Leading in the Modern World: 1980-The Present

The U.S. took a turn to the right under Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. Reagan saw the end of the Cold War with a lot of help from eastern European and Russian people who were tired of Communism. He also instituted a tax shift that let the rich get a lot richer and the middle class get a little poorer. Despite his talk against government, Reagan spent so much money on the military that, by the end of his term, he had tripled the debt of the country. But by energetically following the policy of containment of Communism started under Democratic President Truman after World War II and followed by every president, Republican or Democrat, since, Reagan got the honor of presiding over the end of the Cold War. The presidents who came after him got the dubious honor of facing a rising national debt.

As the U.S. sailed toward the 21st century, it seemed for a while that the entire world just wanted to live free and easy like the Americans they saw in movies. Republican presidents George Bush and George W. Bush bookended Democratic president Bill Clinton's two terms. Mostly the policy was stay-the-course moderation. Barack Obama brought active leadership as the country's first black president to a time of deep recession.

When the World Trade Center buildings came crashing to the ground on September 11, 2001 (9/11), Americans discovered that the America-is-cool sentiment wasn't exactly unanimous. Some people — including both home-grown bombers and foreign terrorists — hated the American lifestyle, attitude, and foreign policy so much they were ready to explode themselves and a bunch of innocent people to get even.


Although the AP U.S. History exam has few questions on modern times, an understanding of how themes and topics apply to recent issues helps show good analysis in essay writing.

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