History of the United States (2008–present)

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The history of the United States from 2008 to present began with the collapse of the housing bubble, which led into the late-2000s recession, helped the Democrats win the presidency in 2008 with the election of Barack Obama, the country's first African-American president. The government enacted large loans and economic stimulus packages aimed at improving the economy. Obama's domestic initiatives also included the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which by means of large reforms to the American healthcare system, created a National Health Insurance program. President Obama eventually withdrew combat troops from Iraq, and shifted the country's efforts in the War on Terror to Afghanistan, where a troop surge was initiated in 2009. In 2010, due to continued public discontent with the economic situation, unemployment, and federal spending, Republicans regained control of the House of Representatives and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate.

In 2011, Obama announced that al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces during a covert operation in Pakistan while the Iraq War was declared formally over the same year. The following year Obama was re-elected president. In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which resulted in the recognition of legally performed same-sex marriages by the federal government. In 2015, the Court ruled that all states must grant same-sex marriages as well as recognize others performed in different states in Obergefell v. Hodges.

A series of deadly mass shootings, especially the Aurora movie theater massacre and the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre, sparked a heated debate over gun control and the causes of these events. After the killings of many African-Americans such as Eric Garner, Michael Brown, and Philando Castille by policemen resulted in no prosecution, the Black Lives Matter movement sparked discussions, protests, and riots against racial profiling, police brutality, and overall racism between white and black Americans. The 2016 Orlando shooting at a gay nightclub renewed discussions of violence and discrimination against the LGBT community as well as domestic terrorism by radicalized individuals.

After unprecedented media coverage and a confrontational, aggressive presidential campaign, businessman Donald Trump defeated former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election leading to Republicans gaining control of all branches of government. His first months in office have largely been characterized by legislation and a series of executive orders restricting abortion rights and the effects of the Affordable Care Act, the construction of a wall along the Mexico–United States border, and the refusal to admit citizens of several Muslim-majority countries as well as facing mass opposition with a series of marches and protests, most notably Women's Marches that brought nearly five million marchers worldwide.[1][2][3][4][5] Rallies in support of Trump have also been held in the U.S. as well.

During the 2010s, the country has seen troubles in race relations. America saw the rise of the alt-right movement: a white nationalist coalition that seeks the explusion and/or subjection of sexual and racial minorities from the United States.[6] In August 2017, these groups attended a rally that meant to unify white supremacist, neo-Nazi, and white nationalist factions. During the rally, a neo-Nazi killed a demonstrator ramming a car into Heather Heyer, a protester against the rally.[7][8] Since the mid-2010s, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation now consider the threat of white supremacist and alt-right violence the leading threat of domestic terrorism in the United States.[9][10]

Conflicts[edit]

War in Afghanistan[edit]

The War in Afghanistan continued. In September 2008, President Bush announced he would shift 4,500 U.S. troops from Iraq to the conflict in Afghanistan.[11] This was followed with recently elected President Barack Obama announcing in February 2009 that the United States would deploy an additional 17,000 troops to Afghanistan.[12] The Obama administration also later announced a "troop surge" of an additional 30,000 US military forces to be deployed in the summer of 2010, and to begin withdrawals of the 100,000 total U.S. troops in July 2011.[13] With the surge in effect, the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) launched Operation Moshtarak, an offensive determined to eliminate Taliban insurgents from Helmand Province.[14] At 15,000 troops, it was the largest joint operation of the war.[15]

After a 2010 profile on U.S. Army general and ISAF Commander Stanley McChrystal was published in the magazine Rolling Stone,[16] McChrystal was forced to resign from his position after making controversial remarks about Obama administration officials.[17] President Obama then announced ISAF to be commanded by General David Petraeus.[18]

The U.S. national security team gathered in the White House Situation Room to monitor the progress of Operation Neptune Spear, which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden.

On May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. conducted an operation that killed al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden at his compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.[19] The announcement drew worldwide praise, with spontaneous celebrations at Ground Zero, Times Square, and outside of the White House.[20] The raid on bin Laden's compound in Abbottabad led to a rise in diplomatic tensions between the US and Pakistan.[21] With civilian deaths from the United States' drone program in so-called "signature strikes", the 2011 NATO attack in Pakistan, which led to the deaths of 24 Pakistani military officers, and the closure of NATO supply lines to neighboring Afghanistan, Pakistan–United States relations remain fractured as a result of the War on Terror.[21][22][23][24]

In mid-2011 President Obama announced the start of the withdrawal of the additional 33,000 troops deployed from the 2010 troop surge.[25] By December 2011, the first round of 10,000 troops were withdrawn, with the second round of 23,000 troops later withdrawn in September 2012.[26][27]

As of February 2014, a total of 2,307 U.S. troops were killed and 19,656 injured due to the Afghanistan War.[28] Estimates from the Brown University Watson Institute for International Studies also suggest that between 16,725–19,013 Afghan civilians died as a result of the war.[29]

ISAF ceased combat operations and was disbanded in December 2014, with a small number of troops remaining behind in an advisory role as part of ISAF's successor organization, the Resolute Support Mission.

