On Top of the World


The Age of Clinton America in the 1990s

By: Gil Tracy

Author Bio: Gil Troy, who is widely known in many forms of media, is an influential political figure. Writing multiple reports on historical content and being a professor at McGill University, his opinion is highly respected and profound.

Deconstructing Clinton and the 90's

By: Samantha Nguyen

Gil Troy concluded that “Bill Clinton brought joy, exhilaration, exaltation, inspiration to the American people; but he also brought shame, anger, frustration, disappointment, confusion, and despair.”1 Hand in hand, the cultural and social developments of the 90’s not only shaped Clinton’s policies and behaviors, but were also influenced by Clinton as well. In The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s, Gil Troy analyzes the impact of this relationship and both the positive and negative outcomes that resulted from this connection. During the 90’s, the end of the Cold War brought prosperity, yet also a lingering feeling of anxiety, and Clinton’s policies would evidently be affected and enhanced by this developing decade. Due to his appealing charm, hatched from the Baby Boom generation, Clinton’s popularity with the people soared despite the scandals and Republican criticism that revolved around his presidency.

In the early 1990’s, the dissolving of the Soviet Union marked the end of the daunting Cold War that lasted nearly half a century, and introduced a new era of post-Cold War euphoria fueled by prosperity and glorious distractions. However, cultural controversies still plagued society and “ending the Cold War did not eliminate regional conflicts” as Americans felt internal anxieties, touching upon sensitive topics such as gender and sexual identity.2 Being from the “Baby Boom generation”, Clinton’s moral disorderliness and sexual influence humanized him and depicted him as one and the same with people from both ends of the spectrum during the sexual revolution. The Civil Rights and feminist movements also revolutionized America, instituting a call for a more welcoming America. However, George H.W. Bush ignored most of these internal problems and paid no attention to them. As a result, Clinton’s championing of a diverse and free future won over the public by not only utilizing the people’s fears of the recession to his advantage, but also presenting Bush as a prisoner of the past. Sympathizing with the middle and lower classes, Clinton established himself as a man of the people.

Even in 1993 when Clinton first took office, an age of technology and diversity already dominated the 90’s era. This both fueled and detracted from his earlier years as he received both positive and negative media coverage. During his first 100 days in office, Clinton focused on cultural agendas regarding gays in the army with his “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy and his controversial appointments, creating a diversified Cabinet with many different backgrounds. As a result, he often went off-track instead of cultivating policies that he had originally pitched during his campaign. For instance, Clinton directed billions of dollars towards budget reductions with tax increases and spending cuts, completely disregarding the middle-class tax cut he had advertised during his campaign. With the media revolution, every aspect of the President’s life was revealed, as “…moving beyond the three-network universe aggrandized and diminished the president” and affected the people’s perception of Clinton in the long run.3 Consequently, Clinton’s administration remained out of focus and the public lacked trust in his consistency. To add to all of this anxiety, newspapers began depicting Clinton as an enemy when he was accused of removing Whitewater files, which involved a real estate investigation regarding both Bill and Hillary Clinton’s investments before his presidency. The new culture of New Nihilism, a lack of faith in the future, and an overall influx of social media created a growing gap between the rich and poor. Due to this mood, the media paid more attention to the scandals of the Clinton administration than the reforms they tried to pass. However, Clinton managed to win over the public again after the Oklahoma City Bombing by rallying the Americans together and “…functioning as the Good Father not the Hip Brother” to explore a new type of common ground.4 Admitting to his incompetence in helping voters, he felt betrayed by many opponents. Yet, he still reinforced himself and his goal of enforcing more quality and diversity to the American people’s ways of life.

By 1996, Clinton attempted to use various cultural revolutions to his advantage, winning the public’s support and gaining a considerable amount of popularity. The converging culture of increasingly boundless, popular obsessions helped Clinton’s role as a national leader. Likewise, Clinton’s persona as a “Good Father” to Americans in this “Age of Possibility” reflected his reforms that ranged from an increase in the minimum wage to adjustments towards a more modest health insurance plan. This signified Clinton’s attempts to reassert control due to his rocky start. Backing Reagan’s counterrevolution, Clinton announced the end of big governments, instead presenting a friendly and more proactive government that would both help stimulate economy and enable citizens to take charge. Becoming a stronger figure than his first few years in office, his popularity ratings nearly toppled 60% and satisfied how “the American people [wanted] a president, not a tennis mate” to run their country as many “democrats were awed by Clinton’s comeback and appalled by his capitulation.”5 However, with the Telecommunication Act of 1996, many news carriers fed off of Clinton’s mistakes which led to his crusade of combating the evil institutions of the Internet. Pressured to pass a welfare system proposed by the Republicans, which didn’t fully satisfy Clinton’s ideals, he desperately needed to win ratings and the middle class in order to achieve his goals. Meanwhile, Monica Lewinsky became an intern at the White House, but her career was short-lived once her sexual scandal with the president blew up in the media. Despite this major misstep, the public still mainly supported Clinton by dismissing this issue as part of the ongoing sexual openness of the decade; as a result, Clinton’s ratings remained relatively high. After surviving the initial backlash, Clinton carried on with his policies and even balanced the budget to show America that he was still capable of generating results and had the qualifications to be a competent leader. Eventually, Clinton would be nearly impeached but his vision of “creating ‘a cultural and social ambiance that is inclusive and empowers all group in the corporation’”, ultimately showed through Clinton’s legacy and agenda.6

