President Obama was elected in 2008 and went on to serve two terms, beating out Mitt Romney in the 2012 election. In the 2016 election, Hilary Clinton ran against Donald Trump. Hilary Clinton, President Bill Clinton’s wife, had a long history of political experience. She had served as Secretary of State and a Senator for New York State. But, many people had not forgotten the moral and ethical scandals of her husband’s presidency. Hilary Clinton had her own political scandals and alienated many people with her hardline approach to abortion, gun control, and other controversial issues.
Donald Trump emerged as the Republican candidate, although many Republicans disliked him. He had no political experience and was a businessman of questionable moral and ethical character. The entire country, including most Republicans, was surprised when he won the 2016 election.
- During the 2016 election, the Republican Party lacked unity and organization. Never before had Republicans across the country been so divided. Some ultra-conservatives favored strict immigration laws and wanted to get rid of universal health care.
- Other Republicans favored a more moderate approach. Many Republicans disliked Trump’s tough talk and seeming lack of compassion and restraint. Mormons, who generally voted Republican, were among his strongest critics. Many Mormons and other Republicans refused to vote or voted for third party candidates.
- The election was one of the nastiest in recent years. Friends and family members had heated discussions about which candidate to vote for. People got into debates on Facebook.
- Most people assumed Hillary Clinton would win. The country was surprised and shocked as the results came in. Donald Trump had won the election. In the weeks after Trump’s election, Democrats were scared and saddened. They wondered what would happen next.
- Ethical: relating to ethics, or reasonable, right, and fair behavior
- Moderate: reasonable, not extreme
- Restraint: self-discipline, thoughtfulness
Questions and Answers
Question: What will Donald Trump’s legacy be?
Answer: It’s too soon to say at the time of this writing. He has reversed many of Obama Barack’s environmental regulations and is talking about building a wall between Mexico and the U.S. to reduce the problem of illegal immigration. His attempts to ban immigrants from Muslim countries from coming to the U.S. have been highly controversial.
Visit Wikipedia to learn more about Donald Trump.
George W. Bush’s presidential campaign promised “compassionate conservativism.” He promised to lower taxes while caring for the poor and needy. He wanted to reduce government regulations and ensure individual freedoms. His agenda changed after 9/11 though. Crushing terrorism became a major concern. Bush remained a popular president and won a second term. As the war against terrorism dragged on with little success, Americans began to grow weary. Bush’s tax cuts drove up the federal deficit and the nation headed into a recession.
In 2008, Democrat Barack Obama defeated presidential candidate, John McCain, to become the first African-American president in America’s history. Obama was young, charismatic, and well-educated. He promised quick action to restore the nation’s economy.
- Obama made several changes to boost the economy. He lowered interest rates to encourage Americans to get loans and offered programs to help Americans who already owned homes.
- One of Obama’s most controversial moves was the Affordable Healthcare Act, which promised health insurance to all Americans.
- Liberals appreciated Obama’s views on abortion, gay rights, and the environment. Conservatives disagreed with many of his values and worried that he was destroying individual liberties, and in particular, religious freedom.
- Terrorism continued to be a problem throughout Barack Obama’s presidency. Some people felt that he didn’t do enough to quell rising terrorism.
- Agenda: plan
- Weary: tired
- Deficit: amount one owes
Questions and Answers
Question: Did the economy improve during President Obama’s term in office?
Answer: Most people would agree that the economy did improve during Obama’s presidency.
Visit Wikipedia to learn more about President Barack Obama.
The terrorist attacks on 9/11 took a toll on U.S. industries. The stock market plummeted in the days following the attacks. Airlines struggled to avoid bankruptcy as Americans, leery of airline travel, cancelled their travel plans.
The economy recovered quickly, though. Low interest rates and lax lending rules made it easy for people to buy homes. Many people bought larger, more expensive houses than they could really afford. Home builders built more houses than they could sell. House prices rose quickly. Growth slowed and housing prices dropped. It was the beginning of the Great Recession (2008 to , the worst economic downturn since the stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression.
- Many Americans lost their jobs because companies could no longer afford to keep them. At the same time, Americans carried more credit card debt and other debt than ever before. They couldn’t afford to pay the mortgages on their homes.
- If someone couldn’t pay his mortgage, the banks could foreclose on the home – or take it back from the owner. In 2007, almost 1.3 million people lost their homes. Banks tried to resell the homes, but often had to lower the price or let the home sit on the market for many months.