Iraq War[edit]

As the situation in Iraq became increasingly difficult, policymakers began looking for new options. This led to the formation of the Iraq Study Group, a nonpartisan commission chaired by James Baker and Lee H. Hamilton. This produced a variety of proposals; some of the more notable ones were to seek decreased US presence in Iraq, increased engagement with neighboring countries, and greater attention to resolving other local conflicts, such as the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. The recommendations were generally ignored, and instead, President Bush ordered a surge of troops to Iraq in 2007 and 2008. Violence in the country declined in 2008 and 2009, and the US combat role ended in August 2010. US forces were withdrawn in large numbers in 2009 and 2010, and the war was declared formally over in December 2011.[30]

Domestic terrorism[edit]

The scene immediately after the first bomb explosion in the Boston Marathon bombings.

On April 15, 2013, two bombs exploded near the finish line of the Boston Marathon in Boston, Massachusetts, killing three people and injuring over 280.[31] Three days later, suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev led Boston police on a high speed chase, after killing one officer at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.[32] Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police[33] and a seriously injured Dzhokhar was taken into custody in nearby Watertown the following day.[34]

On December 2, 2015, in the 2015 San Bernardino attack, 14 people were killed and 22 were injured in a mass shooting at a workplace Christmas party at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California. Both a workplace shooting and a terrorist attack, the incident was perpetrated by Rizwan Farook, a healthcare worker who was employed at the facility, and his wife Tashfeen Malik. The pair were U.S. citizens of Pakistani descent who had become radicalized and had expressed a commitment to jihadism prior to the attack. The attack also included an attempted bombing. Four hours after the attack, the perpetrators were killed by police in a shootout that left two officers injured.[35]

Crime and violence[edit]

Continuing the increase in high-profile mass school shootings seen in the late 1990s and 2000s, additional school shootings rocked the country in the 2010s, the deadliest of which were the Oikos University shooting (2012), the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting (2012), the Isla Vista killings (2014), the Umpqua Community College shooting (2015), the Stoneman Douglas High School shooting (2018), and the Santa Fe High School shooting (2018).[36][37] [38] These shootings, particularly the Sandy Hook and Stoneman Douglas shootings, heightened the debate over gun politics, and continued the public dialogue about improving mental health care and school safety.

In November 2009, U.S. Army major Nidal Malik Hasan killed 13 fellow soldiers and injured 30 in the Fort Hood shooting in Killeen, Texas.[39] While the act was called terrorism by some due to Hasan's Muslim heritage, the attack was ruled out by the FBI to have been perpetrated by a terrorist organization.

On January 8, 2011, US Representative Gabrielle Giffords was the target of an assassination attempt, when a gunman went on a shooting spree, critically injuring Giffords, killing federal judge John Roll and five other people, and wounding at least 14 others.[40]

In July 2012, a man shot 70 people (up to that time, the highest number of victims of any mass shooting in American history) at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, killing twelve and injuring 58 others.[41]

On June 12, 2016, a mass shooting in a Florida nightclub killed 50 people, including the man responsible for it. It surpassed 2007's Virginia Tech shooting as the deadliest mass shooting in American history, and was also classified as a terrorist attack and a hate crime against the LGBT community.

The Las Vegas sign adorned with flowers a week after the deadliest mass shooting in American history took place on the Las Vegas strip.

On October 1, 2017, the Orlando nightclub shooting was surpassed by the 2017 Las Vegas shooting as the deadliest mass shooting in American history when a gunman fired from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay onto a crowd of concertgoers at the Route 91 Harvest festival, killing 58 and injuring 851, before killing himself. This shooting led to an increased dialogue and debate over gun control, particularly the use of bump stocks which allowed the shooter to fire his semi-automatic rifle at a rate similar to an illegal fully automatic weapon. Concerns about public event safety and hotel security also became a focus of public dialogue in the wake of this event. In addition, the investigation was the focus of intense scrutiny, particularly as the official reports and timelines changed several times throughout the investigation. This also led to a number of conspiracy theories.

Disasters[edit]

Natural disasters[edit]

President Barack Obama greets survivors of the devastating 2011 Joplin tornado.

