Inside America: The Rise and Fall of An Empire

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The Eighties started badly for America. The economy was doing poorly. The country was being humiliated nightly on national television in Iran with the hostage crisis dragging on seemingly forever. Americans were exhausted by the difficulties they had encountered during the Sixties and Seventies. By 1980, it was time for a change? But what kind of change? Americans were tired of political protests. They were eager to feel good about themselves and their country again. Sensing their mood, a man named Ronald Reagan began campaigning for president on the theme of Americans finally feeling good about America.

But who was Ronald Reagan really? Some people thought it was strange that a professional movie actor could actually become President of America. Ronald Reagan easily defeated President Jimmy Carter. Yet, how could a movie actor know how to lead the most powerful nation on Earth? The truth is that acting skills can come in very handy for a politician. President Reagan was popular with voters because he was very effective in getting his message across. Known as the Great Communicator, President Reagan was well liked, even by those who disagreed with his policies.

President Jimmy Carter had told Americans that there were no easy solutions to their problems. President Reagan, however approached the American people with a sunny and upbeat personality. To Americans who were getting most of their information from television, President Reagan looked like a real president. He preached a simple message that said " There were indeed simple answers, " to the complex problems facing America. President Reagan did not work hard and didn't seem to know much about anything important, but he made the American presidency look important again. The White House was like the glittering palace of a great empire to many Americans once Ronald Reagan came to power. There was a glowing radiance around him and many Americans began feeling good about themselves and their country again.

The hostages in Iran came home in 1981, the very day Ronald Reagan became president. Three months later President Reagan was shot and seriously wounded, yet President Reagan made an amazing recovery from his wound and became even more popular than ever. Many Americans now saw him as a great hero.

Ronald Reagan served two terms of office, from 1981 to 1989, this covered the entire decade of the Eighties. This in itself was new. No American president had been able to hold onto power since President Eisenhower's retirement in the early Sixties. What kind of policies did Ronald Reagan have during his presidency? President Reagan's policies were conservative ones that favored the interests of big business and the rich. President Reagan believed that if taxes were lowered for all, but especially for the rich, then these people would invest more money for new businesses in America. Many complained that Reagan's policies were unfair to the poor and to the American middle class. Yet, President Reagan remained popular with most Americans.

President Reagan was also extremely anti-Communist and decided to start a new arms race against the Soviet Union. He saw the Soviet Union as an " evil empire " that needed to be destroyed. All presidents from John F. Kennedy to Jimmy Carter had tried to lower Cold War tensions by negotiating arms agreements with the Soviet Union, but President Reagan saw things differently. The Cold War was a battle between good and evil and it needed to be won at all costs. Well, we know what happened. The Soviet Union collapsed and the Cold War came to a surprising end. The Soviets were unable to compete against America because the new arms race was too expensive and demanded too many kinds of new technologies.

President Reagan also carried the new arms race into outer space with his " Star Wars " anti-nuclear missile plan. No one knew if it would work, but the heavy arms spending by the American government helped to start a new economic boom in America during the Eighties. But what were the real long-term effects on America from this economic boom? What was really going on in the American economy during this time of conservative politics and heavy defense spending. We shall get back to this in a minute.


American television changed radically during the Eighties because of the advent of Cable television. The three large television networks could no longer dominate what Americans saw through the air waves. By 1989, cable television was in more than 60 percent of all American homes. VCR sales also soared as more and more Americans recorded their favorite shows for later viewing. There was also much more to record.

CNN and MTV became the two hottest cable television programs of the decade. In fact they were not even traditional television shows at all. With CNN and MTV Americans could now watch global news and Rock ' n ' Roll videos on a twenty-four hour basis. News and entertainment became more and more fused and many people began talking about " infotainment. " Daily life which had been made more immediate and dramatic by the earlier forms of television now had a continuous media life of its own. Indeed, to succeed at all in public life one seemed to need good acting skills more than ever. The line between reality and fiction was getting more and more difficult to define.

But what was going on in the three old network channels? Americans began to watch two television shows that glorified the super-rich. " Dallas " and " Dynasty " were evening soap operas that featured feuding family members, dirty business deals, and glitzy parties where people showed off their glamorous clothes. Most of the characters of these two shows were more than willing to do anything in order to " have it all. "

Family shows also changed. The most popular family show featured an African American family that was close-knit and loving. The Huxtables featuring African American comedian, Bill Cosby quickly became America's favorite prime-time television family. The appeal of the Huxtables crossed all ethnic and racial lines because family values were now back in vogue in America. And even if this kinder and gentler TV family lacked any resemblance to real American life. The image was more important to most Americans because it held out hope that the future would be better. American family life was becoming more and more complex and simple solutions were difficult to find.

Yet, even anti-families became popular in America during the Eighties on national television. " Married with Children " and " Roseanne " were television programs that featured families that fought each other and could not accomplish anything worthwhile, but in a very funny way. To these dysfunctional families growing together meant fighting together during times of great cultural confusion and economic difficulty.

The Ritchies were no different….

Deborah: " Mara when are you going to settle down? You keep changing jobs and boyfriends every two months. Don't you care about your future? "

Mara: " What future? " We have a TV actor as president. There is mostly garbage on TV. It's hard to hold onto a job. Most people are just jerks. Who are you to tell me about my future? "

Deborah: " Do you have to always see everything in black and white? "

Mara: " Gee, now you're starting to sound like that dork on television. "

Deborah: " Look at Harvey. He got a good job. The minute he graduated from college and now he's doing very well. "

Mara: " I don't want to be a Yuppie like him. "

Deborah: " Why are you calling him a Yuppie "

Mara: " Cuz that's what he is. A greedy, selfish young American. Now, please…."

Deborah: "Please, what? "

Mara: " Stop lecturing me. "

Deborah: " But your father is working so hard. I'm working so hard…."

Mara: " For what? So you can tell your friends that you're this big successful person? I don't care about that. "

Deborah: " One day, you'll see the real light of things…."

Mara: " Oh, yes, time to max my credit card again. That's the only way I can survive nowadays. Wage slavery, sucky jobs for the wannabes, and a new arms race. Who cares about the ecology, anyway…."

Deborah: " This is not the Sixties. This is the Eighties. "

Mara: " Really, well look who's got a top job now at the big clothes store. You…."

Deborah: " Look, I am grateful for these new times, but you cannot attack everything in America. This is your country. You were born here. "

Mara: " I was born on the planet. Excuse me. I see a much bigger picture now. We need to think to differently. We need to be less selfish. "

Deborah: " Look, your father and I have always wanted the best for you. We still do. "

Mara: " Do you want the best for the planet? If you do. Only then do you want the best for me. "

Yuppie: Young Urban professional.
Cuz: Because
To max out: To exhaust one's credit.
Sucky: Bad.
Wannabes: People who want to be something without having the talent.

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All contents of this site copyright by Michael Arthur Finberg