Historical Context

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Last Updated on June 1, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 881

The Reagan Years
Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States throughout most of the 1980s, from 1981 to 1989. Reagan was a conservative Republican. He believed in the theory of supply-side economics, which argued that lowering the top income tax rates would cause people to invest their savings, thus spurring economic growth overall. Under Reagan, Congress passed a plan to cut federal income taxes by 25 percent. Congress also supported Reagan in decreasing government involvement. His economic plan called for cutting back on government regulations in industry, as well as cutting back on funding for social programs.

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By the mid-1980s, the economy was booming, but many critics charged that not all Americans were benefiting equally. The very small percentage of wealthiest Americans grew richer, while the incomes of the middle class fell. Spending cuts on federal programs also hurt poor people. While employment rose, joblessness remained high among minority groups.

Racial Issues
As in the decades before it, racial tensions continued to be a concern in the 1980s and 1990s. Several incidents became headline incidents around the country. In 1984, a white man, Bernhard Goetz, shot four African-American youths on a New York subway. He claimed that they were trying to rob him, but he was still put on trial for attempted murder. In 1987, he was acquitted of these charges. Civil rights leaders expressed their opinion that if the youths had not been African American, the trial's outcome may have been different.

A racial incident in Howard Beach, Queens, also attracted considerable attention. In 1986, three white teenagers chased a young African American into the path of an oncoming automobile. Michael Griffith died, and the teenagers were charged with manslaughter. When they were found guilty the following year, crowds disrupted the subway, claiming the ruling was too lenient.

Throughout the 1980s, many students on college campuses protested racial incidents and practices. In January 1987, tens of thousands gathered in Cumming, Georgia, and held the biggest civil rights protest since the 1960s. Also that year, President Ronald Reagan came under attack. The U.S. National Urban League called his administration morally unfair and economically unjust to African Americans. Noted African-American Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall, ranked Reagan at the bottom of U.S presidents on civil rights.

Americans and Apartheid
Many Americans also protested civil rights violations abroad, particularly South Africa's apartheid system. Over the decade, these racist policies began to attract increasing attention from foreigners as well as foreign governments. In 1985, a dozen Western nations, including the United States, voted to impose economic and cultural sanctions against South Africa's government. Measures included the prohibition of most loans to the government as well as the sale of computer and nuclear technology. A few months later, the South African government barred television camera crews and photographers from covering racial incidents. Officials claimed that the foreign press was misrepresenting the country.

Some American companies began pulling out of South Africa. For example, in 1986 General Motors left South Africa. Spokespeople said the company was losing money but also disapproved of the government's refusal to adopt reforms in the policy of apartheid. Students on university campuses launched major protests. Students at some campuses, such as at the University of California at Berkeley, protested and even shut down administrative and class buildings.

Other Social Issues
Many other issues concerned American in the 1980s. Crime rates in the United States had dipped in the early 1980s, but by the middle of the decade crime rates were on the rise again,...

(The entire section contains 2197 words.)

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