As President Reagan's second term in office came to a close, seven candidates vied for the 1988 Democratic presidential nomination. The group included former Colorado senator and early front-runner Gary Hart, who had to drop out of the race due to charges of sexual misconduct. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson also ran in the primary, but Massachusetts governor Michael Dukakis eventually won the nomination.
On the Republican side, George Herbert Walker Bush, Ronald Reagan's vice president, easily became the nominee and selected Dan Quayle, former senator from Indiana, as his running mate. Bush, the son of a former Connecticut senator, attended an elite private school and later graduated from Yale. He served in World War II and then worked in the oil business in Texas. He began his public service as a Texas congressman and eventually served as envoy to China, ambassador to the U.N., and head of the CIA under several Republican presidencies.
The Dukakis campaign focused on economic problems such as the large federal deficit, while Bush's campaign focused on the Reagan administration policies of tax cuts, support for national defense, and a tough stance on crime. Bush also promised not to raise taxes, declaring "Read my lips: no new taxes." Bush defeated Dukakis, winning the Electoral College vote 426 to 111 and roughly 54 percent of the popular vote. In his inaugural address, President Bush said he wanted to "make kinder the face of the nation and gentler the face of the world."
Soon after the election, the nation's focus was directed outward as pro-democracy movements began to take hold in communist countries around the world. In the spring of 1989, many thousands of demonstrators gathered in Beijing's Tiananmen Square to protest China's communist government. The demonstration, which lasted for weeks, ended in tragedy when China's leader Deng Xiaoping sent troops and tanks to crush the protest. Untold numbers of protestors were killed and many others were later executed.
In the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev introduced policies of "perestroika" and "glasnost" (meaning "restructuring" and "openness"). He removed troops from Afghanistan and rejected earlier doctrine that asserted the Soviet Union's right to interfere in the domestic affairs of other communist countries.
As the pro-democracy movement in eastern European countries grew, their communist governments began to fall. Communist rule ended in Poland in August of 1989, followed in quick succession by Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Romania, and East Germany. In Germany, East and West Germans gathered atop the Berlin Wall, an icon of the Cold War, and eventually tore it down, leading to the reunification of Germany in October of 1990.
The most stunning change came in August 1991, when a failed military coup brought an end to the Soviet Union. Hard-line communists arrested Soviet Union President Gorbachev and tried to order tanks into Moscow, but Boris Yeltsin, president of the Russian Republic, and Moscow citizens helped to foil the rebels. Following the attempted coup, each of the Soviet states declared independence and established democratic reforms and created free market economies. Gorbachev, who had become a president without a country, resigned in December of 1991. With the fall of the Soviet Union, the more than four-decade-long Cold War came to an abrupt end.
While many celebrated the end of communism in Europe and the Soviet Union, ethnic clashes broke out within the former union. In 1991, Chechnya attempted to declare independence from Russia, resulting in sporadic conflict that continues to today. As the communist government of Yugoslavia began to break down, civil war erupted. The ensuing fight led to brutal acts of "ethnic cleansing" by Serbian forces against Kosovar Albanians.
President Bush's hopes for a "kinder, gentler America" proved difficult as the United States embarked on two military engagements during his administration. The first occurred in Panama in 1989. During the 1980s, General Manuel Noriega became the head of the Panamanian Defense Forces and made money selling secrets to the CIA. At this same time, Noriega was profiting from drug smuggling, gunrunning, and money laundering—activities the CIA was willing to overlook for a time. However, in 1988 grand juries in Miami and Tampa, Florida, indicted Noriega on racketeering and drug charges. When the president of Panama tried to oust Noriega, the National Assembly removed the president from office and gave power to Noriega. Noriega then declared that Panama was "in a state of war" against the United States. In December of 1989, American forces attacked targets in Panama, and Noriega surrendered. He was then taken to the United States where he was tried, convicted, and imprisoned.
