for Discussion: What are some
major problems facing America in the 1970s
Reading: Loewen, pp. 260-270;
Acceptance Speech" (web); Reagan "The
Spirit" (web); Trends in American Society
in the 1970s
The 1970's Energy Crisis
The Environmental Movement
in the 1970s
Anxiety and Cynicism in
The Investigation of the CIA and
FBI in the 1970s
The Rise of the Conservative
1. America in the 1970s
2. The Rise of Conservatism and
the Religious Right in the 1970s
1. According to Loewen, what were the larger
of the energy crisis in the 1970s.
2. Why does Loewen believe Americans are committed
to the "ideology of progress"?
3. According to Loewen, how does Americans'
faith in progress work to undermine a clearer understanding of American
history and society?
4. Do you think Americans' faith in progress
was challenged by economic, political, and social trends in the
5. What does Jimmy Carter mean when he argues
that "we've seen a wall go up that separates us from our government"?
6. What does Carter mean when he declares
that "it's time for the people to run the government, and not
the other way around"?
7. What does President Carter mean when he
argues that America is "facing a crisis of confidence"?
8. According to Carter, why does Americans'
declining faith in progress threaten American society and its future?
9. Does Carter offer any real solution to
in confidence" and growing loss of faith in progress?
10. How does Ronald Reagan propose to reduce
what President Carter calls "Americans' crisis of confidence"?
11. Do you agree with Reagan that many of
Americans' problem are caused by the growth of "big government'?
12. How does Reagan propose to revive the
American Spirit and Americans' faith in their future?
in American Society in
1. Higher Divorce rates
2. Increased Pre-marital Sex
3. Fewer women having children
4. Increase in Couples living together
5. Increased Recognition of Homosexual lifestyle
6. Rise in female-headed households
7. Rise in Drug use
8. Rising crime rates
9. 10 to 15 percent annual inflation rate
10. Increasing costs of energy. Energy Crisis.
11. Growing concern about an environmental
12. Increasing concern about carcinogens in
13. Declining standard of living
14. Increasing number of women working
15. More equality for Women and Blacks
16.Increasing use of sex to sell products.
17. Decline in mainstream, mainline Christian--
Protestant and Catholic--church
among the white, American middle-class.
18. Growth of fundamentalist, evangelical
Baptist and Methodist--and television
among Southern whites and American
We can only understand the 1970s as
a decade of disillusion, cynicism, bitterness, and anger by examining
it in t he context of the aftermath of the Vietnam War and Watergate
and the Cold War. The American people were increasingly disillusioned
with the government and their democratic institutions in the 1970s.
The Cold War, the Vietnam War, and Watergate damaged Americans'
faith in their government and their leaders. Burdened with this
political disillusionment, American society in the 1970s was also
underseige by economic decline and declining standards of living.
For many Americans, the 1970s became a decade of transition--marked
by confusion, frustration, and an overwhelming feeling that America
had lost its direction, as if the very future of the "American
experiment" and the "American Dream" might be in
question. In the 1970s, Americans were faced with unresolved conflict
and problems that challenged the very heart of the post-war liberal
consensus; they faced economic stagnation and recession, increasing
poverty, decline in their standards of living, fears that the American
Dream was becoming harder and harder to achieve, and bitter divisions
over America's fundamental cultural values.
