UNITED STATES HISTORY
Hope and Change
*In 2008 the United States, tired of Bush’s wars and the Great
Recession, elected the Democratic candidate Barrack Obama, a young
Senator from Illinois and America’s first Black president (with
Joe Biden as VP), over John McCain, by a margin of 69,498,516
popular votes (365 electoral votes) to 59,948,323 (173 electoral
votes), despite McCain’s attempts to appeal to women by choosing a
female Vice-Presidential candidate, Sarah Palin, governor of
*At the time, many people hoped that the Election of 2008 showed
that America had moved beyond the racial tensions that had
troubled the country for so long into an era of post-racial
politics, but in fact, it would simply bring those tensions to the
forefront of people’s attention.
*The signature policy of the Obama administration was the Patient
Protection and Affordable Care Act, better known as Obamacare,
passed in 2010. Starting in 2014, this required employers of
more than 50 people to provide health insurance to their employees
and anyone who did not get insurance through their employer to
purchase it for themselves—a provision known as the individual
mandate. Employers and individuals who did not comply would
have to pay a tax penalty, which was upheld by the Supreme Court
in 2012 in National Federation of Independent Business v.
Sebelius as an example of Congress’s power to tax. The
government would help some people purchase insurance if they
needed it, provided they made no more than 4 times the official
poverty level. Furthermore, insurance companies could no
longer deny people insurance based on their health or other
factors, but requiring everyone to buy health insurance would
allow the premiums of the healthy to offset the increased cost of
supporting the sick.
*The government also offered increased funding for Medicare,
although states that accepted it would also have to increase their
own spending on Medicare, and the share they would have to pay
would increase over time.
*The Affordable Care Act resulted in many more American receiving
health insurance, but many self-employed people (or employees of
small companies) making too much to receive subsidies from the
government saw their insurance premiums go up significantly, and
many people who already had insurance saw their policies change,
sometimes for the worse, despite President Obama’s promise that if
you liked your insurance, you could keep it.
*Obamacare was controversial for several reasons. Increasing
health insurance premiums for many middle-class Americans were
unpopular. Some religious groups resented the fact that the
insurance plans they had to pay for were now required to cover
certain types of birth control that some groups disapproved of,
although in the Supreme Court Case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby
and related cases, it was determined that some groups, including
closely-held corporations, could provide plans that did not
include certain types of birth control.
*In 2017, the individual mandate was effectively repealed by
Congress by resetting the tax penalty for non-compliance to zero
dollars. Congress also changed were certain requirements
about what insurance plans had to provide, allowing people to buy
cheap plans that do not cover much. These rules went into
effect in 2019. While this allowed people who did not want
health insurance to stop buying it, it drove up costs for others,
because the costs of health insurance are no longer be shared
among everyone, and it is mostly be healthy people who choose not
to buy insurance, placing significant hardship on insurance
companies and on those who continue to buy comprehensive health
*Although Barrack Obama’s election was supposed to be the start of
post-racial politics in America, his presidency saw increased
racial violence against African-Americans or, perhaps, just more
attention paid to it.
*In 2013, a suspicious-looking, but unarmed, Black teenager,
Trayvon Martin, was shot by a mixed race white/Hispanic man in
Florida. The shooter was acquitted because he said he was
acting in self-defence under Florida’s generous laws on
self-defence. Some saw this as an act of racism both by the
shooter and the court that acquitted him. This led to the
creation of the Black Lives Matter movement which attempted to
draw attention to violence against African-Americans and the
frequent lack of consequences for those who committed such
*This movement grew after the police shooting of an unarmed Black
man, Michael Brown, in Ferguson, Missouri, a predominantly Black
city with a predominantly white police force. Although Brown
just robbed a convenience store and did struggle with police who
tried to question him, some saw his shooting as an excessive use
of force. When the officer who shot him was found innocent
of civil rights violations by the Department of Justice and not
indicted by a grand jury, riots broke out in Ferguson, Missouri,
which were partly suppressed with military surplus vehicles
belonging to the Fergusson police department.
*In 2015, riots broke out after a Black man named Freddie Gray
sustained severe injuries while being transported in a police van
to jail in Baltimore. Although in good health before being
arrested, he suffered injuries to his neck, including his vocal
box, and spinal cord and fell into a coma either while being
arrested or while being transported by the police. He died
the next day and no police officer was punished.
*Other protests and demonstrations have continued since then,
claiming that police and others frequently mistreat
African-Americans without consequences. On the other hand,
this is seen by some as disrespectful of the law enforcement
personnel who keep Americans safe, and resentment against the
Black Lives Matter movement is also strong.
*Barrack Obama also suffered a great deal of backlash (but also
gained praise from many other Americans) for his support of gay
rights, including his decision to overturn the military’s Don’t
Ask, Don’t Tell policy, his decision not to enforce the Defence of
Marriage Act, and his praise for the Supreme Court case of Obergefell
v. Hodges which legalised gay marriage throughout the
country, overturning several states’ laws banning it.