The second military operation during the Bush presidency resulted from Iraq's August 1990 invasion of the tiny, oil-rich sheikdom of Kuwait. Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who drove his country deep into debt following an eight year war with Iran, invaded Kuwait to take control of its oil reserves. Ironically, the U.S. had supported Iraq and Hussein during this war. Within days after Iraqi troops moved into Kuwait, the United Nations Security Council denounced the attack and demanded that Iraq withdraw. Then, the Security Council established a trade embargo with Iraq. Over the next few months, President Bush began moving American forces to Saudi Arabia. By November 1990, more than 500,000 troops were in the Persian Gulf region.
In late November, the U.N. issued an ultimatum for Iraqi forces to withdraw from Kuwait by January 15, 1991, and authorized force to remove Saddam's troops from Kuwait. As the deadline approached, more than 200,000 troops from 28 countries joined Americans in the gulf. This build-up of allied military forces became known as Operation Desert Shield. On January 12, the U.S. Congress passed a resolution approving the use of force against Saddam Hussein.
At approximately 6:30 P.M. on January 16, Operation Desert Storm, led by American General Norman Schwarzkopf, began with a devastating air assault on Saddam's forces in occupied Kuwait and in Iraq. In response, Iraq launched SCUD missiles at targets in Saudi Arabia and Israel. As the assault continued, Saddam made many desperate moves to stop the allied forces, including setting fire to Kuwaiti oil wells and releasing a giant oil spill into the Persian Gulf.
On February 23, after Saddam ignored President Bush's final ultimatum to withdraw, the ground assault began. In only four days the U.N. forces reclaimed Kuwait and occupied some portions of southern Iraq. On February 27, President Bush ordered a ceasefire that was accepted by the Iraqis. At the end of the war, American forces had lost 137 soldiers, while as many as 100,000 military and civilian Iraqis were killed. Many observers hoped that Saddam Hussein might fall from power after the defeat, but when Kurds in the north and Shiite Muslims in the south attempted an overthrow, Saddam used his remaining army to crush the rebellion. In the U.S., President Bush's approval ratings jumped to nearly 90 percent.
The domestic front also posed serious challenges during Bush's presidency. When he took office in January of 1989, the savings and loan crisis had not been resolved. During the mid to late 80s, when the construction and oil booms of the start of the decade died down, many savings and loans lost profits and some declared bankruptcy. Since depositors funds were protected by the Federal Savings and Loan Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the federal government had to make good on its guarantee of deposit protection. Under a Bush plan, savings and loans were "bailed out" by the Resolution Trust Corporation usually by selling any remaining assets in the form of defaulted real estate. Ultimately, the savings and loan debacle took six years to clean up and cost the taxpayers $150 billion dollars.
President Bush was able to fulfill part of his promise for a "kinder" nation when he signed the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) into law in 1990. The Act provided protection against discrimination for Americans with physical or mental disabilities.
In 1991, President Bush nominated Clarence Thomas to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court left by retiring Justice Thurgood Marshall, who had been the first African American to serve on the court and was a strong advocate of civil rights. From the outset, organizations such as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) opposed Thomas' nomination because of his conservative views, which included questioning the merits of affirmative action. However, the debate over his nomination grew into an uproar when University of Oklahoma law professor Anita Hill accused Thomas of sexual harassment. The Senate Judicial Committee had to reopen its hearings on the nomination, and the nation watched while senators questioned Hill and other witnesses. Ultimately, the Senate confirmed Thomas's nomination by a vote of 52-48. Many women were upset by how Hill was treated during the hearings, which lead to a resurgence of the women's movement.
By 1992, the federal budget deficit had soared to $290 billion, while the national unemployment rate reached levels over seven percent. These factors, combined with President Bush's 1990 budget plan that included tax hikes, created large obstacles for Bush as he approached re-election.