In the spring of 2011, several major tornado outbreaks affected the Central and Southern United States. 43 people were killed in a tornado outbreak from April 14–16.[42][43] Approximately 350+ people were killed in a tornado outbreak from April 25–28, the deadliest US tornado outbreak in 75 years (since the 1936 Tupelo-Gainesville tornado outbreak).[44][45][46][47] States particularly hit hard by the outbreaks included Oklahoma, Arkansas, Mississippi, Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, and most especially, Alabama, which sustained over 250 fatalities alone. The latter outbreak produced $10 billion in damage, making it the costliest tornado outbreak in history.[48] On May 22, an EF5 tornado devastated Joplin, Missouri, killing 154, injuring over 1,000 people, and causing $1–3 billion in damage, making it the deadliest single US tornado in 64 years and the costliest single tornado of all time.[49][50]

In August 2011, Hurricane Irene was the first hurricane to make landfall since Ike in 2008, striking the Eastern Seaboard of the United States, making landfalls in North Carolina, New Jersey, and New York. The storm killed at least 45 people and caused $10 billion in damage. The storm was particularly notable for its extensive flooding in the Northeast, and a couple days later, Tropical Storm Lee made landfall in Louisiana, its remnants tracking to the Northeast for even more devastating floods.

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy struck the East Coast of the United States, making landfall near Atlantic City, New Jersey. The storm knocked out power to millions of people and caused flooding in parts of New York City along with devastation to the Jersey Shore and portions of Long Island and Staten Island. The storm has been blamed for 121 fatalities and is estimated to have caused at least $50 billion in damage.

In May 2013, at least 24 people were killed, 377 people were injured, and $1.5 to $3 billion in damage was caused when an EF5 tornado struck the Oklahoma City suburb of Moore, which was hit by a deadly and destructive F5 tornado only 14 years prior.

In August 2017, Hurricane Harvey became the first major hurricane to make landfall in the United States since Hurricane Wilma in 2005. It devastated Houston, Texas, causing extreme flooding, 83 confirmed deaths, and an estimated $70 billion to $200 billion in damage. Harvey's highest winds hit 130 mph.

In September 2017, Hurricane Irma hit Florida, killing 102 people and causing over $62.87 billion in damage, making it unofficially the fourth-costliest hurricane on record. The size of the storm spanned across the entire Florida peninsula, and all 67 counties of Florida declared a state of emergency. Irma's highest winds were 185 mph.

Later in September 2017, Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico, a US territory, killing over 547 people and causing over $91.6 billion in damage, making it the third-costliest Atlantic hurricane on record. Maria's highest winds were 175 mph.

Other disasters[edit]

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig burns after exploding in April 2010. The disaster led to the largest oil spill in US history.

On April 20, 2010, an offshore oil drilling rig, the Deepwater Horizon, exploded and burned off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. Dozens of workers fled the flames and were rescued by lifeboats and helicopters, however 11 were killed and 17 were injured in the incident. The rig burned for 36 hours before sinking. On April 24, it was discovered that a damaged wellhead was leaking oil into the Gulf of Mexico at a rapid rate. For approximately 90 days, tens of thousands of barrels of oil leaked into the ocean every day, resulting in the largest oil spill in United States history. The wellhead was successfully contained in mid-July, stopping the flow, and efforts are ongoing to cap the wellhead and create a replacement well. Despite significant efforts to protect coastlines, the spill has had devastating impacts on the environment and the economies of the Gulf Coast states. The Obama administration has ordered well operator BP responsible for all cleanup costs, which are expected to run in the tens of billions of dollars. The spill has resulted in negative public approval ratings of the US government, the Obama administration, and BP, for their handling of the spill, with BP suffering the worst ratings.

Religion[edit]

A 2014 Religious Landscape Study conducted by Pew Research Center from June 4-September 30, 2014 found Christianity declined 7.8% from 78.4% in 2007 to 70.6% in 2014, unaffiliated rose 6.7% from 16.1% in 2007 to 22.8% in 2014, and non-Christian religions rose 1.2% from 4.7% in 2007 to 5.9% in 2014.[51][52]

Politics[edit]

The Great Recession[edit]

U.S. Employment Statistics (unemployment rate and monthly changes in net employment), 2009–2016; the U.S. unemployment rate topped 8% (at times over 10%) from 2009-2012 during the Great Recession.[53][54]

In 2007, while US unemployment dropped to its lowest level since the year 2000, the housing bubble reached its peak and economic growth slowed down, and by December 2007, the United States entered a severe long-lasting recession. By mid-2008, property values and the values of other assets plummeted, and the stock market crashed in October 2008, spurred by a lack of investor confidence as the liquidity of assets began to evaporate. With the decline in wealth and the lack of investor and consumer confidence, growth and economic activity came to a screeching halt and the job growth of previous years was soon wiped out, with mass layoffs and unemployment rising rapidly in late 2008, and continuing into 2009.[55][56]

Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke told a federal commission in November 2009, "As a scholar of the Great Depression, I honestly believe that September and October of 2008 was the worst financial crisis in global history, including the Great Depression." Of the 13 most important US financial institutions, "12 were at risk of failure within a period of a week or two".[57]

The Federal Reserve and the Treasury cooperated by pouring trillions into a financial system that had frozen up worldwide. They rescued many of the large financial corporations from bankruptcy – with the exception of Lehman Brothers, which went bankrupt – and took government control of insurance giant AIG, mortgage banks Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, and both General Motors and Chrysler.[58]

In October 2008, Bush sought, and Congress passed, the Emergency Economic Stabilization Act of 2008 (commonly referred to as the "bank bailout") with the goal of protecting the US financial system from complete collapse in the wake of the late-2000s recession, which brought significant declines in the stock market. The bill provided federal government guarantees of up to $700 billion to troubled financial institutions through the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). By 2010, only a fraction of that money was ever spent, as banks were able to quickly repay loans from the federal government or ended up never needing the money.

