Contemporary american society

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DAVID NYE

DAVID NYE

NINTH EDITION / AKADEMISK FORLAG


By the same author Henry Ford: Ignorant Idealist (1979) A History of the Youth Conservation Corps (1981) Catalogue of the General Electric Photographic Archives (ed.) (1981) The Invented Self: An Anti-Biography of Thomas Edison (1983) American Studies in Transition (ed. with Christen Kold Thomsen) (1984) Image Worlds: Corporate Identities at General Electric (1985) Inventing Modern America (with Niels Thorsen and Carl Pedersen) (1989) Electrifying America: Social Meanings of a New Technology (1990) Consumption and American Culture (ed. with Carl Pedersen) (1991) American Technological Sublime (1994) American Photographs Abroad (ed. with Mick Gidley) (1995) Consuming Power: A Social History of American Energies (1997) Narratives and Spaces: Technology and the Construction of American Culture (1998) Technologies of Landscapes (ed.) (2000) America as Second Creation: Technologies and Narratives of New Beginnings (2003) Technology Matters: Questions to Live With (2006) Introducing Denmark and the Danes (2006) The American Century (with Thomas Johansen) (2007) Beyond the Crisis in US American Studies (ed) (2007) When the Lights Went Out (2010) American History (2012) America’s Assembly Line (2013) The Anti-Landscape (ed. with Sarah Elkind) (2014) American Illuminations (2017) The Environmental Humanities, A Critical Introduction (with Robert S. Emmett) (2017)


Contemporary American Society David E. Nye

Ninth Edition

AKADEMISK FORLAG


Contemporary American Society Š Academic Press/Akademisk Forlag A/S, Copenhagen 1990 – forlag under Lindhardt og Ringhof A/S, et selskab i Egmont 1. udgave, 1. oplag 1990, 2. oplag 1991, 3. oplag 1992 2. udgave, 1. oplag 1993, 2. oplag 1994, 3. oplag 1995 3. udgave, 1. oplag 1997, 2. oplag 2000 4. udgave, 1. oplag 2001, 2. oplag 2002 5. udgave, 1. oplag 2003, 2. oplag 2005, 3. oplag 2006 6. udgave, 1. oplag 2006, 2. oplag 2007 7. udgave, 1. oplag 2009, 2. oplag 2010, 3. oplag 2012 8. udgave, 1. oplag 2013, 2. oplag 2013, 3. oplag 2015 9. udgave, 1. oplag 2017 Omslag: Marlene Sherar Imperiet Omslagsfoto: Š Bob Daemmrich/Alamy Stock Photo 6DWV &KULVWHQVHQ *UDĂ€VN .ÂĄEHQKDYQ Tryk: Livonia Print $OOH UHWWLJKHGHU IRUEHKROGHV 0HNDQLVN IRWRJUDĂ€VN HOOHU DQGHQ JHQJLYHOVH DI GHQQH ERJ HOOHU GHOH heraf er kun tilladt i overensstemmelse med en overenskomst mellem Undervisningsministeriet og &RS\ 'DQ (QKYHU DQGHQ XGQ\WWHOVH XGHQ $NDGHPLVN )RUODJV VNULIWOLJH VDPW\NNH HU IRUEXGW LIÂĄOJH gĂŚldende dansk lov om ophavsret. All rights reserved. Mechanical, photographic, or other reproduction of this book or parts of it is only permitted in accordance with the regulations established by the Danish Ministry of Education and Copy-Dan. Any other use of this book without written permission from Akademisk Forlag is strictly forbidden according to Danish law and international copyright conventions. ISBN: 978-87-500-5109-1 www.akademisk.dk

Dedicated to the memory of Grace Swift Nye, Margaret Drumheller, and Fern D. Nye


Preface to the Ninth Edition This new edition was prepared against the backdrop of the 2016 elections. The layout and illustrations have been entirely redone, and there are hundreds of small revisions to keep up with social and economic changes in the United States. These changes have not tampered much with the length or organization of the book, however, which has now gone through nine editions and twenty-two printings. The intended readers are undergraduates at European business schools and universities. As before, this volume outlines the nation’s geography, population, politics, economic organization, class structure, racial divisions, religion, social services, and educational system, and closes by discussing to what extent we can speak of a national character. Chapters may be read independently, but there is a logic underlying the book. It begins with the relationship between the United States and Europe, and then sketches the JURZWK RI WKH SRSXODWLRQ WR KHOS FODULI\ KRZ GLŲHUHQW WKH PXOWL UDFLDO 8QLWed States is from many other nations. Basic geography follows, because while VWXGHQWV KDYH VHHQ PDQ\ SODFHV LQ Ă€OPV RU UHDG DERXW WKHP LQ QRYHOV WKH\ often do not know where they are. With this background, it is easier to understand the political system, since the system of representation is based RQ JHRJUDSK\ DQG LQĂ HFWHG E\ UDFLDO DQG HWKQLF GLŲHUHQFHV 'RPHVWLF SROitics provides the framework needed to understand the following chapters RQ IRUHLJQ DŲDLUV DQG WKH HFRQRPLF V\VWHP (FRQRPLFV OHDGV WR D GLVFXVVLRQ of class, race, and gender. All of these early chapters prepare the student to XQGHUVWDQG WKH Ă€QDO FKDSWHUV RQ WKH PHGLD UHOLJLRQ ZHOIDUH DQG $PHULFDQ values. The book as a whole is both a survey and a general essay on the condition of the United States in the post-Cold War era. For their comments on this or earlier editions, I am indebted to Dale CarWHU $QQH 0ÂĄUN &DUO 3HGHUVHQ &ODUD -XQFNHU +HOOH 3RUVGDP 5REHUW %DHKU Randy Strahan, Helle Bertramsen, Niels Bjerre Poulsen, Chris Frank, and Joel Hodson. No one else, of course, is responsible for the opinions expressed or any errors that remain. I welcome comments and suggestions from readers. November 2016, Odense

Preface to the Ninth Edition | 5



Contents I. 1. 2. 3. 4.

