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The "New West" Key Events Maps Transcript Webography

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Imagemap: link to IRC Credits

Headlines of the late 20th Century

[picture of Jimmy Carter]

Miller: Neither Gerald Ford, nor Jimmy Carter -- who took office as President in 1977 -- could reverse America's economic decline. Carter warned that there were limits to growth, that Americans had to reduce their expectations.

Carter: Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you, about a problem that's unprecedented in our history.

It was a sober time. In 1979, a nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania threatened the meltdown of the plant, and raised fears about the catastrophic potential of all nuclear power.

At the end of the Jimmy Carter presidency, 52 Americans had been taken hostage by Iranian terrorists.

Carter: The United States of America will not yield to international terrorism.

They were released in 1981, the day Ronald Reagan took office.

[picture of Reagan]

By the time Reagan became President, the country's economic problems seemed to be entrenched.

Reagan: The interest on the public debt this year we know will be over 90 billion....

Reagan and the Republican Congress moved quickly to institute tax cuts and cut government programs. Still, economic recession continued. Unemployment was 10% in 1982.

Man on news: We haven't seen the bottom. It hasn't bottomed out yet.

President Reagan increased the defense budget dramatically, attacking the Soviet Union as the "Evil Empire."

Reagan: To ignore the facts of history and the aggressive impulses of an evil empire....

Reagan called for a supercharged American effort to defeat the enemy.

The Soviet Union, however, was beginning its own transformation with Mikhail Gorbachev, a president committed to democratic reforms. In 1989, the Berlin Wall, long the symbol of the Cold War, collapsed. And along with it, in several years, the Soviet Union.

The first cases of AIDS appeared in America in 1981. By 1988, the disease threatened to become an epidemic. The AIDS quilt expressed the grief of thousands of Americans for the epidemic's victims.

In the 1980s, concern about the environment grew, especially in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska's Prince William Sound. More than 10 million barrels of oil contaminated hundreds of miles of shoreline, and shattered the local ecosystem.

[picture of Sally Ride aboard the Space Shuttle]

In 1983, Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, spending six days in orbit. She was among the many women whose place in society had changed dramatically in the last quarter of the 20th century.

This was a period of fabulous technological achievement. By the mid-1980s the launching of a Space Shuttle was a regular event, until the tragic explosion of the Challenger in 1986.

In the biological sciences, recombinant DNA technology, the first step in cloning, was developed.

In the early 1980s, the first personal computer hit the market, and the first clumsy connections with the Internet were made in 1982.

Ronald Reagan restored the confidence of America. And his economic policy, the trickle-down theory, created a whole new class of millionaires. Those who had money spent it, and spent it lavishly. The 1980s came to be seen as the "Me Generation," decadent with excess.

Ivan Boesky: One of the great things about this nation is that we can seek profit. And I'm proud of that. And if you can gain profit, that's even better.

But the gap between rich and poor, whites and people of color, city and suburb, continued to grow. And so did conservatism in politics and in culture. George Bush was elected President in 1988, inheriting both the optimism of the Reagan years and the problems in the American economy.

By 1992, the federal deficit was $4 trillion.

Woman: We need jobs. This is not going to work.

In early 1991, an aroused nation united behind President Bush when he attacked the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, when Hussein invaded Kuwait. The Persian Gulf War was an overwhelming demonstration of American technological might.

The long siege of economic troubles had deep roots. Fueled by racism, they ignited the Los Angeles riots in 1992.

In November 1992, William Jefferson Clinton was elected President, despite rumors of personal scandal that would plague his presidency, and culminate in his impeachment in December, 1998.

Yet during his eight years as President, the country experienced an unrivaled economic boom. The stock market climbed to an all-time high, and was still climbing at the end of the century. America had become a service economy, with its biggest exports entertainment, information technologies, and its own culture.

[picture of a personal computer]

By the year 1998, over 40 million households had their own personal computers. More than 11 million had more than three televisions. And 44 million Americans had guns.

The complexion of the country continued to change. In 1998, 72% of the population was white, 12% African American, 11% Hispanic, and 4% Asian.

New technologies transformed virtually every aspect of life, even our own genetic makeup. By the year 2000, the Human Genome Project was nearing completion of the mapping of the entire human DNA code, offering startling possibilities for altering the design of life itself.

In the year 2000, America stood poised to take on the challenges of the Third Millennium.

Clinton: The torch is passed to a new century of young Americans.

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