Meanwhile, unemployment doubled to nearly 10%, with states such as California and Michigan especially hard hit. While the stock market rebounded by 2011, and corporate profits had recovered, unemployment remained over 9% into 2011. The recession was worldwide, with Europe and Japan hard hit, while China, India and Canada fared much better.

The Obama administration[edit]

Obama sworn in as the 44th President of the United States

The nation went into the 2008 election cycle having a Republican president[59] and Democratic Congress[60] both with extremely low approval ratings. New York Senator Hillary Clinton had the inside track for the nomination but faced an unexpected challenge from Barack Obama, the nearly unknown junior Senator from Illinois. The GOP nominated Arizona Senator John McCain. During the general election, Obama's youthfulness, charisma, and widespread media support proved effective against McCain, seen as a stodgy Washington insider. In addition, his relatively advanced age (72) and injuries from captivity in the Vietnam War drew doubts over his health and stamina. Overall disillusionment with the Republican Party and George Bush's administration did not help McCain's cause, and his choice of Alaska governor Sarah Palin as his running mate also drew some controversy. Obama also drew some doubts over his inexperience and controversial associations with Weather Underground founder William Ayers and Reverend Jeremiah Wright, the pastor of an African-American church Obama had attended for years who was discovered to have made anti-white sermons. The decisive event was the collapse of the national financial system over the summer, launching a severe worldwide depression[61] On November 4, 2008, Obama defeated McCain 365 to 173 in the electoral vote and 52.9% to 45.7% in the popular vote to become the 44th President of the United States, making history in becoming the first African-American to be elected to the highest executive office. Part of the strong showing came from a surge of support from younger voters, African Americans, Hispanics and independents. Democrats made further gains in Congress, adding to the majorities they had won in 2006.[62]

Obama's early policy decisions addressed a continuing global financial crisis[63] and have included changes in tax policies, foreign policy initiatives and the phasing out of detention of prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba.[64]Within a few weeks of taking office, the new president and Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, which was ostensibly aimed at recovering from the economic collapse. This entailed a $700 billion stimulus package for the economy, although there were considerable questions over the amount of money spent or its actual effectiveness.[65]

In foreign policy, President Obama withdrew U.S. troops from Iraq in large numbers, bringing the Iraq War to an end in December 2011. At the same time, he also increased troop levels in the Afghanistan War.[66] Early in his presidency, he successfully negotiated the New START treaty with the Russian Federation, which made significant reductions in their nuclear arsenals. The U.S. also maintained ongoing talks, led by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, with North Korea over its nuclear weapons program, as well as with Israel and the Palestinian Authority over a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. In May 2011, President Obama announced in a televised speech to the nation that al-Qaeda leader and culprit behind many deadly acts of terrorism (including the September 11 attacks) Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. forces at a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan.

Tea Party protesters on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol and the National Mall at the Taxpayer March on Washington in September 2009.

Although the recession reached its bottom in June 2009 and began to move up again, voters remained frustrated with the slow pace of the economic recovery. In the spring of 2009, large protests erupted in Washington, DC from conservative groups who began calling themselves the "Tea Party" and who were particularly opposed to the controversial stimulus act. The Tea Party would end up in a few years as a springboard for a large-scale Republican revival. In the 2010 midterms, the GOP retook control of the House, although the Senate remained in Democratic hands.[67]

Under the new Congress, which had a Republican House and a Democratic Senate, President Obama and Congress clashed for months over whether or not to raise the debt ceiling and whether or not to extend the payroll tax cuts for middle-income citizens that Obama signed into law. After months of heated debate, the debt ceiling was ultimately raised and the tax cuts extended. However, Obama's approval ratings continued to hover at around 46%,[68] while Congress had an even lower approval rating of 11%.[69]

In the 2012 presidential election, the GOP nominated former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney. Much like John McCain four years earlier, Romney was largely seen as a tepid moderate and a Beltway insider who did not inspire the conservative base of the Republican Party, nor independents. He also drew controversy for his stand on Obamacare, which had been based on the system he implemented in Massachusetts. Obama defeated his opponent to win a second term, with a tally in the Electoral College by 332 to 206 and in the popular vote by 51.06% to 47.21%. The electoral map remained the same as 2008, with the exception of North Carolina and Indiana flipping back as red states, and the party balance in Congress remained largely unchanged.

In the November 2014 midterm elections, the Republican Party took control of the Senate and expanded its majority in the House of Representatives, an event that portended an ill omen for the Democrats.