Inhabiting America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Europe and America. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . How Americans Inhabit Their Country. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Organization of Space . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . American History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

II. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

Peopling America . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 America before Columbus . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 29 Population Growth . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 30 Nineteenth-Century Immigration . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 32 The New Immigrant Majority: Hispanics and Asians . . . . . . . . . . 36 Assimilation? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 41 The Question of Multi-Culturalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 46 Current Trends . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 48

III. Landscapes and Regions . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Landscape . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. New England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. The Middle-Atlantic States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. The South . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 5. The Midwest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 6. The Southwest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. The Mountain States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 8. The Northwest . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 9. Alaska and Hawaii . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 10. Conclusion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

11 11 14 18 23

51 51 55 59 62 65 69 72 75 77 79

IV. The American Political System . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81 1. Historical Origins of American Politics . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 81

Contents | 7


2. 3. 4. 5.

The Powers of the States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Elections and Political Parties . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Structure of National Government . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . The Congress . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

85 86 92 94

V. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. 7.

The Executive Branch and the Supreme Court . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 The Presidency . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 105 Presidential Elections . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106 The Swing State of Ohio . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115 The Executive Branch . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 116 The Judiciary and the Supreme Court . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 124 The Bill of Rights . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 127 Public Demonstrations and Civil Disobedience. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 131

VI. Foreign Affairs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 7KH &RQGXFW RI )RUHLJQ $ŲDLUV . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 135 $ %ULHI +LVWRU\ RI )RUHLJQ $ŲDLUV . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 138 3. America as a Global Power, 1941- . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 145 4. The Popular Response . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147 5. Vietnam and After . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 149 6. After the Cold War, 1989- . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 152 7. Global Environmentalism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 158 8. American Corporations Overseas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 160 9. Americans Living Overseas . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 162 VII. The American Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165 1. Development of a Corporate Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 165 2. Twentieth-Century Developments . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 169 3. Government Response to Big Business . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 171 4. Corporate America Today . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 173 5. Farmers and Workers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 178 6. Looking Ahead . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 183 7. Where Are the Inventors? . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 185

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VIII. Class, Race, and Gender . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187 1. Family Economy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 187 2. Class . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189 3. Race . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 193 4. Gender . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 199 IX. The Media . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. Newspapers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 2. Publishing . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 3. The Most Expensive Book in the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 4. Radio and Television . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . $PHULFDQ *HQHUDWLRQV +DYH 'LŲHUHQW 1HZV 6RXUFHV . . . . . . . . . 6. Advertising and Social Class . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 7. Computers and Mobile Phones . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . X. 1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6.

209 209 212 214 215 220 221 224

Religion, Social Services, Education . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227 Religious Pluralism: Protestant, Catholic, Jew . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 227 Denominations and Fundamentalists . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 231 Philanthropy . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 235 Social Services . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 237 Public Schools . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 247 Universities . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 250

XI. Is There an American Character?. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 257 1. The Problem . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 257 2. Restless Individualism . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 259 3. Contrasts Between Clinton and Trump Supporters . . . . . . . . . . . 261 4. Values Expressed in Everyday Life . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 263 5. Contradictory Values . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 267 6. The American Sense of History . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 269 XII. Questions For Discussion and Review . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 273 Appendix 1 – Declaration of Independence . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 280

Contents | 9


Appendix 2 – Constitution of the United States . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 284 Appendix 3 – Presidents of the United States, 1789- . . . . . . . . . . 305 Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 306

10 | Contemporary American Society


I

Inhabiting America “Why should either philosophers in Europe or practical men in America have expected human nature to change when it crossed the ocean?� – James Bryce, British Ambassador to the United States, 1910. “I dare to state it: the discovery of America was an evil. Never can the advantages it brought about (no matter how one considers or depicts them) compensate for the harm it has caused.� – Joseph Mandrillon, 1784.

1. Europe and America Europeans have always imagined America before discovering it. Ever since Columbus sailed his three ships to the New World in 1492, visitors have arrived with preconceptions that shaped their vision. What they thought they saw often tells us more about them than about the Americas. Columbus imagLQHG KH VDZ ,QGLD DQG IRU WKH ODWHU H[SORUHUV LW ZDV Ă€UVW DQ LGHD ² FLWLHV RI gold, a primitive utopia, a vast Garden of Eden, a heathen world where the Devil ruled, a mysterious realm of lost civilizations – and then a disconcerting reality, full of hardships, disappointments, unexpected sublimities, and racial confrontations. Some concluded, like Mandrillon, that the discovery of America had been an evil, causing wars, plagues, the depopulation of Europe DQG WKH GHVWUXFWLRQ RI WKH 1DWLYH $PHULFDQV ZKR ZRXOG KDYH EHHQ EHWWHU RŲ undiscovered. It is hard to see a new place correctly, and the New World proved espeFLDOO\ GLĹąFXOW ,WV LQKDELWDQWV ZHUH DQ XQNQRZQ UDFH ,WV SODQWV ZHUH QRW OLNH Inhabiting America | 11


7KH 0D\Ă RZHU ,, D UHSOLFD RI WKH VKLS WKDW EURXJKW WKH 3LOJULPV WR $PHULFD LQ 3OLPRWK 3ODQWDWLRQ

WKRVH RI (XURSH ,WV ZLOGOLIH GLŲHUHG HQRUPRXVO\ IURP DQ\WKLQJ SUHYLRXVO\ seen. Who could believe that in America there were snakes with rattles in their tails, which they shook before striking? Yet the rattlesnake did exist. What was one to think of other explorers’ reports? Did American frogs weigh as much as fourteen kilograms and bellow like bulls? Did Native-American men have milk in their breasts? Did some American mosquitoes have wings a PHWHU ZLGH" &RXOG RQH Ă€QG LQ WKH PRXQWDLQV FLWLHV ZKRVH VWUHHWV ZHUH SDYHG with gold? Had one of the lost tribes of Israel been discovered there? Were VRPH $PHULFDQ PRXQWDLQV Ă€IWHHQ WKRXVDQG PHWHUV KLJK" )URP WKH Ă€UVW HYerything about America seemed strange and marvelous. Who could understand how to cultivate, how to cook or how to eat its many new foods: tomaWRHV SRWDWRHV FRUQ EHDQV EDQDQDV RUDQJHV DQG JUDSHIUXLW" 0RUH GLĹąFXOW 12 | Contemporary American Society


still, how could one understand the many Native-American cultures? Half a millennium after Columbus, Indian hieroglyphs remain undeciphered on the walls of abandoned palaces and pyramids. Europeans generally failed to understand the Native Americans very well. Most of the tribes who met the invaders died out completely in a short time, victims of war, slavery, and disease. Those who survived did so only at the cost of adapting and changing their cultures beyond recognition. The Indians originally had no horses, for example, which came from Europe to the New World with the Spanish. In adopting the horse, some tribes that previously had been agricultural became semi-nomadic. In adopting the gun and working in the fur trade, Native Americans destroyed the balance between themselves and the wildlife in regions they had traditionally inhabited. By accepting Christianity, many tribes also lost much of their cultural identity. From their viewpoint, America was not discovered, but invaded and changed beyond recognition. In these transformations, the European changed as well. If America is not as exotic today as it was in 1492, neither is it a copy of Europe. Brazil scarcely resembles Portugal. Quebec is not like France, nor Mexico like Spain. The 8QLWHG 6WDWHV ZDV WKH Ă€UVW FRORQ\ RSHQO\ WR GHFODUH WKLV GLŲHUHQFH E\ UHEHOling against England’s rule. Since 1776, it has held European attention, at Ă€UVW EHFDXVH RI LWV QRYHO GHPRFUDWLF IRUP RI JRYHUQPHQW ODWHU EHFDXVH RI LWV economic success and cultural dynamism, and today because of its military and economic power. More than most countries, America is preceded by its images, and, like Columbus, Europeans still imagine America, but they ofWHQ GR VR LQ WHUPV VXSSOLHG E\ WKH 8QLWHG 6WDWHV WKURXJK +ROO\ZRRG Ă€OPV popular songs, television, and consumer goods. Many still imagine they can get rich there, but they are often disappointed. Europeans imagine a land of hamburgers, missiles, racial injustice, CIA conspiracies, shopping malls, circus-like elections, violence, gangsters, Texas oil tycoons, and IT millionaires in Silicon Valley. Europeans often see the United States as the antithesis of Europe. An Internet search quickly turns up more than 22,000 references to “anti-Americanism in Europe.â€? Some Americans make anti-European statements, including Donald Rumsfeld, the former US Secretary of Defense who, in 2003, complained about “Old Europe.â€? Both sides, ironically, may accept some of the same oppositions: Inhabiting America | 13


America is new; Europe is old. America is naive; Europe is experienced. America is uniform; Europe is diverse. America is turbulent; Europe is calm. America is wild; Europe is civilized.

This list of simple oppositions is by no means complete, but might be expanded to such statements as “America is gauche, Europe is sophisticated.â€? Yet such oppositions are misleading. In fact, the United States has an older continuous government than most countries, as the majority of the European constitutions – Germany, Austria, Italy, Spain, France, and Denmark for example – are much newer. Likewise, the notions that Americans are inexpeULHQFHG RU LQQRFHQW RQ UHĂ HFWLRQ SURYH WR EH SUREOHPDWLF )LQDOO\ WKH FRXQtry is neither as homogeneous nor as turbulent as many imagine. There are great regional variations and some areas change very little from one decade to the next. %RWK $PHULFDQV DQG (XURSHDQV DOVR PDNH RYHU VLPSOLĂ€HG FRQWUDVWV WKDW favor America. They may say that the United States is dynamic and innovative, Europe is conservative and slow; that America is the future, Europe the past; that it is open, Europe closed. For the most part these clichĂŠs give no PRUH LGHD RI WKH OLYHG UHDOLW\ RI $PHULFD WKDQ GLG WKH H[SORUHUV¡ UHSRUWV Ă€YH centuries ago.

2. How Americans Inhabit Their Country The landscape of the United States has acquired new meanings since EuropeDQV Ă€UVW FRQTXHUHG LW 7R WKH 1DWLYH $PHULFDQV VSDFH ZDV QRW XQLIRUP DQG land was not a commodity to be bought and sold. Each tribe viewed certain areas as sacred, and private ownership of land was not possible in the European sense. Whole tribes possessed lands, and they in turn felt possessed E\ WKH HDUWK ,Q FRQWUDVW WKH LQYDGHUV IHQFHG RŲ LQGLYLGXDO ORWV IRU SHUVRQDO use. While the Native Americans sought to live in harmony with the natural world, the white men and women viewed the land in terms of development. Many English settlers came as part of investment ventures by private com14 | Contemporary American Society


panies. Those who emigrated to Virginia in 1607 were not only supposed to VHW XS D FRORQ\ WKH\ ZHUH WR PDNH D SURĂ€W WRR )DLOLQJ WR Ă€QG JROG RU SUHcious stones, they instead developed tobacco as an export. Growing much more than they required for their own needs, they traded tobacco to Europe for manufactured goods, setting a pattern that changed little for hundreds of years. America remained an undeveloped nation selling raw materials to other countries until at least the 1830s, and it would be a debtor nation until the First World War. The United States began as a number of rural colonies, many of which developed an intensive, one-crop agriculture of wheat, tobacco, sugar, or cotton. They trapped or slaughtered animals for their pelts, particularly the beaver. They cut down forests and drained swamps to increase the available arable land. In Europe, their former countrymen pursued the same policies, expanding the area of cultivated lands during the seventeenth century. HowHYHU WKH VFDOH RI H[SDQVLRQ GLŲHUHG 7KH RULJLQDO WKLUWHHQ FRORQLHV VHWWOHG before 1776, are larger than England, France, and Germany combined. Yet none of these original thirteen is today among the largest thirty states. Indeed, the settlement of the United States has still not ended, as almost one million (legal and illegal) immigrants enter the country each year. The center of the nation’s population even now continues to move westward. In 1980, WKDW FHQWHU FURVVHG WKH 0LVVLVVLSSL 5LYHU IRU WKH Ă€UVW WLPH <HW ZKLOH WKH 8QLWHG 6WDWHV KDV EHHQ Ă€OOLQJ XS ZLWK SHRSOH IRU WKH SDVW 400 years, the immigrants have not seen their settlements as simple extensions of European civilization. Instead, they often have conceived of their resettlement as an escape from Europe. To most of them, America has seemed to be the opposite of the Old World, opposing its civilization with nature, its aristocracy and class interests with egalitarian democracy, its state churches with privately supported religions, and its corruption with New World innocence. Many American writers have seen the emerging United States as a vast garden where men and women could reverse the Biblical story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden. America, they thought, provided a chance to escape from the errors of the past into a utopian, agrarian world. The corruption, class divisions, and sinfulness of the Old World would be forgotten in the New. While such a view was strongest in the nineteenth century, it has scarcely disappeared today. Many classic works in American literature, such as Henry David Thoreau’s Walden and Mark Twain’s 7KH $GYHQWXUHV RI Inhabiting America | 15


+XFNOHEHUU\ )LQQ suggest that the essence of Americanness lies in the natural landscape. Most American readers still identify themselves with the boy +XFN DV KH Ă RDWV GRZQ WKH 0LVVLVVLSSL ZLWK WKH UXQDZD\ VODYH -LP 2Q WKH river, they have escaped from society into nature, where they can avoid employers, judges, parents, owners, clergymen, teachers, and other agents of civilization. Advertising often makes good use of this theme of escape into a more primitive landscape. Automobiles are sold by putting them on top of a mountain or out in the deserts of the far West. Advertisements depict laptop computers in forests and on beaches. The idea of escaping from society was also common in the classic westHUQ Ă€OPV SDUWLFXODUO\ WKRVH PDGH EHIRUH ,Q WKHP WKH KHUR XVXDOO\ lives in the wilderness and only goes into the towns and settlements in order to solve their problems. Afterwards he (almost never she) rides back into the incorruptible wilderness. Many of America’s characteristic heroes have emerged from (or have claimed to emerge from) rural or uncivilized conditions. Close association with nature seemed to ensure a political candidate’s virtue, and a long line of politicians claimed they were born in log cabins. Presidents Andrew Jackson (1829-1837) and Abraham Lincoln (1861-1865) are only two of the most famous examples. Even in the twentieth century, politicians nurture associations between themselves and the natural world. Jimmy Carter presented himself in TV commercials as a successful farmer, ZDONLQJ WKURXJK KLV Ă€HOGV ZHDULQJ EOXH MHDQV 5RQDOG 5HDJDQ RIWHQ SRVHG IRU photographers with axe in hand, cutting down small trees and brush on his California ranch. Bill Clinton continually stressed his small-town origins in Hope, Arkansas. George W. Bush periodically retreated to his ranch in western Texas. In short, white Americans see the rural landscape and wilderness as sources of good morals and strong character. In contrast, beginning in the late eighteenth century, when there were scarcely any cities in the United States, many Americans have viewed cities as centers of moral and political corruption. An American today might prefer to think of Milan or Copenhagen or Paris as symbols of sophistication and style, rather than New York or Los Angeles, which for many suggest crime DQG GDQJHU DV ZHOO DV H[SHQVLYH WKHDWHU Ă€QH PXVHXPV DQG D YLEUDQW PXVLcal life. (Even less attractive to many Americans are the older industrial citLHV RI 'HWURLW &OHYHODQG DQG %DOWLPRUH 3UHVLGHQW 7KRPDV -HŲHUVRQ 1809) expressed a national consensus when he declared that, “the mobs of 16 | Contemporary American Society


great cities add just so much to the support of pure government, as sores do to the strength of the human body.â€? While he wrote these words before 1800, many Americans today would agree. They still prefer not to live in cities, in contrast to Europeans who often want apartments in urban centers. Even in WKH FDVH RI 1HZ <RUN ZKLFK RŲHUV PDQ\ Ă€QH DSDUWPHQW FRPSOH[HV H[HFXtives often commute an hour or more each day from distant suburbs rather than remain in the city. Generally, the poorest groups often live quite near the commercial heart of American cities, as foreign travelers quickly discover. The middle classes live beyond the city in concentric circles of suburbs, with the wealthiest in the outermost ring. Since 1960, the fastest growing areas of the United States have been “edge citiesâ€? formed at the intersections of two or more interstate highways. An “edge cityâ€? contains at least six million VTXDUH IHHW RI RĹąFH VSDFH DQG VTXDUH IHHW RI VKRSV DQG VHUYLFHV ,W can only be reached by car, and it consists of several giant shopping malls, OLJKW LQGXVWU\ KRWHOV DQG QHZ RĹąFH WRZHUV +DOI RI DOO FRPPHUFLDO VDOHV QRZ take place in the nation’s 28,000 shopping malls. Travelers who only visit the centers of American cities often see an area in decline, with sharp contrasts between areas of poverty and a core of expensive shops and skyscrapers. They do not see the vast suburban tracts where the middle class lives or the edge cities where they work and shop. To the casual visitor, therefore, the 86 PD\ VHHP OLNH D ODQG RI PRUH SURQRXQFHG FODVV GLŲHUHQFHV WKDQ LQ IDFW is the case. Yet if edge cities continue to grow, Americans nevertheless have an ambivalent attitude toward suburbia, which many novelists have described as soulless and empty. Ever since the boom in suburban development that began after World War II, critics have complained of banal sprawling subdivisions, repetitious architecture and zoning systems that rigidly separate shopping districts and work areas from housing. Moreover, suburban developments typically are built outside the city limits, which removes suburbanites from the urban tax-base. Over time, however, home owners have remodeled and landscaped suburban homes so much that once identical houses no longer seem even remotely the same. In part, the attraction of suburbia is that it allows Americans to retain vestiges of their rural past. The suburban house appeals to the homeowner, not only because it is outside the noise and congestion of the city. That home also requires some of the skills and preserves some of the structures of earliInhabiting America | 17


er American life. A geographer once observed: “A typical suburban house lot recreates in miniature the farm of the past. The front lawn, frequently fenced and always carefully mowed, assumes the role of the meadow ... Behind the house lies the yard, again often enclosed, but serving as both farmyard and SDVWXUH 7KH EDFN\DUG SURYLGHV SULYDF\ EXW PRVW LPSRUWDQWO\ RŲHUV DQ outdoor workplace.â€? The garage substitutes for the barn. Dogs and cats are OLYHVWRFN WKH JDUGHQ VHUYHV DV D PLQLDWXUH Ă€HOG $ VWDWLRQ ZDJRQ PLQLYDQ pickup truck or a sports utility vehicle replaces the farm wagon. The American homeowner spends evenings and weekends painting the house, rolling WKH ODZQ UHĂ€QLVKLQJ WKH EDVHPHQW SUXQLQJ EXVKHV DQG SHUIRUPLQJ RWKHU chores that require some skills in carpentry and husbandry. Visitors from more urban societies such as Spain and Italy are often amused at this incessant work on the home, whose owners never seem to have time to relax. The US pattern seems more familiar to Northern Europeans.

3. Organization of Space ,W LV VRPHWLPHV GLŹFXOW IRU DQ\RQH IURP RXWVLGH WKH 8QLWHG 6WDWHV WR JUDVS the American sense of space. For Americans, the world seems to have few boundaries. Canada to the north and Mexico to the south are separate countries, but they have seldom posed a threat to the security of the United States. Canada, in particular, often seems a vast 51st state (an attitude that irritates &DQDGLDQV )RU FHQWXULHV WKH ZLGWK RI WKH $WODQWLF DQG WKH 3DFLÀF RFHDQV made a sea invasion of the country virtually impossible. This long experience of an entire continent of open, unbounded space gives Americans an expansive sense of physical mobility. They feel free to move thousands of kilometers in any direction. 7R RUJDQL]H WKH ODQGPDVV RI WKH 8QLWHG 6WDWHV RQH RI WKH ÀUVW DFWV RI WKH new government after the American Revolution was to plan a systematic land survey, dividing lands west of the original thirteen states with boundry lines EDVHG RQ ORQJLWXGH DQG ODWLWXGH ,I RQH à LHV RYHU WKH ZHVWHUQ WZR WKLUGV RI the country, the results are easily discernible from the air. Roads usually run in straight lines east-west or north-south, creating a giant checkerboard pattern. In the Rocky Mountains, where one might expect the impressive natural ODQG IRUPDWLRQV WR GHWHUPLQH ERXQGDULHV RQH ÀQGV LQVWHDG WKDW HQWLUH VWDWHV WDNH WKH IRUP RI VTXDUHV DQG RWKHU JHRPHWULFDO ÀJXUHV 6HH WKH VKDSHV RI 18 | Contemporary American Society


Colorado, Wyoming, and Utah for examples.) Similarly, most American cities are organized into a grid pattern so severely logical that a complete stranger FDQ RIWHQ Ă€QG KLV RU KHU ZD\ DURXQG D QHZ FLW\ 9LVLWRUV WR 1HZ <RUN FDQ ORcate Fifth Avenue and 37th Street or move from there to Second Avenue and 21st Street with little trouble. No such regularities organize London, Paris, or Hamburg. As a result, Americans move freely about their continent and Ă€QG WKHLU ZD\ ZLWKRXW PXFK GLĹąFXOW\ $ F\QLF PLJKW FRPSODLQ WKDW DOO SODFHV in the United States are as interchangeable as hamburgers, but this is only a VXSHUĂ€FLDO WUXWK :KLOH WKH JULG SDWWHUQ GRHV UHFXU LQ PXFK RI WKH FRXQWU\ along with such standardized restaurants as McDonald’s and Burger King, WKH QDWLRQ QHYHUWKHOHVV GLVSOD\V JUHDW UHJLRQDO GLŲHUHQFHV SDUWLFXODUO\ ZKHQ one leaves the main highways. The variety stems not only from climatic differences that make California a more outdoor culture than Michigan, but also IURP LQGXVWULDO DQG FXOWXUDO GLŲHUHQFHV &RQVLGHU LQGXVWULDO GLŲHUHQFHV Ă€UVW $Q DUHD VRXWK RI 6DQ )UDQFLVFR KDV become internationally known as “Silicon Valleyâ€?, named after the silicon computer chip which so many of its companies use or produce. The computer industry attracted a highly trained, aggressive group, giving the area a technological sophistication and wealth in stark contrast to some other industrial areas, such as Detroit, whose automobile industry employs far fewer workers than it did at its high point in the 1960s. Most American regions are stamped by their industries which impart a particular rhythm of life to a company town or a glitter of sophistication to a white-collar neighborhood. 7KHVH GLŲHUHQFHV FRPELQHG ZLWK FOLPDWLF YDULDWLRQV DQG FRQVLGHUDEOH ethnic diversity, make every region of the United States distinctive. The large Cuban population in Miami makes it unlike any other southern city. Coming mostly from middle-class, urban backgrounds, the Cubans have less in common with Mexican-Americans than their common language might suggest. A YLVLWRU WR 6DQ $QWRQLR 7H[DV ZLOO Ă€QG WKDW LWV 6SDQLVK VSHDNLQJ PDMRULW\ KDV created a cultural ambiance quite unlike Miami’s, while the Puerto Rican sections of New York will reveal a third, equally distinctive form of Hispanic culture. As these examples suggest, American immigrants have not spread out evenly to all parts of the country, but have concentrated in particular regions. Swedes and Norwegians often went to Wisconsin, Minnesota, or other parts of the upper Middle West. Italians settled in the urban Northeast, in large cities of the interior such as Chicago, and in California. The ethnic mix is Inhabiting America | 19


/RV $QJHOHV FLW\ FHQWHU 7KH Ă DW VXEXUEV EH\RQG DUH EXLOW RQ IDUPODQG Nordfoto. never quite the same from one place to the next. Indeed, in some areas there is no mix. Certain towns in Minnesota remain almost entirely Norwegian. The Mennonites, a German Protestant sect, cluster in tightly knit communiWLHV 2QFH RŲ WKH PDMRU KLJKZD\V WKH WUDYHOHU FDQ VWUD\ LQWR YDULHG HWKQLF enclaves: Scotch-Irish in the mountains of the Old South, French-speaking Cajuns in Louisiana, or Koreans on the west coast. America is not the homogeneous world that its pattern of roads and boundary lines might suggest. If its inhabitants feel free to wander over the face of the continent, one reason that they travel is to see the country’s enormous variety. Indeed, a whole literary genre explores the cultures and landscapes of North America, and not a decade passes without the appearance of at least one excellent book of this sort. One can learn a good deal about the country rather painlessly by reading one of these. %OXH +LJKZD\V recounts the experiences of its author, Least Heat Moon, as he circled the United States in a small truck, choosing to drive the whole way on back roads. Other notable exam20 | Contemporary American Society


ples of the genre are Jack Kerouac’s On the Road and John Steinbeck’s 7UDYHOV with Charley. All three were best-sellers. Like the narrators of these books, Americans inhabit their land restlessly, moving from place to place more than most other peoples. Many commute PRUH WKDQ ÀIW\ NLORPHWHUV WR ZRUN HDFK GD\ DQG SHRSOH PD\ GULYH DQ KRXU or two to eat in a restaurant. The American love of movement began long before automobiles were invented. But since 1900 they have increased the ability to move about. Few people had a car in 1903, when Henry Ford started KLV DXWRPRELOH FRPSDQ\ 7ZHQW\ ÀYH \HDUV ODWHU WKHUH ZDV RQH FDU IRU HYHU\ six Americans and half of these were Fords. The organization of contemporary American life is unthinkable without a car for every adult. Stores, banks, movie theaters, and essential facilities of every kind are located on four-lane roads. Dependence on automobiles even causes structural unemployment, as some jobs are inaccessible to those without cars. Homes, shopping areas, and workplaces are segregated from one another and separated by automotive distances. As a result, the population density is generally so low in all but the largest American cities that mass transportation proves impractical and exSHQVLYH (YHQ FLWLHV ZLWK PDVVLYH GDLO\ WUDŹF VQDUOV OLNH 6HDWWOH KDYH UHVLVWed building mass transit for decades. These characteristics, evident in all parts of the nation, become more pronounced as one moves toward the western cities that developed after the coming of the motorcar. Los Angeles, California, is the best example. It is a city with no center in the traditional sense, a city crossed by hundreds of miles of expressways, a city where walking from place to place would literally be impossible, a city where few use buses and where a commuter rail line introduced in 1992 has few passengers. Within this enormous grid of freeways lies an astonishing diversity of ethnic enclaves: Mexican-Americans, African-Americans, Chinese, Koreans, Filipinos, and other groups, each preserving some cultural distinctiveness. The vast city cannot be understood as D JHRPHWULFDO GHVLJQ ÀOOHG ZLWK LGHQWLFDO FRPPXQLWLHV 5DWKHU /RV $QJHOHV is a series of ethnic worlds within a landscape designed for the automobile. 0RVW $PHULFDQV SUHIHU WR GHÀQH WKHPVHOYHV QRW E\ ZKHUH WKH\ KDYH EHHQ but by where they are going. They don’t live in the past and only tenuously in the present, focusing instead on the future. As early as the 1780s, visitors noted that Americans moved to new places far more often than people in Europe. As a result the population seldom remains the same in any location Inhabiting America | 21


for long. The average American family moves about twice in each decade. In many cases these moves are short, from one part of a metropolitan region to another. Americans live in an age-graded society and communities tend to be somewhat homogeneous by age. The young couple or single person lives in an apartment complex or urban area heavily populated by young adults. When children are born, the family often moves to a small suburban home. ,I WKH IDPLO\ SURVSHUV WKH PRQH\ LQYHVWHG LQ WKLV Ă€UVW KRXVH ZLOO KHOS SURvide capital needed to purchase a larger home. The family often moves again due to promotions or career changes. Finally, with old age and retirement, some couples make yet another move to an old age community that may be far away, often in a warmer climate such as Arizona or Florida. Of course, not all remain married. The divorce rate in the US is approximately 50%, with a high rate of remarriage. Corporate employers accelerate this continual FKDQJH RI DGGUHVV DV WKH\ RIWHQ DVN PDQDJHUV WR WUDQVIHU IURP RQH RĹąFH WR another. The impersonal forces of economic cycles likewise force many workHUV WR Ă€QG QHZ MREV LQ RWKHU FLWLHV Looked at from the child’s point of view, this sequence of moves begins YHU\ HDUO\ LQ OLIH ZLWK VHYHUDO RFFXUULQJ EHIRUH DJH ZKHQ PRVW WDNH D Ă€UVW job or attend the university. While Europeans usually prefer to remain in the area where they grew up, young people in the US try to get away from home. They do not resist, but rather welcome, the chance to go far away. Later, if they want to come back home, it often proves to be a rather pointless return. Many strangers now live in the place that once was home and the old community no longer exists. Even the shape of towns changes rapidly, as new highways, shopping malls, urban renewal programs, and other changes can make the “hometownâ€? somewhat unrecognizable after only a few years. As a result, Americans often stop saying that they are “fromâ€? the place where they were born or the place where they grew up. The early experience of continual change leaves a strong mark on the $PHULFDQ ZKR FDQQRW EH GHĂ€QHG LQ WHUPV RI IDPLO\ RU ORFDWLRQ DV HDVLO\ DV the European. Mainstream American culture emphasizes the individual rather than the group, and personal experience rather than collective experience. As a result, life in the United States has several unique characteristics: (1) a tendency toward individualism, (2) a fragile sense of community, and (3) an openness to new experience and new friendships. These three topics suggest the importance of American geography to understanding the culture of the 22 | Contemporary American Society


8QLWHG 6WDWHV :LWKRXW Ă€UVW NQRZLQJ KRZ $PHULFDQV KDYH FRQFHLYHG RI DQG organized space, it is impossible fully to comprehend American literature and politics. Contradictions mark American culture. Its politics are intensely regional, yet neighborhoods often have a weak sense of community. Its spatial organization is repetitious and emphasizes national commonalities, and yet WKH SRSXODWLRQ LV H[WUHPHO\ LQGLYLGXDOLVWLF ,WV FLWL]HQV DUH Ă€HUFHO\ SURXG RI being a democracy, yet often only half the adult population votes in elections. Its constitution decrees an absolute separate of church and state, yet American presidents make a show of going to church. The European invasion of North America has resulted in a rather abstract pattern of spatial relationships, in which the country as a whole appears to be a vast interlocking system of straight lines. However, within this grid lie diverse regional and ethnic communities, each preserving some of its FXOWXUDO WUDGLWLRQV 7KH 1DWLYH $PHULFDQV WKHPVHOYHV RŲHU WKH EHVW H[DPple, as they struggle to preserve their cultures on so-called “reservations.â€? 6RPH FRQWLQXH WR UHMHFW WKH (XURSHDQ GHĂ€QLWLRQ RI WKH HDUWK DV SURSHUW\ retaining a collective spiritual relationship to their lands. As a result, they VWLOO Ă€QG WKHPVHOYHV LQ FRQĂ LFW ZLWK ZKLWHV ZKR ZLVK WR XVH WKHLU UHVHUvations to build highways, mine coal and mineral wealth, or pursue other kinds of “developmentâ€? such as the casinos that sprang up on reservations during the 1990s. For Native Americans, the European conquest of the United States has gone too far and the rationalization of its landscape is not desirable. Indeed, judging by the lack of enthusiasm white Americans had for WKH Ă€YH KXQGUHGWK DQQLYHUVDU\ RI &ROXPEXV¡ YR\DJH LQ WKH\ KDYH EHgun to hear native voices.

American History Contemporary American society is better understood with some knowledge of the nation’s history. As a bare minimum, the following sketch suggests a basic organization for American history. The centuries before 1492 are the pre-Columbian period. 1492-1607 was a time of European exploration and discovery, with little perPDQHQW VHWWOHPHQW LQ ZKDW LV QRZ WKH 8QLWHG 6WDWHV (XURSHDQ ÀVKHUPHQ DQG Inhabiting America | 23


explorers unintentionally gave diseases to Native Americans, who had no resistance to these illnesses. Whole tribes were decimated. 1607-1770 was the colonial period. The Spanish, French, Dutch, and English settled in Atlantic coastal areas or along major rivers. These powers battled each other and Native Americans for territory. England only achieved dominance in 1763 when the French surrendered in Canada. 1770-1789 was the revolutionary period. Thirteen colonies revolted against English rule and, with French assistance, won the ensuing war for independence. The values of the new nation were embodied in three central documents, The Declaration of Independence (1776), The Constitution (1787), and The Bill of Rights (1791). 1789-1828 was the early national period. The leaders were the men who had JXLGHG WKH UHYROXWLRQ 7KH Ă€UVW SUHVLGHQW ZDV WKH IRUPHU FRPPDQGHU LQ FKLHI of the army, George Washington. Until 1824 all subsequent presidents had either signed the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution. The economy remained largely agricultural, though industrialization had begun. The country tried to remain neutral during the French Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars and only sided with the French in 1812. Afterwards, the United States remained a neutral nation until 1917. 7KH 1RUWK DQG 6RXWK GHYHORSHG TXLWH GLŲHUHQW HFRQRPLHV 7KH plantation South relied on slavery and produced wealth in the form of raw materials: cotton, tobacco, sugar. The industrial North relied extensively on water-powered factories. Each region was dynamic, sending settlers west, ZKHUH WKH\ FDPH LQWR FRQĂ LFW 7KH &LYLO :DU ZDV DERXW VWDWH¡V rights, about the moral abomination of human slavery, and about which system of agriculture would dominate the West. 1865-1879 is called the period of Reconstruction. The North occupied the defeated South, while the nation as a whole continued its rapid westward exSDQVLRQ DQG LQGXVWULDOL]DWLRQ 0RVW 1DWLYH $PHULFDQ UHVLVWDQFH ZDV VQXŲHG out. Immigration increased, still coming primarily from Northern Europe. The rail system reached from coast to coast in 1869. Tensions between capi24 | Contemporary American Society


tal and labor grew, culminating in bloody railroad strikes in 1877. At the end of this period Union troops ended their occupation of the South, tacitly accepting the imposition of a caste system that would keep African-Americans “in their place.â€? 1877-1917 has been variously called the Gilded Age and the Progressive Period. It was a period of high rates of immigration from Southern and Eastern Europe, rapid industrialization, the formation of monopolies in key industries, and the concentration of economic power in the city. This was a particularly turbulent time for workers, some of who became socialists or joined labor unions, but generally radical movements had less success than in Europe. Farmers formed powerful movements to protest the power of trusts and to demand political reforms. Women also organized, demanding the vote. The two major political parties adapted enough to reabsorb these groups. In contrast, African-Americans, Native Americans, and new Asian immigrants were marginalized and had little voice. A new vibrant popular culture united the white majority. 1917-1941: After entering World War I in a burst of idealism that many later thought had been misguided, the nation returned to neutrality in foreign affairs. By 1920 the United States had the world’s largest economy, and it was rapidly adopting mass-production methods. After the prosperity of the 1920s, however, the nation plunged into a severe economic depression that seemed to threaten the survival of capitalism itself. President Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal put millions of unemployed to work in government jobs and laid the foundations of a welfare society, but it failed to overcome the economic crisis until the nation entered World War II. Both the prosperous 1920s and the Great Depression of the 1930s were marked by a shift toward a white-collar economy, by the rapid adoption of the automobile and electricity in daily life, and by the public’s full immersion in national events by means of adverWLVLQJ Ă€OP DQG UDGLR 1941-1991: The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor pushed the United States into World War II, beginning a period of global engagement. During the Cold War, the nation attained global economic hegemony, marked by the spread of capitalist business methods and its popular culture. At home, marginalized Inhabiting America | 25


groups demanded the rights guaranteed by the Declaration of Independence. African-Americans led the way with the Civil Rights movement, followed by women, Native Americans, Hispanic-Americans, and gays. Their demands were yet another reminder that the struggle to achieve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness – unleashed in the American Revolution – was an on-going process. 1991-2008: The Gulf War, triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, marked WKH EHJLQQLQJ RI D SRVW &ROG :DU SHULRG LQ IRUHLJQ DŲDLUV ZKLFK ZRXOG IRcus on the Middle East, nuclear proliferation, and the problem of terrorism. At home, widespread use of computers and the Internet underlay a changing domestic economy. Entirely new kinds of employment emerged while many older jobs disappeared. One million new jobs were created each year in the V WKH QDWLRQDO GHEW ZDV ODUJHO\ SDLG RŲ DQG \HW LQFRPH GLŲHUHQFHV EHcame more acute. Hispanics replaced African-Americans as the largest minority group, and the nation became ever more multicultural. This growing diversity was temporarily counteracted by a feeling of national unity that emerged in the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. The Bush Administration sought to translate this intense patriotism into support for a QHZ XQLODWHUDOLVP LQ IRUHLJQ DŲDLUV IRU ZDUV DJDLQVW $IJKDQLVWDQ DQG ,UDT for a reorganization of security inside the country, and for a tax cut that priPDULO\ EHQHĂ€WHG WKH ZHDOWKLHVW SHUFHQW RI WKH SRSXODWLRQ 7KHVH SROLFLHV sent 250,000 troops to Iraq, but divided the American public, weakened the economy, and antagonized many other nations. Post 2008: In 2008 the American stock market collapsed and the economy went into a severe recession just months before the presidential election. Barack Obama inherited not only the failed war in Iraq but a weak economy. With his election the nation took a major step toward full racial equality. Yet Americans remained sharply divided over the role of the federal government in their lives. The conservative “Tea Partyâ€? pulled the Republican Party toward the right, demanding tax reductions at a time when the budget ZDV DOUHDG\ LQ GHĂ€FLW GXH WR WKH XQGHUĂ€QDQFHG ZDUV LQ ,UDT DQG $IJKDQLVWDQ and because of the weak economy. To reduce medical costs and spread coverage more widely the Democrats passed “Obamacare,â€? which made private insurance available to all Americans. The Obama Administration also loaned 26 | Contemporary American Society


billions of dollars to many banks and corporations, notably General Motors, saving them from bankruptcy. The economy did not collapse, but unemployment fell slowly, with weak economic growth. As a result, the nation was less DEOH WR DŲRUG D YLJRURXV IRUHLJQ SROLF\ HYHQ DV LW IDFHG HPHUJLQJ HFRQRPLF competitors and political rivals. By 2016 the economy had recovered, but politically the nation was polarized.

Inhabiting America | 27


Contemporary American Society provides Europeans with a nuanced guide to the United States, including the nation’s geography, political system, foreign policy, economy, class structure, racial divisions, media, religion, welfare services, and educational system. It is an essential reection on the fractured American character at the end of a century of global hegemony. The 2017 edition also includes up-to-date statistics, contrasts Clinton and Trump voters, and discusses the crucial role of the swing state of Ohio in presidential elections, generational differences in media use, and the geography of innovation. This work is suitable for students in the last year of gymnasium or ďŹ rst year of university, and is recommended for Europeans planning a long visit to the United States.

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