Let's look for a moment at some of
the major problems that Americans faced in the 1970s. Many of these
problems already existed before the 1970s, but seemed to many Americans
to now be getting worse and more intractable. In the 1970s, we saw
increasing divorce rates, with up to one in two marriages ending
in divorce. We see a rise in female-headed households caused by
these divorces, which forces single women to work to support their
families. We see increasing numbers of women working, both to support
their families and try to make up for their family's declining standard
of living.. We see the increasing breakdown of the family, and a
rise in juvenile delinquency. We see the increase in drug-use throughout
all levels of society. We see increasing rise in crime and violent
crime. We see the growth of equality and opportunities for both
women and blacks. We see a rise in premarital sex and couples living
together outside of marriage. We see the increasing presence of
gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in American society. We see the increasing
use of sex to sell products to all levels of society. We see the
liberal, white middle-class increasingly abandoning their churches
and religions. We see working-class and conservative Americans returning
to religion, and particularly the rise of TV ministries. We see
the increasing loss of millions and millions of high-paying factory
jobs. We see seventy percent of all new jobs created in the 1970s
in low-paying service jobs. We see increasing numbers of women and
children in poverty. We see ten to fifteen percent inflation per
year in the 1970s. We see the real income of American workers fall
on average two percent a year each year from 1973 to 1981. As a
result of many of these changes, many Americans were losing their
faith in the American Dream, their society, their government, and
The real tragedy of the 1970s was that
because Americans had increasingly lost their faith in their government,
they did not trust or believe that their government could solve
these problems. As the decade wore on and Americans perceived many
of these problems to be getting worse, they only became even more
disillusioned with their government. Many asked why their government
didn't try to do something about what many saw as the decline of
the American culture, society, and economy. Didn't the government
care about the needs of the American people? Wasn't the government
to help Americans overcome these problems?
In the summer of 1976, Presidential
candidate Jimmy Carter sensed this growing American disillusionment
with their government. He realized that if we was going to become
President and lead the American people in trying to solve these
problems, he would need their trust and support. But this is the
enormous problem he faced: How could he as President win back the
faith and trust of the American people after Vietnam, Watergate,
and all the other revelations of government corruption and mismanagement?
It got so bad that in the summer of 1976, the Congress had released
evidence that the CIA had opened Americans' mail illegally, had
assassinated foreign leaders, had overthrown democratic government,
and even planted false stories in American newspapers. How could
Carter overcome all this evidence of corruption and rottenness at
the core of our government.
In his July 1976 speech at the Democratic
Convention, Carter addressed American's growing distrust of government.
He begins by laying it all on the line:
"In recent years, our nation has
seen a failure of leadership. We've been hurt and we've disillusioned.
We've seen a wall go up that separates us from our government."
Here Carter is describing the larger
threat to our democratic institutions caused by the Cold War. The
government has literally created a wall between itself and the American
people. By lying to the American people, by not trusting them to
make the right decision to lead our country, the government has
denied the people their democratic right to shape and control their
government and society. By creating this wall between the government
and the people, the government was undermining our democracy and
denying the people their right to give their right to control and
shape the government.
Carter goes on to call for our country
to heal from these wounds:
"It's now a time for healing.
We want to have faith again! We want to be proud again! We just
want the truth again! It's time for the people to run the government,
and not the other way around."
But why should Americans trust their
government? Carter now addresses a central wound that Americans
are still angry about:
"It's time for our government
leaders to respect the law no less than the humblest citizen, so
that we can end once and for all a double standard of justice. I
see no reason why big shot crooks should be free and the poor ones
go to jail."
Here Carter is referring to Americans'
anger over the Nixon pardon. It seemed to many that Nixon had got
away with his crimes. Americans wanted their government and their
leaders to not be above the law, and to carry out their legal obligations
to protect our democratic institutions.
Faced with Americans distrust of their
government and politicians, Carter closes his speech by reminding
Americans that we are a democratic society in which, as Lincoln
said, "government is of, by, and for the people":
"That all people are created equal
and endowed with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit
of happiness; and that the power of government is derived from the
consent of the governed."
But why would Carter have to remind
Americans of this? Every school children should know this? But Carter
understood that Americans had begun to question this, to no longer
believe that their government represented them and acted to protect
the common interests of all Americans. In order to restore peoples
faith in their government and society, Carter would have to demonstrate
to Americans that they could trust their government and that government
could act to protect the interests of all Americans.
But in addition to Carter's diagnosis,
there were other less democratic diagnoses of America's problems.
In 1975, the Trilateral Commission,
an international organization of leading politicians and industrialists
from the United States, Europe, and Japan, released a report entitled,
"The Crisis of Democracy." Unlike Carter, these global
political and economic elites concluded that America was suffering
from too much democracy. According to Holly Sklar, the Commission
"The Trilateral Commission
stated that "The effective operation of a democratic political
system usually requires some measure of apathy and noninvolvement
on the part of some individuals and groups." "...secrecy
and deception...are...inescapable attributes of...government."
as it tried to "solve" the "crisis" caused by
an "excess of democracy" in the 1960s."
The Commission actually states
that "democracy is only one way of constituting authority....[and]
in many situation the claims of expertise, seniority, experience,
and special talents may override the claims of democracy as a way
of constituting authority." The Commission concludes that the
only way for democracy to work is to encourage apathy and withdrawal
from politics by Americans. Only by limiting democratic participation
and relying on politicians and experts, the Commission concludes,
will democracy work. They even admit that "this marginality
on the part of some groups is inherently undemocratic, but it has
also been one of the factors which has enabled democracy to function
effectively." This is precisely
the kind of arrogance that has led the government to create a wall
between itself and the American people. If government leaders don't
trust the people to shape and control their government and society,
we are not a democracy! And if the people don't believe that they
can shape and control their government and society, then we're not
a democracy! Notwithstanding the Trilateral Commission's conclusions,
this is the real crisis of democracy in the United States in the
It is this political arrogance and
disdain for democracy that led American leaders to get us into Vietnam,
to lie to the American people, and to try to silence the democratic
voices of the people in the 1960s and 1970s. Having discovered the
lies and this arrogance, Americans were angry, bitter, and disillusioned
with their government. By 1979, this disillusionment was crippling
Jimmy Carter's Presidency. I was impossible for Carter to bring
the nation together and lead the Americans forward in the late 1970s.
Facing his own failure to lead, President Carter called together
intellectuals, writers, cultural critics, and religious leaders
to advise him on what to do. After this two week process, Carter
announced he was going to give a speech to the nation to diagnose
and solve America's problems.
In his July 1979 speech, "America's
Crisis of Confidence," Carter told Americans that they suffered
from a malaise, a disease of the soul, a crisis of confidence in
their government, society, and future. Carter quoted one American
who said, "I feel like ordinary people are excluded from political
power." He argues that Americans are losing their faith "not
only in government itself, but in their ability as citizens to serve
as the ultimate rulers and shapers of democracy." He admits
that some of this crisis of confidence was caused by government
inaction and inability to address the growing problems facing America
in the 1970s. Carter concludes with a desperate call for a renewal
"We simply must have faith in
each other. Faith in our ability to govern ourselves and faith in
the future of this nation. Restoring that faith and that confidence
to America is now the most important task we face."
But Carter doesn't give Americans any
real reasons why they should now have confidence in their government
and society. He has reminded Americans of our greatness in the past,
but has offered no real program to return America to that greatness
and confidence in ourselves in the future.
Confronted with a failed Presidency,
Americans rejected President Carter in his campaign for re-election
in 1980s and elect Ronald Reagan President. Reagan promised to restore
American's confidence in their government, society, and economy.
He promised to restore the American Dream and Americans' confidence
that hard work and diligent would pay off in a bright, richer future
for themselves and their children. Reagan won the election because
he was not Carter. Americans desperately turned to Reagan, hoping
that he could lead the nation out of its economic, social, and political
crisis. But when Reagan himself lied to the American people, allowed
the government to become corrupt and even criminal, and was caught
selling arms to a terrorist nation and running arms to the Contras,
both of which were against the law, many Americans became even more
bitter about their government and society. They had placed all of
their hopes in Reagan only to discover that he too was a part of
the problem. Who could Americans now turn to to help lead America
out of this mess? Would Americans be so gullible next time when
a politician promised that he would restore American and people's
faith in their government? In some ways, President Reagan only further
damaged Americans' faith and trust in their government. So
the legacy of bitterness, cynicism, anger, and distrust from the
1970s is still very much a part of American society in the 1980s
and 1990s. What can restore Americans' confidence is still largely
an unanswered question.