On December 17, 2014, President Barack Obama announced a restoration of full diplomatic relations with Cuba for the first time since 1961. A deal between the United States and Cuba was brokered during 18 months of secret talks hosted by Canada, with a final meeting hosted by Pope Francis at the Vatican. Although the U.S. embargo remains in effect and ordinary tourism by Americans is still prohibited, the United States will ease travel restrictions, release three Cuban spies, and open an embassy in Havana.[70]

The New York Times reported in January 2015:[71]

In short: The state of union, while far stronger than when Mr. Obama took office, remains troubled. The financial crisis has ended, with job growth picking up and the American economy among the world's strongest right now. Yet the great 21st-century wage slowdown continues, with pay raises for most workers still meager. In other positive news, the deficit has fallen sharply, thanks to a combination of slower health-cost growth and budget cuts (the latter championed by Republicans). Many more people have health insurance, thanks to Mr. Obama's health law. More people are graduating from college—although Mr. Obama is likely to fall short of his vow to have the United States lead the world in college graduates by 2020.

On the negative side, climate change appears to be accelerating, creating serious health and economic risks. The fall in gasoline prices, though welcome for many struggling families, won't help the climate. And with Mr. Obama delivering his address the day after Martin Luther King's Birthday, it's also worth remembering that the country's racial divides remain deep, with African-Americans still far behind other Americans by many measures.

Outside the Supreme Court, a crowd celebrates the Court's decision that same-sex marriage is a constitutionally protected right under the 14th Amendment, a key win for gay rights.

On June 26, 2015, the Supreme Court ruled, 5–4, in the case of Obergefell vs. Hodges that same-sex marriage was a constitutionally protected right under the 14th Amendment. Shortly before the ruling, polling showed the majority of Americans approving of same-sex marriage. The ruling was celebrated by many, and President Obama advertised his support for the ruling by coloring the White House in gay pride colors using lights. This ruling was not achieved without controversy, as it did little to change the minds of those that disapproved of homosexuality in general.

In regards to the Supreme Court, President Obama faced three vacancies during his administration. Justice David Souter retired in June 2009 and the president nominated as his replacement Sonia Sotomayor, the first Hispanic Supreme Court Justice in U.S. history. Justice John Paul Stevens retired exactly one year later and Obama replaced him with Elena Kagan. Justice Antonin Scalia died on February 13, 2016. President Obama nominated Merrick Garland as his replacement, but the United States Senate, led by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to give Garland a hearing, instead arguing that the winner of the ongoing presidential election be given the opportunity to nominate Scalia's replacement instead. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg was pressured by liberal groups to retire while the Democrats remained in control of the White House, but declined to do so.

On September 25, 2015, John Boehner announced that he would step down as Speaker and resign from Congress at the end of October 2015. Boehner's resignation took place after Pope Francis' address to Congress the day before, an event considered by Boehner as a high point in his legislative career. Boehner was replaced by Republican Paul Ryan, the U.S. Representative for Wisconsin's 1st congressional district and former candidate for Vice President along with Mitt Romney. Sources in Boehner's office indicated he was stepping aside in the face of increasing discord while trying to manage passage of a continuing resolution to fund the government. Conservative opposition to funding Planned Parenthood as part of the resolution, and stronger threats to Boehner's leadership on account of the controversy, prompted the abrupt announcement.[72] Members of the caucus indicated that the resignation opened the way for a "clean bill" for government funding to pass, and "a commitment [was] made that there [would] be no shutdown." [73]

The Trump administration[edit]

2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump campaigns at a rally in Phoenix, Arizona, October 29, 2016.

In the 2016 presidential election, the GOP had a wide open field with numerous promising young candidates, including Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Florida Senator Marco Rubio. An early contender was Jeb Bush, former Florida governor, son of former president George H. W. Bush, and brother of former president George W. Bush. The uninspiring Bush attracted little interest from an electorate tired of political dynasties, and he dropped out of the race early in the year. Ted Cruz enjoyed widespread popularity among conservatives, namely the Christian right.

The Democratic Party had fewer potential candidates to choose from, and the campaign early on centered on Hillary Clinton, former Secretary of State, United States Senator from New York, and First Lady of the United States. A surprise challenger to Clinton appeared in 74-year-old Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-identified democratic socialist and the one of only two independents in the Senate. Despite attracting a large, enthusiastic following among mostly young voters and educated whites, Sanders was unable to secure the nomination. When the primary season finished in the spring, Clinton secured the Democratic nomination. Senator Bernie Sanders finally conceded the race, endorsing then presumptive nominee Hillary Clinton.

Meanwhile, in June 2015, real estate mogul Donald Trump announced that he was seeking the presidency. Although Trump's announcement received little attention at first (he had mounted a short-lived third party presidential run in 2000), he quickly bounded out of the gate with a populist message about his perceived decline of American economic and geopolitical prestige under the previous two administrations. By the start of the primary season in early 2016, Trump was polling ahead of the other GOP candidates despite his lack of political experience and attracting a considerable following among the party base.