As the 1992 presidential election approached, members of the Democratic Leadership Committee—an organization formed after the 1984 election in which Reagan defeated Mondale—pushed to move the Democratic Party away from liberal positions toward a more moderate political stance. One prominent figure in this effort was William Jefferson Clinton, four-term governor of Arkansas. Clinton, who graduated from Georgetown University, studied at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and earned his law degree at Yale, entered the primary race for the Democratic nomination for president. Although he encountered accusations of extramarital affairs and avoiding service in the Vietnam War, Clinton won the nomination. To complete the ticket, he chose Tennessee Senator and Vietnam Veteran Al Gore as his running mate.
For the Republican nomination, incumbent President Bush was challenged briefly by Patrick Buchanan but ultimately received the nomination uncontested. Bush seemed to rely on the victory in the Persian Gulf in his re-election campaign, while Clinton promised economic improvements, reformed healthcare, and middle-class tax cuts. Adding interest to the presidential race was Texas billionaire H. Ross Perot, who entered as an independent candidate.
At the polls, the most important issue proved to be the state of the economy, and Americans elected Clinton and Gore, who received 43 percent of the popular vote and 370 electoral votes. Bush managed 39 percent and 168 electoral votes. Ross Perot garnered no electoral votes but won 18 percent of the popular vote, the best showing for a third-party candidate since 1912.
After taking office, Clinton struggled to maintain some of his campaign promises. As the new president faced opposition, he tended to back down from his position and offer a compromise. One of the first issues he took on was lifting the ban on gays in the military. However, many members of Congress as well as military commanders strongly opposed the move, and Clinton eventually accepted a "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Making headway on the economy also proved challenging. In February 1992, Clinton created a program to reduce the deficit by cutting spending and increasing taxes for corporations and the wealthy. He also introduced an economic stimulus package. The deficit reduction plan narrowly passed both houses of Congress, but the economic stimulus package was brought down by Republican opposition in the Senate.
Clinton's attempt at reforming healthcare was highly controversial and even politically damaging. Healthcare reform was an important issue since nearly 35 million Americans were uninsured mostly because they could not afford it. President Clinton appointed First Lady Hillary Clinton, also a Yale Law school graduate, as the head of a taskforce charged with proposing a new healthcare plan. When the plan was revealed in October of 1993, critics argued it was too complicated and might be more costly than the nation could afford. Some of the strongest opposition came from drug companies, insurance companies, and small businesses concerned about lower revenues and increased expenses.
Controversy stirred over Clinton's support for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The Bush administration had negotiated the agreement, which removed trade restrictions with Canada and Mexico. Clinton supported NAFTA, believing it would provide opportunities for American goods in foreign markets. Critics charged Americans would lose jobs when companies began moving their facilities to Mexico. Strong Republican support moved the agreement through the House, and the Senate approved NAFTA in November of 1993.
Clinton did make headway on a number of other domestic issues. In 1993, he appointed Ruth Bader Ginsburg to the Supreme Court, making her the second woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice. Ginsburg helped to balance many of the conservative appointments made during previous administrations. That same year, Clinton signed the "Brady Bill," which required a five-day waiting period before buying a handgun. The bill was supported by and named for presidential aide James Brady, who suffered a bullet wound during the assassination attempt on President Reagan 12 years earlier. Clinton also oversaw the Family Medical Leave Act, which provided 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year that workers could use to manage significant family events, including birth, adoption, or illness.
President Clinton, however, faced more challenges as Republicans gained control of the House and Senate during the midterm elections of 1994. In the election, every Republican incumbent was re-elected, and the party also made gains in state legislatures and governorships.
In 1993, Clinton sent American troops on a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, a small war-torn African nation. In September, a Somali war-lord attacked U.S. forces, killing fifteen. Clinton failed to find a definitive goal for the mission, and he withdrew American forces in 1994. That same year, Clinton dispatched troops to Haiti with the goal of restoring Jean-Bertrand Aristide to power. Haiti had suffered a military coup that displaced the leader in 1991, resulting in thousands of Haitian refugees trying to sail to the United States to seek asylum. The U.S. military successfully returned Aristide to power in 1994. In 1995, Clinton called on the American military to join NATO forces on a peacekeeping mission in Bosnia, one of the new states resulting from the breakup of the former Yugoslavia. The timeline for the mission became indefinite as the need for NATO forces persisted, so peacekeeping forces remained in the area.