Nearing the end of Clinton’s journey as a president, regardless of the impeachment process, he still strived to prove himself as a worthy leader. Acquitted in the Senate, Clinton continued to initiate decisions that ultimately affected the next president, George W. Bush. With the news of Serbians abusing Muslims in Kosovo, NATO immediately supported the weaker Kosovars by attacking Yugoslav’s capital, Belgrade. Torn between America’s desire for isolation after the Cold War and a duty to protect innocent civilians, Clinton withdrew American troops after the increasing casualties. Heading in a more globally sound direction, Clinton began to cooperate with different countries such as Russia and China and even supported European unity. Even with the scandals and personal issues that plagued his presidency, he continued to bring prosperity to America through ties with the global world. Domestically, the Columbine High School shooting struck America with a feeling of insecurity. Clinton launched the Prevent Youth Violence initiative in hopes of fixing this problem in the future. Accordingly, Clinton’s Farewell Address included the need to ensure “‘fiscal responsibility,’ of fighting the forces of ‘global destruction’” that reflected upon his principles in office.7 Unfortunately, his half-hearted attempt to take down Osama Bin Laden—the mastermind behind the bombing in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998—resulted in a failure due to not executing the plan thoroughly. Eventually, America’s vulnerability became visible when the 9/11 attacks hit. Marking the end of good times and the 90’s, Clinton’s era came to an end.

Troy evaluates the different themes, such as cultural and social trends, to directly correlate and compare the advancements of the 90’s with Clinton’s achievements. His ultimate goal was to reveal how Clinton managed “America at its best by also engaging America at its most self-involved…” through the 90’s culture that eventually led to his downfall.8 Troy believes that Clinton was lucky enough to inherit the Post-Cold War euphoria, overall advancements with technology, and a cultural shift which led to the popularity of his presidency. However, being encouraged by the media revolution of opening up the people, Clinton’s open-book life served both as a positive and negative. According to Troy, Clinton embodied these cultural changes throughout his presidency as “he lived it and fueled it—gripping onto the presidency after his privacy was so violated…” which led to his complex legacy and affected the people’s perspectives of him.9 The author also exposed Clinton’s personal flaws as, ultimately, a reckless behavior that tarnished his reputation, but didn’t detract from the whole picture and legacy of Clinton himself. He believed that Clinton’s administration proved to be effective with its understanding of the 90’s; however, the scandals and personal life of the Clintons were also defined and burdened by the changes of this decade.

Gil Troy is a professor at McGill University, studying history and appearing on TV networks to offer his commentary regarding politics. Having written about Clinton during the 90’s in various mediums and even as a commentator, Troy formulated an especially critical interpretation of Clinton from the very start. As a result, Troy sees Clinton in a unique light and can truly “now appreciate both Clinton’s insight and far-sight more than [he] did before” after viewing different perspectives and digging deeper into Clinton’s legacy.10 In his other books, his main focus revolves around different presidents and how they were able to transform their respective years in office. His works also appear in the Daily Beast where he writes weekly articles about forgotten American history by putting a historical perspective upon current events happening today. Through his research, from real-time voices of the Clintons to secondary sources of the 90’s, his studies brought him to mind-opening conclusions and influenced his opinion on Clinton, adding to his firsthand experience.

While writing this book in 2015, Troy analyzes the Clinton administration in the context of modern culture and presidencies. With a new perspective of the modern world today, Troy can view Clinton’s achievements in a different standpoint compared to when he was experiencing the Clinton era himself. Especially when comparing Clinton and Obama, the public’s critical eye cannot help but to evaluate the two individuals side by side. In today’s age, Obama’s administration, often used as a scapegoat when things go wrong, possesses qualities similar to the Clinton administration. Harsh accusations made about Obama mirror attacks Clinton experienced during his presidency. With the modern ISIS hysteria and Taliban attacks, the rise of an alarming period of terror and fear correlates with the same situation Clinton experienced towards the end of his term with Osama Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. When a student found Troy’s interpretation of Clinton tough in his book Why Moderates Make the Best Presidents, Troy realized how “[His] disappointment with Clinton reminded [his student] of her generation’s disappointment with Barack Obama”.11 Consequently, the motive of reconsidering the Clinton administration based upon similar recurrences in today’s society ultimately influenced him to write this book.

Professional critics of this book view the writing style and execution of Troy as lacking in many areas when depicting Bill Clinton’s influence and legacy. However, they acknowledge that this wide-ranging work accurately depicts the 90’s and its correlation to Clinton. Harpaz, an associative press, remarked on how Troy glossed over the negative parts of Clinton such as the Lewinsky Scandal. He states how the book “lacks the lyricism, scholarliness and in-depth approach” needed to present the point but admits that “it’s a fun romp through the decade and an intelligent way of understanding the cultural context and legacy of Bill Clinton’s era.”12 Likewise, Barnhisel, an educator, also stated that the comprehensiveness of the book does a nice job of hitting most points, but the book is said to be “glibly written and not to its advantage” as Troy doesn’t “try to connect to his larger point about the nature of America in the 1990’s.”13 Regarding Troy’s perspective that Clinton’s social openness was a mistake, Barnhisel also criticizes how this thesis isn’t of original insight. Because of the lack of in-depth and specific attributes in the book, with its brief overview of each event in the 90’s, the execution of this book is lacking in many ways, according to these reviews.

Speaking personally, this book provides a new perspective and way of looking at the administration and life of Clinton. Through the analysis of changing events and movements that defined the 90’s, Troy elaborates on how Clinton’s presidency is affected by all of these cultural factors and shares another outlook on his motives and decisions. This offers not only a new lens through which to view Clinton, but also illustrates the effect Clinton had on the 90’s and its developments. Inspired by the cultural advancements, Clinton began a policy of empowering a diverse and free future and started to release personal information with the influence of an age emphasizing authenticity. Troy does an excellent job at explaining both the negative and positive effects that come with each event and decision. Despite the scandals that Clinton is known for, a new perspective in this book revealed his high popularity and multitude of charm, as “two-thirds of the American people remained supportive” when Clinton insisted “‘to stop the pursuit of personal destruction and the prying into private lives’.”14 Although the book, at times, lists event after event without any correlation, the overall experience and insight is able to do its job of creating a new perspective and view of Clinton.

As a result of the Cold War ending, a feeling of stability and prosperity swept through America just as Clinton took office. From the long awaited end of this torturous war, social and economic movements began to take off into a post-Cold War euphoria with news of the Soviet Union dissolving in 1991. In spite of the war ending, problems internally in America still remained with the rising fear of “terrorism” that would now menace America directly in the later 1990’s with the rising of Al-Qaeda terrorists in the bombing of Kenya and Tanzania. Clinton would later on admit that “‘America was vulnerable because [Americans] would be distracted by the controversy over [his] own personal behavior’” due to the rising media revolution.15 During the 90’s, a sweeping technological movement affected every aspect of life. Socially, this movement encouraged the involvement in other’s private lives with Clinton as a victim. Economically, the advancing production and machines also thrived with the help of a friendly—not big—government helping these businesses out. Politically, technological advancement often distracted people from the real issues and reforms. As a result, these factors ultimately shaped the 90’s and influenced Clinton into his decisions and policies in general.

From the various movements and changes throughout the 90’s, Clinton provided a medium for these occurrences while also partaking in its effects. He was able to succeed in this age with all of these reforms but seemed to be a victim of these changes as well. Though scandals and attacks from Republicans diminished Clinton, his charm and popularity still were able to win the hearts of Americans. He possessed a mentality of wanting “‘to show the American people that [he] was on a job and getting results for them’” despite everything that had been thrown at him.16

[1] Troy, Gil. The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s. New York: Thomas Dunne, St. Martin’s, 2015. 310.
[2] Troy, Gil. 17.
[3] Troy, Gil. 86.
[4] Troy, Gil. 129.
[5] Troy, Gil. 168.
[6] Troy, Gil. 200
[7] Troy. Gil. 290.
[8] Troy, Gil. 266.
[9] Troy, Gil, 239.
[10] Troy, Gil, 314.
[11] Troy, Gil, 312.
[12] Harpaz, Beth. “Review: ‘Age of Clinton’ Is a Romp through the ‘90s.” The Washington Times. The Washington Times, 12 Oct. 2015. Web. 23 May 2017.
[13] Barnhisel, Greg. “’The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s’: Wide-angle View, Not Too Deep.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. N.p., 23 Jan. 2016. Web. 23 May 2017.
[14] Troy, Gil. 225.
[15] Troy, Gil. 228.
[16] Troy, Gil. 224.