By the spring of 2016, most GOP candidates had dropped out of the running and Trump had no remaining challengers other than Ted Cruz. Some right wing conservatives and Christian groups continued to support Cruz, especially as there was controversy over Trump's personal life and relatively liberal attitude on social issues. However, Trump's economic message had widespread populist appeal and on May 3, Ted Cruz officially ended his presidential campaign.

As the primaries gave way to the general election, Hillary Clinton faced numerous controversies over her tenure as Secretary of State, namely an email server scandal. Polls and surveys showed that both Clinton and Trump had an overall negative image among voters. Meanwhile, Donald Trump chose as his running mate Indiana Governor Mike Pence. Pence, a staunch conservative Christian, was seen as a way of winning over heartland conservatives, many of whom were Ted Cruz supporters wary of Trump's attitude on social issues. Clinton chose as her running mate Virginia Senator Tim Kaine, seen as a way of connecting with blue collar white voters, Trump's base of support.

During the general election, controversies over remarks Donald Trump had made over the years seen as demeaning to women came up, including a beauty pageant he had been a judge on in the 1990s where he had criticized the appearance of a contestant, as well as a leaked 2005 audio tape in which he made vulgar statements about the treatment of women.[74] Hillary Clinton, however, continued to be embroiled in controversies of her own, the biggest being the revelation that she had used an unsecured private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State, leaving the possibility of having mismanaged or compromised classified documents. In addition, John Podesta, Clinton's campaign manager, had his private email account hacked, releasing over 20,000 campaign emails in October and November 2016 by WikiLeaks.

President Donald Trump and his daughter Ivanka Trump, one of his senior advisors.

On Election Day, November 8, Trump carried 306 electoral votes against Clinton's 232. He made considerable inroads into the old Rust Belt, carrying states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania that had been safe Democratic territory since 1988. However, Donald Trump did not win the popular vote. This was the fourth time in American history that the outcome of the Electoral College did not match the outcome of the popular vote, the others happening in 1876, 1888, and 2000. The GOP also retained control a majority in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. Allegations of Russian interference on behalf of Trump's candidacy in the 2016 election caused controversy during and after the election.[75]

On January 20, 2017, Trump took the oath of office as the 45th US president in the face of large-scale demonstrations from protesters unhappy with the outcome of the election and of the incoming president. On his first day in office, he undertook a series of executive orders aimed at dismantling the Affordable Care Act and Trans-Pacific Partnership, and also moved to pass a temporary ban on refugees from several Middle Eastern states. This last action met with widespread criticism, and the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals dismissed it as unconstitutional. On June 26, the Supreme Court overturned the 9th Circuit's decision, ruling that part of President Trump's executive order is constitutional. One of Trump's major accomplishments was nominating Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. On April 10, Gorsuch was sworn in.

In December 2017, Congress passed and President Trump signed into law the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017, the largest and most sweeping tax cut and tax reform bill in American history. The Act amended the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 based on tax reform advocated by congressional Republicans and the Trump administration. Major elements include reducing tax rates for businesses and individuals; a personal tax simplification by increasing the standard deduction and family tax credits, but eliminating personal exemptions and making it less beneficial to itemize deductions; limiting deductions for state and local income taxes (SALT) and property taxes; further limiting the mortgage interest deduction; reducing the alternative minimum tax for individuals and eliminating it for corporations; reducing the number of estates impacted by the estate tax; and repealing the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).[76] The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) reported that, under the Act, individuals and pass-through entities like partnerships and S corporations would receive about $1,125 billion in net benefits (i.e. net tax cuts offset by reduced healthcare subsidies) over 10 years, while corporations would receive around $320 billion in benefits. The individual and pass-through tax cuts fade over time and become net tax increases starting in 2027 while the corporate tax cuts are permanent. This enabled the Senate to pass the bill with only 51 votes, without the need to defeat a filibuster, under the budget reconciliation process.[77] Tax cuts were reflected in individual worker paychecks as early as February 2018 and with the corporate tax rate being reduced from 35% to 21%, numerous major American corporations announced across-the-board pay raises and bonuses for their workers, expanded benefits and programs, and investments in capital improvements.[78]

On May 9, 2018, the Trump Administration withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran, and other Great Powers, over alleged violations of the agreement by the Iranians in regards toward their nuclear program.[79]

Race[edit]

After the election of Barack Obama, many commentators and political scientists believed that the United States was entering a post-racial era.[80]

The mid-2010s have seen the return of racial unrest, and has seen the continued growth of racial polarization, white nationalism, and a deterioration of race relations.[81]

"A Post-Racial Nation"[edit]

President Barack Obama

Some Americans saw the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama, and his election in 2008 as the first black president of the United States, as a sign that the nation had, in fact, become post-racial.[82][83] The conservative radio host Lou Dobbs, for example, said in November 2009, "We are now in a 21st-century post-partisan, post-racial society."[84] Two months later, Chris Matthews, an MSNBC host, said of President Obama, "He is post-racial by all appearances. You know, I forgot he was black tonight for an hour."[85]