Violence, also found its way inside the U.S. borders. In 1993, a bomb exploded in the parking garage of New York City's World Trade Center, killing six and wounding over 1,000. An investigation soon showed that members of an extremist Muslim group had committed the assault in response to U.S. aid to Israel. Ramzi Ahmed Yousef and three others were convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the attack. Yousef, who was suspected of being the mastermind behind the attack, expressed disappointment that the explosion had not destroyed either of the towers and that more people had not been killed.
The nation was stunned on April 19, 1995, when an explosion ripped through a federal office building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, including 19 children, and injuring more than 600 others. Investigators arrested Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols and soon learned that the bombing had been carried out in retaliation for two events that had occurred years earlier. The first event took place in 1992 in Ruby Ridge, Idaho. Randy Weaver, a white supremacist, had failed to report to court for weapons charges. Federal agents surrounded his home and in the ensuing crossfire, Weaver's wife and son and a U.S. Marshall were killed. The second event occurred in Waco, Texas, exactly two years prior to the Oklahoma City bombing. A standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidians, a fundamentalist sect led by David Koresh, ended in tragedy. Federal agents served a warrant on the sect, gunfire broke out, and four agents and two Branch Davidians were killed. This fight led to a 51-day standoff that ended when agents attacked the compound with tear gas, and the building caught fire killing approximately 70 sect members. McVeigh and Nichols were tried and convicted in federal court. McVeigh was executed in 2001, and Nichols was sentenced to life in prison.
After a first term filled with domestic and international challenges, President Clinton faced re-election in 1996. Although the Republicans had regained the House and the Senate, Clinton had earned back some esteem as a leader. In 1995, government offices had to shutdown when President Clinton and the Republican-dominated Congress became deadlocked over the budget. The lack of an approved budget left many federally funded offices with no operating money, and employees had to be sent home as a result. The shut down created a backlash against the Republicans. Additionally, the economy had entered an upswing, boosting people's satisfaction with the Clinton administration.
In the race, President Clinton faced Senate majority leader and World War II veteran Bob Dole of Kansas. Dole chose fellow Republican primary candidate Jack Kemp as his running mate. During the campaign, Dole promised to shrink the deficit and cut taxes, while Clinton promised to decrease the deficit by a smaller amount so that he could maintain funding for many social programs. Clinton was re-elected, receiving 379 electoral votes to Dole's 159.
Much of President Clinton's second term in office was mired by scandal. Even before Clinton ran for the presidency, he was beset with accusations of wrongdoing in a failed real estate development named Whitewater. In 1998 a much larger scandal ensued when a judge required Clinton to testify in a lawsuit filed by Paula Jones, who alleged that Clinton had sexually harassed her while she was a state employee in Arkansas. Jones' lawyers called Monica Lewinsky, a former White House intern, to testify, hoping to use her testimony to show a pattern of sexual misconduct by Clinton. Both Lewinsky and Clinton denied having an affair when questioned as part of the lawsuit.
When allegations of the Lewinsky and Clinton affair broke in January of 1998, a media frenzy ensued. For eight months, Clinton strongly denied the accusations, saying in one news conference, "I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky." However, Lewinsky had confided details of her relationship with the president to former White House employee Linda Tripp, who taped many of their conversations. When Tripp turned the tapes over to Special Prosecutor Kenneth Starr, originally appointed to investigate the Whitewater mess, Lewinsky confessed her relationship with the president. In September, Starr charged President Clinton with lying under oath and asking Lewinsky to lie as well. These charges fell within the impeachable acts listed in the Constitution.