*In December, 2010, the world’s attention was turned to the Arab
Spring, a series of uprisings against dictatorial government and
high unemployment in several Middle Eastern countries, for which
President Obama offered various levels of support.
*In Tunisia, a democratic government was created that still
stands, although unemployment remains high.
*In Egypt, a democratic government was created, but when the
Muslim Brotherhood won a majority in the new government it began
suppressing those it opposed, and was eventually overthrown by the
military who installed one of their own as president, who now
suppresses the Muslim Brotherhood and other critics.
*In Libya, dictator Muammar Gaddafi was overthrown and killed, but
Libya has struggled to create a stable government in his place.
*In Syria an uprising against Bashar Assad gained a lot of ground,
but did not overthrow their dictator. While the US offered
some support to the rebels, and President Obama said the use of
chemical weapons by Assad would be a red line that would result in
a strong American response, when Assad actually used poison gas,
the US did nothing to punish him, in part because Assad has been
supported by Russia. The civil war in Syria created a power
vacuum that was filled, in part, by a new terrorist organisation.
*The Islamic State in Iraq and Greater Syria (ISIS for short) was
one of several groups fighting against the Syrian government, and
in 2014 they gained control of a large part of north-eastern Syria
and northern Iraq, and declared the area they ruled to be a
restored Caliphate that would eventually spread to control the
entire world in the name of Islam. In other parts of the
world, from West Africa to the Philippines, local Islamist groups
declared themselves to be leading provinces of the Islamic State
in their own regions. This made them the only terrorist
group to rule a country, or something very much like it, in their
own right, and Muslims from Europe, the US, and elsewhere went to
Syria and Iraq to fight for ISIS.
*In places the ruled, ISIS enforced strict Sharia law of an
extreme Sunni variety, and indeed, were initially welcomed by
Sunnis who felt marginalised and mistreated by the Shia leaders of
Syria and Iraq. They oppressed other groups, particularly
persecuting Christians and Yazidis, killing many men and boys and
forcing many women and girls into marriages to ISIS jihadists or
simply using them as sex slaves.
*In response, the United States and Iran began to support the
Iraqi military against ISIS and Russia expanded its support of the
Syrian government so it could fight ISIS more effectively.
The US also expanded support for Kurdish militias in northern Iraq
and Syria, and in a slow process lasting from March 2015 through
November 2017 ISIS was driven from most of the territory it
controlled, in part as Sunni Muslims who had supported it turned
against it, particularly once it began to decline.
*Barrack Obama also continued—and expanded—George Bush’s program
of using unmanned aerial drones to target terrorists
overseas. This has allowed the United States to kill many
enemies without directly risking the lives of American soldiers,
but it has been controversial for potentially violating the
sovereignty of the countries where the strikes are carried out,
for sometimes killing innocent people through targeting the wrong
person or by hitting innocent bystanders, and because in some
cases the targets have been American citizens who were killed by
the U.S. government without a trial.
*In the War on Terror, Barrack Obama did order a mission to kill
Osama bin Laden, who had been located in Pakistan. U.S. Navy
Seals raided his compound and killed bin Laden and four other
people shortly after 1:00 a.m. on 2 May, 2011.
*In 2015, Iran reached a Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with
the United States, the other permanent members of the UN Security
Council, and Germany whereby Iran would significantly reduce its
stockpiles of enriched Uranium, reduce its capacity to produce
more, and otherwise limit its ability to produce materials that
could be used to build nuclear weapons for 13 to 15 years, and
open itself up to inspection to make sure it was abiding by the
agreement. In return, many economic sanctions against Iran
would be lifted. Iran seemed to largely follow the letter of
the agreement, although some military sites were declared
off-limits to inspectors who should have had the right to inspect
them. Still, the International Atomic Energy Agency was
satisfied that Iran was complying with the agreement. In
turn, foreign investment in Iran picked up. In May, 2018,
Donald Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement,
seriously undermining it, although the other parties involved all
claimed they would continue to permit trade with Iran, but the
fact that using American banks to do so will be impossible has
make that hard to do.
*Obama's decision not to launch a major response to Syria crossing
a red line with the use of poison gas may have encouraged China to
become more assertive, as did the Chinese Communist Party's choice
of a new leader, Xi Jinping in March, 2013.
*In November of 2013, China designated a new Air Defense
Identification Zone over the East China Sea, much farther from the
country's coastline than is typical, and covering islands claimed
by China but also by Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan. China
said that any aircraft flying through this zone would have to
inform China in advance. Three days later, Barrack Obama
sent two B-52 bombers through the edge of the new ADIZ without
telling China first.
*China also began putting sand, concrete, and eventually airstrips
and anti-aircraft guns on coral reefs and submerged rocks in the
South China Sea to strengthen its claims to parts of that Sea
viewed by most countries as international waters or even the
territory of other countries in the region. This led
many of those countries to seek closer relations with the United
States, which Obama welcomed as part of his diplomatic Pivot to
Asia. Under Presidents Obama and Trump, the US Navy has
conducted Freedom of Navigation missions, sailing warships close
to the rocks China has been fortifying, defending the Freedom of
*In 2016, Barrack Obama could not run for re-election, and the
contest to succeed him was bitter. The two main Democratic
rivals for the nomination were Hillary Clinton, who represented
the moderate, mainstream Democratic Party shaped by her husband in
the 1990s, and Bernie Sanders, who was technically not a Democrat
at all, but an Independent senator from Vermont who described
himself as a socialist.
*Sanders pushed for a very liberal agenda that appealed to many
Democrats, funding his campaign almost entirely with small
individual donations rather than gifts from large donors,
corporations, or political action committees. He
particularly appealed to younger Democrats when he proposed
forgiving college loans and providing college educations for
free. He also wanted to replace Obamacare with a
single-payer health care system, with the US Government paying
directly for all health care. He proposed a higher minimum
wage of $15 an hour (up from $7.25). He also criticised many
American free trade deals, saying that they were a race to the
bottom as countries competed to offer the lowest wages in order to
sell the cheapest goods to each other.
*Hillary Clinton later adopted some of Sanders’s attitudes.
Despite having supported free trade deals in the past, she now
became critical of them, too, including the Trans-Pacific
Partnership, which she has helped negotiate as Secretary of State,
but now turned against. She also proposed raising the
minimum wage to $12 an hour.
*In the end, Clinton won the nomination with a majority of votes
in the primaries and the vast majority of the superdelegates who
are chosen by the party leadership rather than by the
people. However, the primaries revealed, and deepened, a
split between a moderate wing and a very liberal (calling itself
progressive) wing of the Democratic Party.
*The Republican primaries began with seventeen major candidates,
but after a bitter primary season Donald Trump, a real estate
developer and reality TV star, was chosen to run for the
presidency. He promised to Make America Great Again by
ending or renegotiating foreign trade deals to reduce imports
(thus protecting American industry and reducing the trade
deficit), to limit immigration, particularly from the Middle East
and Mexico (partly by building a wall along the border), to invest
in infrastructure, to Drain the Swamp of corruption in Washington,
D.C., and to reconsider and possibly end American involvement in
overseas conflicts and alliances such as NATO in a policy of
*The primaries and the election itself were certainly influenced
by levels of campaign donations not seen before the Twenty-First
Century, as the 2010 Supreme Court decision Citizens United v.
Federal Election Commission had determined the organizations
such as corporations and unions, as legal persons, had the right
to free speech and thus could essentially make unlimited donations
to funds supporting political causes (although not unlimited
donations directly to individual politicians’ campaigns).
This has brought far more money, with many ways to conceal who is
donating the money, into politics.
*Although in the Election of 2016 Hillary Clinton won the popular
vote 65,853,514 to 62,984,828, her supporters were mainly
concentrated in a few highly populated states on the West coast
and in the Northeast. Donald Trump won the electoral college
304 to 227 in part by appealing to voters in rural areas and in
the Rust Belt who felt the Great Recession had never ended for
them, because most had not benefitted from the Information
Revolution that brought high-tech service jobs and other
internet-related employment to many urban areas, while many had
seen their industrial jobs move to foreign countries where local
people would work for lower wages—free trade may help a country’s
economy as a whole, but it can hurt many individuals in affected
industries (while in turn helping people in other fields).
*Many, too, were concerned about cultural and demographic change
in America that seemed to be changing the country that had grown
up in significantly. Many social conservatives who had
supported the Democrats for economic reasons (such as union
members in industrial areas) also felt looked down on and even
rejected by the increasingly liberal Democratic leadership, such
as when Obama in 2008 dismissed the economic and social concerns
of Midwestern working-class Americans by saying, ‘They get bitter,
they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren't
like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a
way to explain their frustrations.’ Likewise, Hillary
Clinton caused offence by describing Trump supporters as a ‘basket
*All these changes are probably part of the creation of a Seventh
Two-Party System in America.
*There have also been suspicions of Russian interference in the
election, by manipulating news and other posts on social media,
particularly Facebook, releasing sensitive information about
Hillary Clinton, and possibly even tampering with electron voting
machines, in hopes of electing a pro-Russian president, as Trump
was believed to be. On the other hand, Donald Trump claimed
that his margin of victory would have been greater had there not
been voter fraud in a number of states that he barely won.
*On 20 January, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as America’s
oldest president at the age of 70, and he promised to Make America
This page last updated 14 May, 2021.