"We can't help everyone, but everyone can help someone."
-Ronald Reagan

Back to the Future?

Dr. Emmett Brown: Then tell me, future boy, who's President of the United States in 1985?

Marty McFly: Ronald Reagan.

Dr. Emmett Brown: Ronald Reagan? The actor? [chuckles in disbelief] Then who's vice president? Jerry Lewis?

The iconic 1985 film Back to the Future, has fun with a little liberal political commentary, when the hero of the film Marty McFly goes back to the 1950s and talks to the scientist, Dr. Brown, who will one day invent the time machine that makes this encounter possible. Although few, other than aging baby boomers, know who Jerry Lewis is, everybody knows Ronald Reagan: for good or bad, arguably the most influential President of the last half century. It was a shock to the liberals of the 1960s, no doubt including these liberal media film makers, that Reagan would be elected in the first place and worse that it would signal a shift to the Right that still dominates the politics of 2016.

But the Eighties were not just about political change. The decade is perhaps even better remembered for its economic, social, cultural, and technological shifts. The perceived prosperity of the 1980s (compared to the stagflation of the 1970s) was not all due to Reaganomics, but stabilization of oil prices, new industries, and the rise of "Yuppies" (Young Urban Professionals). New immigration of Latinos, Middle Easterners, South and East Asians, many as refugees, began to create real diversity in American society. Urban areas continued to be plagued by crime and drugs, but some progress was made as minorities began to gain more influence. America’s favorite T.V. dad was a black man, the now controversial Bill Cosby. Personal computers first began to change business and the lives of increasing numbers of Americans with arrival of Apple and the Mac, Microsoft, and the rise of Nintendo and other computer games. It was a memorable era for wild colors, goofy fashion trends, Punk, Rap, New Wave, Madonna and Michael Jackson, and movies like the Terminator, E.T., and the Indiana Jones and Star Wars trilogies.

This year we had little time to select a theme, so we followed last year’s look at the 1970s with our attempt to analyze the 1980s. We quickly formed a talented team of seven volunteer editors to organize our project on our tight time schedule. The forty remaining members of my two APUS History classes had to pick topics created from a list put together by the editors and myself. They then had to find a serious contemporary historical work on the topic, read it in about a week, and write an expanded summary and analysis of the work, of about eight pages with endnotes. Three rounds of editing followed and the final papers were sent digitally to the editors who had been diligently designing the look of the book and its structure, and now had to put it all together. It is a completely student created book that is a tribute to my student authors and the extraordinarily talented editors, led by the indefatigable and patient, Brian Zhou.

The irony of the Eighties is that it is seen as a time of going Back to conservatism, traditional values, and smaller government, yet the technological and sociological changes and the end of the Cold War were taking us to the Future more progressive than the supposedly liberal 1960s. Perhaps Dr. Brown was more accurate than he knew about the unpredictability of the future when he said Roads? Where we're going, we don't need roads.

Steve Sewell, 5/30/2016