The Republican-led House of Representatives quickly began the impeachment process, and in December 1998 they impeached President Clinton for committing perjury and obstruction of justice. Clinton became just the second president in U.S. history to be impeached; the first was Andrew Johnson, who was impeached in 1868 for violating the Tenure of Office Act when he dismissed Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. The Senate trial began in January of 1999 with Chief Justice William Rehnquist presiding. In February, Clinton was found not guilty of both charges. The senators voted 50-50 on the obstruction of justice charge and 45-55 on the perjury charge, both falling short of the two-thirds majority needed to force the president from office.
The scandal and the impeachment trial created a backlash against the Republicans in Congress. While many Americans did not approve of Clinton's behavior, they did approve of his performance as president. Clinton's job approval ratings remained high throughout the scandal and impeachment trial. In the 1998 congressional elections, the Republican's lost control of the House.
While the Clinton administration was weathering the scandals at home, old problems re-emerged abroad. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein, who remained in power after the Gulf War, stopped cooperating with U.N. weapons inspectors, and in 1998 the chief inspector reported that Hussein was not complying with U.N. rules. To encourage compliance, Clinton and British Prime Minister Tony Blair ordered air strikes at military targets in Iraq.
In 1999, problems in the former Yugoslavia reignited as Serbian president Slobodan Milosevic waged war on ethnic Albanians in Serbia. NATO forces, including Americans, bombed Serbia to stop the "ethnic cleansing" campaigns. However, the attempt failed and NATO peacekeeping forces eventually took up positions within Kosovo.
Amidst the scandal at home and problems abroad, Clinton's second presidential term was coming to an end, and Vice President Al Gore became the clear frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination.
As the 2000 presidential election approached, two-term vice president Al Gore won the Democratic nomination and chose Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman as his running mate. During the race, Gore struggled with the awkward situation of campaigning on the economic prosperity of the Clinton administration, while distancing himself from the Clinton scandals.
For the Republicans, the primary race was a heated fight that included Senator John McCain of Arizona and George W. Bush, governor of Texas and son of former President Bush. McCain ran on both a promise to reform campaign finance rules and his strong record of military service—he had been held as a prisoner of war for over five years in North Vietnam. Bush won the nomination and chose as his running mate Dick Cheney, former Secretary of Defense under the elder Bush's administration.
A third-party candidate, Ralph Nader, also entered the presidential race. Running for the Green Party, Nader argued for better environmental policies and hoped to provide voters with an alternative to the Democrats and Republicans. Many Democrats worried that Nader's campaign would take votes away from Gore.
A key issue that arose during the race was how to spend the federal budget surplus that was expected to occur as a result of the economic boom at the end of the 1990s. Bush argued that two-thirds of the expected surplus should be used for tax cuts for all income brackets. He also supported decreasing the size of the federal government and privatizing certain social services. Gore argued that the surplus should be used to pay down the national debt and fund Social Security and Medicare programs. He also advocated smaller tax cuts aimed at the lower and middle classes.
When voters went to the polls in November, the outcome was anything but expected. On the night of the election, major television networks made and retracted predictions for the winner as the race in Florida became too close to call. When the votes were finally tallied, Bush's margin of victory was small enough that state law required a recount. The second machine count confirmed a Bush victory by a few hundred votes. Democrats argued that hand counting was needed in several counties because the punch-card voting system was confusing and the machines used in counting did not accurately read many of the ballots. For over a month, the nation awaited election results from Florida, the state where Bush's brother Jeb served as governor.
In some counties, election officials began examining punch-card paper ballots by hand, trying to assess voter intention on cards where the paper chads, or dots, had not been completely punched out. Meanwhile, Republicans argued that the counting should cease because it amounted to changing election guidelines after the fact, and they took their case to the courts. The first court ruling came from the Florida Supreme Court and required officials to hand count as many as 60,000 ballots. The Bush team appealed this decision to the United States Supreme Court. Meanwhile, the Florida legislature took action to name electors that would give the state's 25 electoral votes to Bush so that he would win the state regardless of the results of the popular vote recount. Ultimately, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that the recount was unconstitutional because it violated "equal protection" as defined by the Constitution. As a result, Bush won the electoral vote and the presidency. The combination of the controversy in Florida and Gore's win in the popular election by over a half-million votes caused some voters to view Bush's victory as illegitimate.
