectrum.