The Reagan Era and Modern America
The years after President Richard Nixon's resignation from the Watergate Scandal were a difficult time in America.
Vice-President Gerald Ford took over in 1974 and pardoned Nixon, angering many Americans who wanted the former president to face justice.
Jimmy Carter won the presidential election of 1976 but was soon mired in an energy crisis, inflation, and a revolution in Iran. However, it was the Iran Hostage Crisis that doomed his presidency.
In late 1979, a group of Iranian college students who supported the Iranian Revolution took over the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took 52 American hostages.
The crisis was a major factor in the undoing of Jimmy Carter's presidency and his loss in the 1980 presidential election.
The hostages were released on January 20, 1981, just minutes after Ronald Reagan was sworn into office. It was later discovered that the hostages could have been released earlier, but the Reagan administration secretly negotiated with Iran to keep the Americans held longer to time their release with his taking office.
In Iran, the crisis strengthened the prestige of Ayatollah Khomeini and the political power of theocrats who opposed any normalization of relations with the West. The crisis also led to American economic sanctions against Iran, which further weakened ties between the two countries.
When President Reagan took office, public confidence in government was at its lowest since the Great Depression. Reagan largely succeeded in his goal of “making the American people believe in themselves again."
Reagan called this the greatest accomplishment of his presidency. Hs affable nature and easy way with people helped to make him incredibly popular as president. In 1984, he was re-elected to a second term in a 49-state landslide.
His time came to be called “the Reagan Revolution” because conservative Republicans took control of government away from Democrats for the first time many years.
The Reagan Revolution included large tax cuts, especially for the wealthy. Conservatives argued that if taxes were lower for those earning a lot of money, the wealth will “trickle down” to all Americans because the wealthy will create jobs.
These tax cuts have also been called "voodoo economics" by critics because they did not help the economy as much as advertised and increased income inequality and the deficit.
Other aspects of the Reagan Revolution in government were transferring more government responsibilities to states rather than the Federal government and appointing judges who exercised “judicial restraint”.
Among those judges Reagan appointed was America's first female Supreme Court Justice: Sandra Day O'Connor, who served from 1981 until her retirement in 2006. As a moderate conservative, O'Connor tended to approach each case narrowly without seeking to establish sweeping precedents.
The largest scandal of Reagan's presidency was the Iran-Contra Affair. Senior officials in the Reagan White House secretly facilitated the sale of weapons to Iran, which was the subject of an arms embargo.
They hoped to funnel the proceeds of these sales to fund the Contras (right-wing rebel groups) in Nicaragua. This had been specifically prohibited by Congress. In the end, 14 administration officials were indicted, including the Secretary of Defense. Eleven convictions resulted, however, those indicted or convicted were all pardoned in the final days of the presidency of George H. W. Bush, who had been Vice President at the time of the affair.
Reagan held an approval rating of 68% when he left office in 1989. His Vice President George H.W. Bush was elected president, but served just one term in office before losing to Bill Clinton in 1992.