The controversy over the 2000 election was silenced on the morning of September 11, 2001. At 8:46 A.M. a hijacked jetliner crashed into the 96th floor of the north tower of New York City's World Trade Center, causing a fireball to engulf the surrounding floors of the building. At 9:03 another jetliner slammed into the 80th floor of the south tower. New York City police, firefighters, and other rescue workers raced to the scene. About an hour after the first plane hit the World Trade Center, a third jetliner slammed into the side of the Pentagon in Washington D.C. At 10:05 the south tower of the World Trade Center began to collapse, sending debris into the streets below. A few minutes later, as part of the Pentagon collapsed, a fourth jetliner crashed into a field in Pennsylvania. Before the crash, passengers aboard the plane communicated via cell phone that they intended to regain control of the plane from the terrorists. In the end, the terrorist attacks killed nearly 3,000 people. A stunned and sorrowful nation united in newfound patriotism and in a struggle against the new reality of terrorism.
In the days following what is now known as "9-11," government officials indicated that the attacks had been carried out by members of the Al Qaeda terrorist organization, headed by Osama bin Laden—an extremist who had been ousted from his native Saudi Arabia. Al Qaeda was believed to be responsible for earlier bombings of American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, and for the bombing in Yemen of the USS Cole, a U.S. destroyer. Bin Laden and his terrorist organization were based in Afghanistan, a country under the oppressive rule of an Islamic fundamentalist group called the Taliban.
The U.S. government supported and aided the Taliban and bin Laden years earlier when they were fighting the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. However, bin Laden and his supporters had now come to hate the United States for a number of reasons, including U.S. support for Israel in the ongoing struggle between Israelis and Palestinians, economic sanctions against Iraq, the strength of the U.S. military and its presence in the Middle East, and a desire to keep Western ideas from influencing the Muslim world. Thus, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon served as symbolic attacks on the economic and military strength of the United States.
On September 20, President Bush addressed the nation and a joint session of congress declaring that the U.S. would engage in a "lengthy campaign" against terrorism. He emphasized respect for the Muslim faith, created the Office of Homeland Security, and appointed Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge as its first leader. He officially began the "war on terror" by ordering the Taliban to turn over Osama bin Laden and members of Al Qaeda or face attack by the U.S. military. The Taliban refused the ultimatum, and Bush began a military campaign against them. Joined by anti-Taliban Afghan forces, American troops overthrew the Taliban rule in Afghanistan and began hunting down members of Al Qaeda hiding in underground hideouts in the rough Afghan terrain. Despite the quick overthrow of the Taliban, U.S. forces remained in Afghanistan to search for bin Laden and Al Qaeda members, while Afghans worked to create a new government.
Afghanistan was not to be the only site of U.S. military action under the Bush administration. In the January 2002 State of the Union address, President Bush declared that North Korea, Iran, and Iraq constituted an "axis of evil" that threatened peace around the world by sponsoring terror and pursuing weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, he pointed out that Iraq had agreed to weapons inspections after the Gulf War but had failed to let the inspectors complete their work. In September, President Bush addressed the United Nations General Assembly and asked them to confront this problem. A month later, Congress approved a resolution allowing President Bush to decide if the U.S. should use force against Iraq.
In November 2002, the U.N. Security Council approved a new set of inspections known as Resolution 1441 to be carried out in Iraq. Days later, Iraq accepted the terms of the resolution. In January 2003, Iraq turned over documentation of its chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons programs. After examining the documentation, Chief U.N. Weapons Inspector Hans Blix reported that the information was not complete and did not meet the U.N.'s request. During the next few months, Secretary of State Colin Powell urged the U.N. Security Council to pass a resolution that would force Iraq to comply with Resolution 1441 or face consequences. Although Britain supported such a resolution, other countries, such as France and Russia, vowed to veto resolutions that would in effect authorize war.
In early 2003, President Bush outlined the chemical, biological, and nuclear threat posed by Iraq in his State of the Union address, and he began to deploy U.S. troops to the Middle East. There were conflicting feelings about the decision to go to war in Iraq, which became apparent when pro- and anti-war protests took place in the U.S. and around the world. In mid-March 2003, while the U.N. continued to try to get Iraq to comply with Resolution 1441, President Bush ordered Saddam Hussein and his sons to leave Iraq in 48 hours or face attack by the American military. Days later, without U.N. approval, the U.S. began air strikes in Iraq. A ground invasion by U.S. and British troops followed. In early April the troops overtook the Iraqi capitol of Baghdad.
President Bush announced the end of major combat in Iraq on May 1, 2003. Although major conflict had ended, American and British forces remained in Iraq and were joined by peacekeepers from other countries. Hundreds of soldiers continued to be killed in attacks while the U.S. and the U.N. worked to help Iraq establish democracy. While in Iraq, U.S. troops continued to search for members of Saddam Hussein's regime. In April, U.S. Central Command had released a "most wanted" list of terrorists to all the troops in the form of a deck of playing cards. Over the next year, most of the regime members were captured or killed. Saddam Hussein's sons, Uday and Qusay, died in a gunfight with U.S. troops on July 22, 2003, and Saddam was captured on December 13, 2003.
In the decades leading to the twenty-first century, American society underwent many changes that affected the way people lived and changed the face of America. Congress passed the Immigration Act in 1965 that removed restrictions based on natural origin, resulting in an increase in the number of immigrants coming to America. During the last two decades of the century nearly one million new immigrants entered the country every year. While the immigrants who had come to America in the 1800s and early 1900s were primarily European, these new immigrants were mostly from Asia and Latin America.
During the 1980s, the number of Asian-Americans in the U.S. was increasing at a rate seven times that of the population in general. During that time, approximately 46,000 immigrants arrived from the Philippines and another 45,000 came from Hong Kong, Taiwan, and mainland China. Still others arrived in the U.S. from Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia, Iran, India, and Laos. In 1990, the U.S. census counted 22 million Hispanics living in America. Of these, 60 percent were Mexican-Americans, 12 percent were of Puerto Rican origin, 5 percent had come from Cuba, and another 23 percent were from other countries. A decade later, the total number surged to 32.8 million or 12 percent of the total population, making Hispanics the largest minority group in the country.
As Latinos entered the country, they settled throughout the continental United States. However, many Mexican immigrants settled in Illinois and in the border states of California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Texas. By the year 2000, Latinos constituted one-third of the populations in Texas, California, and Arizona. In New Mexico, Latinos made up half of the population. Other Latino groups settled elsewhere in the country. Puerto Rican immigrants, for example, often moved to New York and New Jersey, while Cuban immigrants frequently settled in Florida.
Although their origins were different, the new immigrants came to the U.S. for many of the same reasons earlier groups had come. They left behind countries with increasing populations and few opportunities to make a living. Since immigrants often settled in large enclaves within the U.S., they were able to maintain many of their cultural traditions. Soon the new immigrants, Latinos in particular, began to influence many aspects of American society.
As it had in earlier times, the influx of new immigration was accompanied by a resurgence in anti-foreignism. Conflicts also occurred between old and new minority groups. Many established Americans worried about the rising tide of new immigrants and whether America could absorb so many new people. Although no new laws were passed to stem legal immigration, Congress did pass the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which attempted to limit the number of illegal immigrants entering the country by penalizing employers who hired undocumented workers. The law also gave amnesty to many illegal immigrants who were already in the county.
Anti-immigration sentiment became especially strong in California during the early 1990s as the nation experienced a recession. Voters there approved a measure to reduce state expenditures on the approximately four million illegal immigrants living in the state. Proposition 187, passed in 1994, denied illegal immigrants access to social services such as public schools and non-emergency healthcare. Supporters of the reform hoped it would save the state of California a great deal of money; however, many critics felt racism was the actual motive for the measure.
In many ways, the new immigrants were similar to those that had come a century before seeking opportunity. Many immigrants made important contributions to their new nation. Asian Americans, for example, maintained higher median incomes per household than any other group in the country, and they attended some of the most prestigious colleges. Ironically, these achievements often led to more resentment.
In addition to conflicts over immigration, the end of twentieth century also became the setting for other racial and ethnic tensions. In 1992, riots broke out in Los Angeles after a mostly white jury found several white L.A. police officers not guilty of any crime, although they had been videotaped beating an African American suspect. Angered by the verdict, many residents of L.A.'s minority neighborhoods began looting and set fire to entire city blocks. Some also attacked Asian shopkeepers. The riots clearly demonstrated the complexity of ethnic and racial relations throughout America.
Related to these complexities was the resurgence of cultural conservatism that began in the late 1970s with Jerry Falwell's Moral Majority. The movement was re-energized in 1989 when Pat Robertson, a television evangelist, founded the Christian Coalition. Supporters of such movements, also known as the religious right, began to wield their political power by urging politicians to legalize school prayer and ban abortion. They also hoped to downsize government, prevent gay rights, and promote "traditional" family values.
This new conservative movement was reflected in the appointment of three conservative judges to the Supreme Court during the Reagan administration. In the 1980s several important cases concerning abortion and affirmative action came before the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court ruled in 1973 Roe v. Wade that states could not make laws limiting access to abortion at the beginning of pregnancies. These abortion rights were diminished by several Supreme Court rulings in the late 1980s and early 1990s that opened the door for states to establish certain limitations on abortion. In several affirmative action cases, the court made it easier for white males to argue reverse racism against affirmative action policies and made discrimination in hiring more difficult to prove. Some of the effects of these decisions, however, were reversed by the Civil Rights Act of 1991. Struggles over affirmative action continued, and in 1996 voters approved Proposition 209, which eliminated affirmative action in education and for government hiring.
As the century closed, the secondary school test scores and average household incomes of African Americans continued to be lower than their white counterparts. As America's workplace became more dependent on technology, education became more important, creating problems for students without access to a good education. Thus, although African Americans achieved the passage of the Civil Rights Act in 1964, the struggle for equality continued beyond the end of the century.
In addition to the challenges of a multicultural society, America faced other challenges such as a widening economic divide that continued to separate the rich from the poor. During the 1990s, the richest 20 percent of Americans garnered half of the nation's total income. Meanwhile, the poorest 20 percent fell short of earning four percent of the total income. According to 1998 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau, just over 10 percent of white and Asian Americans lived in poverty, while over 25 percent of African Americans and Latinos lived in poverty.
Adding to the problems faced by America as it moved into the twenty-first century was the coming retirement of the baby-boomers, the generation of Americans born just after World War II. The aging of the American population guaranteed to put never before seen pressures on Social Security and Medicare. The concern that this generation's retirement needs would break the system became an increasingly important election issue as the new century dawned.
In addition to the many challenges facing American society at the beginning of the new century, technology had an increasing influence on the way Americans lived their lives. Technology, and in particular the Internet, were responsible for the booming economy of the late 1990s. Investors put up billions of dollars to fund new dot-com companies. The Internet also revolutionized the way "bricks and mortar" companies, or companies that existed outside of the Internet, operated. Employees could now communicate and conduct transactions around the world as quickly as they could in person. The Internet also brought change to people's everyday lives by giving them access to seemingly endless sources of information. Americans were soon banking, shopping, paying bills, learning, and voting on-line.
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