However, public opinion on whether the United States is post-racial is itself divided starkly by race. In a Washington Post/ABC News poll conducted in December 2014, about 50% of white respondents said they believed that the justice system treats Americans of all races equally, but only 10% of African-Americans said the same.[86] In the spring of 2015, according to a Gallup poll, 13 percent of black Americans surveyed identified race relations as the most important problem the United States faces, compared with 4 percent of white Americans.[87]

Arguments that the United States is not post-racial frequently emphasize the treatment of African-Americans and other racial minorities in the criminal justice system and in interactions with the police. Killings of unarmed African-Americans, often by police officers, have been widely publicized. In 2015, according to a study by The Guardian, police officers in the United States killed 7.13 black Americans per million, compared with 2.91 white Americans per million.[88] Additionally:

Young black men were nine times more likely than other Americans to be killed by police officers in 2015, according to the findings of a Guardian study that recorded a final tally of 1,134 deaths at the hands of law enforcement officers this year.

Despite making up only 2% of the total US population, African American males between the ages of 15 and 34 comprised more than 15% of all deaths logged this year by an ongoing investigation into the use of deadly force by police. Their rate of police-involved deaths was five times higher than for white men of the same age.[89]

Such killings had a marked effect on public perceptions of race relations in America. The 13 percent of black Americans who called race relations the most pressing problem in the United States in the spring 2015 Gallup poll dwarfed the 3 percent that Gallup reported at the beginning of 2014.[87] And the percentage of white Americans who said race relations were the most important issue rose to 4 percent in 2015 from 1 percent in 2014.[87]

In response to high-profile incidents such as the fatal shootings of Michael Brown, Aiyana Jones, Trayvon Martin, Laquan McDonald, Tamir Rice, and Walter Scott, and the death of Freddie Gray from a spinal-cord injury sustained in police custody, academics[83] and journalists[90] have denounced claims that America is post-racial. Ta-Nehisi Coates wrote in The Atlantic in 2015 that the phrase “post-racial” was “usually employed by talk-show hosts and news anchors looking to measure progress in the Obama era.”[90] And Anna Holmes wrote in The New York Times, "Chattel slavery and the legacies it left behind continue to shape American society. Sometimes it seems as if the desire for a ‘post-racial’ America is an attempt by white people to liberate themselves from the burden of having to deal with that legacy."[91]

However, others argue that post-racial politics champions aggressive action to deliver economic opportunity and weed out police misconduct, without the divisive framing of racial identity. Under this view, there is no claim that America has attained a fully post-racial society, however it is argued that news selection is skewed toward amplifying racial conflict, events demonstrating racial harmony are dismissed as non-newsworthy, and that such media conflict-bias acts to undermine trust and impede progress. Rather, any true measure of race relations must gauge the everyday daily experiences of Americans in interacting with people of differing backgrounds. An assumption is that the media will cherry-pick the most outrageous, racially-inflammatory events to cover no matter how infrequently they are occurring, and thus misreport progress toward a post-racial ideal. The central tenet of post-racial problem-solving practice is to seek the "alternative explanation" when conflict arises (presuming non-racist motives in others), in order to find common ground and creatively resolve the conflict. Examples of post-racial framing in attacking misconduct by the Criminal Justice System are video recording of all police-citizen interactions, creating a Citizens Review Board with investigative powers, and assigning an independent prosecutor. Or, in the educational sphere, creating charters, academies and school choice to turn around under-performing schools. The divide in public opinion on the status of race in America was reflected in reactions to the Black Lives Matter movement. In response to the "black lives matter" rallying cry, some people, including politicians, began using the phrase "all lives matter".[92][93][94] After a sheriff's deputy in Harris County, Texas, was fatally shot while pumping gas in August,[95] Sheriff Ron Hickman claimed that the rhetoric of Black Lives Matter activists had contributed to the killing and said, "We’ve heard 'black lives matter'. All lives matter. Well, cops’ lives matter, too. So why don’t we just drop the qualifier and just say 'lives matter', and take that to the bank.'[96]

Detroit, Michigan: Caucasians in red, African-Americans in blue, Hispanics in orange, and Asians in green. A dot represents 25 people.