- Home values in many parts of the country had risen quickly during the early part of the 21st During the recession, home values went down. People often owed more on their homes than they were worth.
- As people lost confidence in the economy, they stopped spending. The value of the stock market went down. Many people lost their investments during this time. Older people who were retired or almost retired were particularly hard hit.
- Banks lost money and went bankrupt. The Federal Government bailed out many banks and also helped U.S. carmakers. Obama approved money to build infrastructures, such as roads and bridges. This money meant new jobs.
- The recession spread to Europe and then to many parts of the world.
- Although Obama said that the markets were stabilized and the recession was over in 2010, many people were still rebuilding their lives several years later.
- Bankrupt: when a company or individual is unable to pay its bills
- Foreclose: when a bank takes back property, such as a home, because the owner doesn’t pay the loan payments
- Infrastructure: the underlying elements of a society, such as roads, bridges, and pipes
Questions and Answers
Question: How can we prevent another recession?
Answer: The economy tends to grow and shrink in cycles that can’t always be predicted or prevented. Government and industries can help by keeping a healthy balance of regulation and not taking foolish risks. Individuals can be prepared for hard times by avoiding debt and living within their means.
Visit The State of Working America to read more about the Great Recession.
Gun control has always been a hot topic in the U.S. Early colonists relied on their guns for both hunting and protection. Had they not had guns, they would have had a difficult time winning the Revolutionary War. After the war, most Americans fiercely defended the right to keep guns. As Americans moved west, they relied on their guns again for protection and to hunt game.
After the Columbine school shootings in 1998, many people began talking about the need for stronger gun laws. During the 21st century, gun laws became a bigger concern because of several mass shootings. Although the laws vary from state to state, most states require gun owners to pass a background check and register to own a gun. States also have restrictions on the types and numbers of guns one can own.
- On December 14, 2012, Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hooks Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. He shot and killed 20 young children, the principal, and six staff members. Lanza killed his mother earlier in the morning. He killed himself as police officers arrived at the school.
- On November 29, 2015, a gunman entered a Planned Parenthood center in Colorado Springs, Colorado, killing three and injuring 9. He was angry over the center’s abortion activities.
- In October, 2015, Sean Harper-Mercer shot and killed eight students and a teacher at Umpqua Community College, where he was attending school. Harper-Mercer was a white supremacist who hated religion and people of color.
- In June, 2016, a gunman killed 50 people and injured 53 at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
- In the instances listed above, the gunmen or women often suffered from mental illness. Sometimes these people are angry at a certain group because they disagree with or feel threatened by that group’s values.
- Most gun-related injuries are accidental or occur in small fights between people who know each other.
- Restriction: a law or limit
- White supremacist: someone who believes that white people are superior to other races and may use violence to make his or her point
- Lenient: relaxed; not strict
Questions and Answers
Question: How can I stay safe with guns?
Answer: It’s important to know that not every person who owns a gun is a bad guy. Many good people own guns, including police officers and hunters. These people understand guns’ power and treat them with respect. If you see a gun, even if you think it might be a play gun, do not touch it. Leave the area and tell a grownup. If a friend tells you he or she has a gun, leave and tell an adult.
Question: Do stricter gun laws work?
Answer: Probably. Some of the states with the strictest gun rules, such as New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, also have the fewest incidences of gun violence.
Visit Kids’ Health to learn more about gun safety.
The first part of the 21st century marks rapid changes in social values, similar to the changes that occurred in the first part of the 20th century. Families become more diverse. For the first time in history, large groups of people opt not to get married or have children. Technology makes entertainment and news even more accessible.
- Mobile devices, such as cell phones and tablets, act almost like handheld computers. People use cell phones, not only to call each other, but to text, shop, get directions, take photos, keep notes, make videos, read books, listen to music, and even watch movies. These devices are tremendously helpful, but they can sometimes be a distraction. Accidents happen when people try to drive while using mobile devices. Cell phones and tablets can be addictive and interfere with face-to-face conversations. They also allow easy access to harmful content, such as pornography or violence.
- Video games are a favorite form of entertainment. Children and adults spend a lot of time playing these games.
- Education is changing. Many public school districts offer charter schools. Each charter school has a different educational focus. Some schools might focus on science, while another might focus on the arts. Parents and children can choose which school to attend. Homeschooling is a growing movement, with over 3 million children learning at home in 2013. More and more families are expected to homeschool in the future.
- As families become more affluent, many of them travel more. Expensive vacations, including cruises and trips to Disneyworld, Europe, or the tropics, are much more common. Some families, especially homeschooling families, travel the world as a means of education.
- Cultural values shift. Gay marriage is legalized and gay and lesbian people lobby for fair treatment. The idea of ‘gender fluidity’ emerges, which says that gender can change or encompass both male and female. Many people oppose this idea, including religious leaders, scientists, and doctors.
- Religious tensions increase as traditional Christians oppose abortion rights and gay marriage. Non-religious people view Christians as narrow-minded or prejudiced. Many Christians feel that they are losing their right to speak freely about their beliefs. Debates over religious freedom are common.
- Racial tensions heat up as white supremacist groups become more vocal. African-Americans rioted and protested against police violence. Several shootings in churches and public places targeted African-Americans.
- Social media platforms, such as Facebook, become a primary way for people to communicate and share news. Companies use social media to advertise their products. Politicians use social media to gain political favor.
- Accessible: easy to get
- Affluent: wealthy
- Fluidity: changeable
Questions and Answers
Question: How can I use technology wisely?
Answer: Great question. First, understand that just as your body needs nutritious food to be healthy, your mind needs good material to remain healthy too. Watching or listening to content that is violent and degrading can cause damage. Talk with your parents about how to choose wholesome music, videos, and video games. If you encounter pornography or violent images, turn it off and tell your parents.
Second, keep a balance in your life. Technology can be a wonderful way to learn new things, but it shouldn’t take the place of other activities. Make sure you play outside every day. Try to eat dinner with your family several times each week. Read books and participate in face-to-face conversations.
Check out an infographic about children and technology.
After the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, rescue workers searched through the debris to find survivors, as well as the bodies of those who were killed. Sixteen acres of New York’s business district was covered with ash. Crews came in to begin cleaning away the rubble. In Washington, D.C., President Bush and other leaders took a hard stance against the terrorists.
- Intelligence sources quickly traced the attacks to Osama bin Laden, a Saudi Multimillionaire. Bin Laden was the leader of an international group called Al Qaeda. This group had organized other terrorist attacks, such as the 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center and the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies.
- Bin Laden wanted to start a jihad, or holy war, against the U.S. He said he planned to “kill Americans and plunder their money.”
- An extremist Muslim group – the Taliban – supported and protected bin Laden, who was hiding in Afghanistan.
- American leaders asked the Taliban to turn bin Laden over to them. When the Taliban refused, America, Britain, and several other nations launched air attacks on Taliban strongholds. Neighboring Pakistan aided the allies. Afghan troops launched ground attacks against the Taliban and were joined in December, 2001, by U.S. ground troops.
- The fight took troops into the mountains and caves of Afghanistan, searching for bin Laden.
- Additionally, the U.S. asked other governments to freeze the financial assets of all terrorist groups. Without access to their money, terrorist groups couldn’t function.
- In 2002, President Bush’s administration tried to build an international coalition to shut down terrorist groups around the world. At first, their plans seemed to be going well, but several Arab countries refused to cooperate. These countries were unhappy with America’s support of Israel.
- The government developed much stricter regulations for airline travel.
- Coalition: when unrelated groups come together to support and act on a particular issue, often temporarily
- Plunder: to steal by force, usually during a time of war
- Extremist: someone with extreme religious or political views
Questions and Answers
Question: Was the war on terrorism successful?
Answer: Not particularly. Fighting terrorists is different from fighting more traditional opponents. Terrorists don’t care if they die and they generally don’t have clear goals, other than causing destruction. Terrorism is still a problem today.
The Twin Towers were not rebuilt after the attacks. Instead, a memorial and park were built there. Learn more about visiting it.
Terrorist attacks overseas began in the 1980s and continued to increase through the 1990s. Americans still felt relatively safe because terrorists had never ventured to U.S. soil. That changed on the morning of September 11, 2001, when terrorists hijacked four planes.
- The first plane slammed into the north tower of the World Trade Center in New York City at 8:46 a.m. Initially, people thought the plane crash might have been an accident.
- Sixteen minutes later, a second plane plowed into the south tower. Balls of fire were seen shooting out of the south tower as smoke billowed from the north tower. Chaos and panic followed as people raced to evacuate the buildings. It became clear that the nation was under attack.
- At 9:43, a third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C., killing 125 people. The Pentagon is America’s military headquarters.
- A fourth plane was believed to be headed for the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. By this time, passengers aboard the plane had heard about the other attacks and understood the threat. They fought back against the hijackers and the plane crashed into a field in Pennsylvania, killing all on board.
- When the planes crashed into the twin towers, the explosion generated intense fire and heat, causing the steel reinforcements to melt and buckle. Both towers collapsed, sending a rain of concrete, metal, and ash into the streets. Most of the people working in the lower levels of the buildings were evacuated, but 3,000 people, including almost 500 rescuers, died in the twin towers.
- Across the country, people were in shock as they watched the footage on television. People posted photos of missing loved ones near the site of the twin towers as they waited for news.
- The Secret Service moved President Bush to secret locations where he worked with Vice President Cheney to plan a response. President Bush called the attacks “evil, despicable acts of terror” and vowed to find the perpetrators. A new war against terrorism began.
- New York City firefighters were seen as heroes for their brave efforts in searching for victims after 9/11. Many of them developed health problems from breathing in the ashes and dust.
- The terrorists hoped to cripple America’s business and government districts and they did succeed for a while. The stock market closed for four days and experienced the worst crash since the Great Depression.
- Americans were afraid to fly and the airlines laid off more than 10,000 employees each. The U.S. government gave them loans to keep them afloat.
- Hijacker: someone who takes illegal control of a plane
- Buckle: collapse
- Despicable: low, hateful
Questions and Answers
Question: Why did the terrorists attack?
Answer: The terrorists had deep religious, cultural, and political conflicts with the U.S. and the western world. They wanted to make a strong statement. Additionally, some terrorists believe that God has called them to start a holy war. They believe that dying for this cause will bring a great reward after they die.
To learn more about 9/11 and what happened next, visit Scholastic.
The year, 2000, marked the beginning of a new millennium or thousand year period. People were excited and apprehensive about what the new century would bring. The 1990s had been prosperous years. Would the next decade bring the same?
- President Bill Clinton had served two terms, or eight years, the maximum time a president can serve. In 2000, his vice president, Al Gore, ran for president against George W. Bush, son of President George H.W. Bush.
- On election day, Al Gore gained a narrow lead in the electoral vote. He had 200,000 more popular votes than Bush – a narrow lead. Gore was declared president early in the evening. Later, Bush was called the president, winning by a slim margin in Florida, which gave him the lead.
- The race was so close that Al Gore asked the Supreme Court for a recount. The court began recounting the votes but decided four days later that there wasn’t enough time to do a proper recount. On December 13, 2000, Bush became the new president. The race was the closest presidential race in history.
- Democrats had held control of the White House for eight years, but now Republicans were in charge. Bush chose conservative Republicans to fill his cabinet positions. Many of these people served with Bush’s father.
- Clinton’s 2001 budget had a surplus of $184 billion. Bush wanted to use that money for a tax cut. Democrats were unhappy because most of the money from this tax cut would benefit wealthy Americans. The surplus wasn’t as large as anticipated. The stock market wasn’t doing well and the economy seemed to be slowing down. The years of prosperity were coming to an end.
- Facing a national economic recession and an energy crisis in California, Bush withdrew the U.S. from the Kyoto Protocol, an international environmental agreement. He said that he would do nothing that would hurt the economy. Instead, he created his own climate-change plan, asking U.S. industries to voluntarily reduce pollutants. He also wanted to build 1,900 new power plants in the U.S. that would be fueled by coal.
- Popular vote: the vote of the people
- Electoral vote: votes cast by members of the Electoral College
- Conservative: a political conservative is one who generally believes in small federal government, low taxes, and limited regulation
Questions and Answers
Question: It seems like political parties seem to take turns in office. Why?
Answer: Our political system of parties is far from perfect, but it does seem to keep things in balance. Democrats are known for increasing spending and government programs. They tend to do a good job of protecting the environment and human rights. Republicans are known for decreasing spending and government programs. They focus on preserving individual freedoms and liberties. People seem to naturally prefer a change in leadership every few years.
Visit Congress for Kids to learn more about the electoral college.
Since World War II, the United States’ main foreign policy concern had been stopping Communism’s growth. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, that threat was gone. The focus turned to environmental concerns, terrorism, and humanitarian service.
- Yugoslavia, formerly a Communist country, began to break into small states in the 1990s. A variety of cultures and ethnic groups lived within these states and they did not get along. When Croatia (one of the regions) announced its independence, Serbians living there declared war. Slobodan Milosevic, the president of Yugoslavia, sent Serb troops into Bosnia and Croatia. These troops attempted to wipe out entire groups of people (genocide), much like Adolf Hitler did during World War II. In 1997, Serbs launched attacks against Albanian Muslims and others in Kosovo. Thousands of Albanians fled on foot and lived in refugee camps. NATO bombed Belgrade and sent 50,000 men to keep peace in the area. Milosevic was forced out of power by September.
- Widespread famine, drought, and civil war brought misery to the people of Somalia, in Africa. In 1992, President George H.W. Bush sent U.S. troops to join a United Nations relief mission there with the goal of preventing warring groups from stealing food from Somalians. These clans resented the intrusion and on October 3, 1993, 18 U.S soldiers were killed in a battle against them. Many Americans were angry and President Clinton ordered our troops to leave Somalia.
- Islamic groups in the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia resented America’s support of Israel. They also hated the West’s culture and wealth and disliked its influence on their countries. In January, 1993, six people were killed when a car bomb exploded in the World Trade Center garage. Truck bomb attacks at embassies in Kenya and Tanzania killed 250 people in 1998. Terrorists bombed a navy ship off the coast of Yemen in 2000. Intelligence experts traced the attacks to Osama bin Laden.
- During the late 1980s and 1990s, Americans became more aware of the damage industrialization was causing the environment. Scientists presented information about global warming. Since the U.S. was a leading industrial nation, it was also a leading polluter. Congress passed stricter laws to keep the air, water, and land clean. People began to resent these strict and expensive laws, especially since developing nations weren’t required to make changes. Disagreements about how to solve environmental problems were common.
- Genocide: the murder of entire groups of people, generally based on their ethnic, religious, or racial background.
- Industrial: relating to industry, factories, and production
- Humanitarian: caring for human needs
Questions and Answers
Question: Were the people in Yugoslavia able to resolve their problems?
Answer: Eastern Europe has been a complicated place for hundreds of years. Each small state has its own culture, ethnic groups, and traditions. Each group feels an intense loyalty and nationalism for its own people. Additionally, these areas were under Communist rule for many years so developing a more democratic government in which people can work, worship, and live as they choose takes time. Problems do still flare up occasionally.
The 1990s were a time of rapid change in America. New laws allowed more immigrants to enter the country. Between 1950 and 2000, more than 13 million people came from Asia and Central America and Hispanic-Americans became the fastest growing minority group.
At the same time, family dynamics were changing as more families were headed by single parents or gay/lesbian parents. Gays were gaining a more prominent voice. At the same time, organized religion was losing its influence.
Some Americans felt scared and threatened by these changes. A few tried to use violence to express their frustration or make change. Americans were shocked and saddened by violent acts committed by other Americans.
- Militant groups formed. These groups were usually white conservatives. They sometimes gathered weapons and formed armies. Many militants were distrustful of the government.
- One group was the Branch Davidians in Waco, Texas. This religious group, led by David Koresh, gathered together to prepare for the end of the world. When federal agents tried to search their compound for illegal weapons, cult members shot and killed four agents. The ensuing stand-off lasted for 51 days and ended when FBI agents tried to use tear gas to enter the compound. The Branch Davidians set the building on fire. 75 cult members died in the fire, including 25 children.
- In April, 1995, Timothy McVeigh used a truck filled with explosives to blow up a federal office building in Oklahoma City. McVeigh, a Gulf War veteran thought the government was abusing its power. He hoped that the attack would motivate other people to join his cause. His desire to start a revolt failed but 168 people, including 19 children, died in the attack. McVeigh was executed in 2001. His partner, Terry Nichols, was sentenced to life in prison.
- On March 24, 1998, two boys opened fire on students at their middle school in Arkansas. A year later, on April 20, 1999, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris attached their classmates at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. They killed 13 people before shooting themselves. They carried out their attack on Adolf Hitler’s birthday.
- Harvard graduate, Ted Kaczynski, believed that technology was destroying the human race. He sent homemade bombs to airlines and universities from 1978 to 1995. His bombs killed three people. Twenty-three were injured. The FBI spent more than $50 million trying to capture the elusive Kaczynski. Authorities finally found him living in a shack in western Montana after a tip from his brother.
- Family dynamic: a family’s organization or makeup
- Revolt: an organized rebellion against government
- Elusive: mysterious, difficult to catch
Visit 60 Minutes to learn more about the Columbine shootings.