Supporters of the Black Lives Matter movement criticized the "all lives matter" phrase, arguing that it minimized the systemic threats faced by African-Americans.[97][98][99][100] President Obama said in October, "There is a specific problem that is happening in the African-American community that’s not happening in other communities."[101] Andrew Rosenthal wrote, similarly, in The New York Times, "The point of 'Black Lives Matter' is that the lives of African-Americans have come under special and deadly threat since before the birth of this country."[102]

Evidence of continued racial divisions in the United States can also be found in demographics. For instance, African-Americans account for less than 15 percent of the total population of Michigan, but more than 82 percent of the population of the state's largest city, Detroit[103] — and Detroit, like many cities whose residents are predominantly black, has "resegregated schools, dwindling tax bases and decaying public services".[104]

African Americans and law enforcement[edit]

Even after the end of the crack epidemic, there remained a large disparity in crime rates between black people and whites, with black people accounting for 28% of arrests in 2013; over 50% of homicides and robberies where the race of the offender was known were committed by black suspects.[105] As most crime is intraracial, most of their victims were black as well, and crime remained concentrated within black communities. Due to high crime rates, many inner city areas were heavily policed, often by police forces drawn from the population of the greater urban area rather than the local, primarily black, population, resulting in many black people feeling that they were being discriminated against by law enforcement. By 2009, black people accounted for 39.4% of the prison population in the United States. The incarceration rate of black males was over six times higher than that of white males, with a rate of 4,749 per 100,000 US residents.[106][107][108]

Civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri as police clash with protesters in the wake of the shooting of Michael Brown.

In August 2014, Darren Wilson, a white policeman in Ferguson, Missouri shot and killed Michael Brown, an 18-year-old unarmed black man who had robbed a nearby convenience store fifteen minutes earlier. While a grand jury investigation found that Wilson had acted in self-defense after Brown attacked him on two separate occasions, locals hostile to the police claimed that Brown had been gunned down while surrendering. Racial tensions in Ferguson between the mainly black population and mainly white police force led to both peaceful protests and riots, and several buildings were looted and set on fire. In response, the Ferguson Police Department deployed military-grade riot gear and riot control weaponry to disperse crowds and maintain order. Further protests erupted after the death of Eric Garner, a 43-year-old black resident of Staten Island, New York who died after being put in a nineteen-second long chokehold by NYPD officer Daniel Pantaleo while resisting arrest. Garner was being investigated by the NYPD under suspicion of illegally selling cigarettes. Pantaleo's acquittal by a grand jury in December led to nationwide protests by a movement which came to call itself Black Lives Matter.

A memorial service is held for five Dallas police officers who were killed during a protest against police shootings in July 2016.

As media coverage of police shootings intensified, protests erupted in the wake of the July 5, 2016 shooting of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and the July 6 shooting of Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota. On July 7, towards the end of one of these protests in Dallas, Texas, Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed and fired upon a group of police officers, killing five officers and injuring nine others. Two civilians were also wounded. Johnson was an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran who was reportedly angry over police shootings of black men and stated that he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. Following the shooting, Johnson fled inside a building on the campus of El Centro College. Police followed him there, and a standoff ensued. In the early hours of July 8, police killed Johnson with a bomb attached to a remote control bomb disposal robot. It was the first time U.S. law enforcement used a robot to kill a suspect. The shooting was the deadliest incident for U.S. law enforcement officers since the September 11 attacks in 2001 and saw a massive uprising of public support for U.S. police officers in the form of the Blue Lives Matter movement.[109][110]

Unite the Right rally[edit]

Protesters at the Unite the Right rally carrying Confederate flags, Gadsden flags, and a Nazi flag

On August 13, 2017, Trump condemned violence "on many sides" after a gathering of hundreds of white nationalists in Charlottesville, Virginia, the previous day (August 12) turned deadly. A white supremacist drove a car into a crowd of counter-protesters, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.[111] According to Attorney General Jeff Sessions, that action met the definition of domestic terrorism.[112] During the rally there had been other violence, as some counter-protesters charged at the white nationalists with swinging clubs and mace, throwing bottles, rocks, and paint.[113][114][115] Trump did not expressly mention Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, or the alt-right movement in his remarks on August 13,[116] but the following day (August 14) he did denounce white supremacists as he had done as a candidate the previous year.[117][118] He condemned "the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other hate groups".[119] Then the next day (August 15), he again blamed "both sides".[120]

Many Republican and Democratic elected officials condemned the violence and hatred of white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right activists. Trump came under criticism from world leaders[121] and politicians,[122][116] as well as a variety of religious groups[123] and anti-hate organizations[124] for his remarks, which were seen as muted and equivocal.[122] The New York Times reported that Trump "was the only national political figure to spread blame for the 'hatred, bigotry and violence' that resulted in the death of one person to 'many sides'",[122] and said that Trump had "buoyed the white nationalist movement on Tuesday as no president has done in generations".[125] White nationalist groups felt "emboldened" after the rally and planned additional demonstrations.[112]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

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Further reading[edit]

  • Alter, Jonathan. The Promise: President Obama, Year One (2010) table of contents, excerpt, search
  • Barone, Michael. The Almanac of American Politics 2018: The Senators, the Representatives and the Governors: Their Records and Election Results, Their States and Districts (2017), 2080pp, covers all the live politicians with elaborate detail; this series has appeared every two years since 1975
  • Watson, Robert P., ed. The Obama Presidency: A Preliminary Assessment (State University of New York Press; 2012) 443 pages; essays by scholars