Significant National Events: 1977-1990
U.S. President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981) was inaugurated just as this era began. Senator Mike Mansfield from Montana, who had served as the U.S. Senate majority leader since 1961, retired in 1977. The U.S. Department of Energy was created to deal with the energy crisis that plagued the 1970s. In 1978, U.S. Senate proceedings were broadcast on radio for the first time, the Women’s Army Corps (WAC) was abolished and women were integrated into the regular Army, homebrewing of beer became legal in the U.S., and the U.S. was stunned by the mass murder/suicide of 909 Americans in Jonestown, Guyana. A new American tax revolt began in earnest in 1978, when Californians passed Proposition 13, a ballot measure that cut the state’s property tax by 57 percent and eviscerated the state’s public education system.
In 1979, the U.S. and China established full diplomatic relations, and the U.S. experienced its most serious nuclear power plant accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. That same year, the U.S. Department of Health, Education, and Welfare was split into the Department of Education and the Department of Health and Human Services. Civil rights for LGBT people was a major contentious issue across the U.S. during the late 1970s. A diplomatic standoff between Iran and the United States of America began in 1979, when 52 American diplomats and citizens were held hostage for 444 days in the U.S. Embassy in Tehran. Political analysts cite it as a major factor hampering President Carter's re-election bid.
The 1980 U.S. Census reported a population of 226.5 million, including 787,000 in Montana. In the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan (U.S. President 1981-89) beat the embattled Jimmy Carter. During Reagan's time in office, the top income tax rate fell from 70 percent to 28 percent and the national debt tripled.3 Ted Turner launched CNN in 1980. Congress passed the Bayh-Dole Act allowing universities to patent their discoveries that were inventions made possible with federal research dollars. In May, 1980, Mount St. Helens erupted in Washington; it deposited ash on Bozeman and the local schools closed because of hazardous air quality. A global economic recession occurred in 1981. Sandra Day O'Connor became the first female justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. A rally against nuclear weapons drew 750,000 to New York City (the Cold War will continue through the decade).
By the mid-1980s, the economy began to recover from the early 1980s recession. The Soviet economy had virtually collapsed by 1984. U.S. President Ronald Reagan (1981-1989) was re-elected in 1984, defeating Walter Mondale, who formerly was Jimmy Carter's Vice President. In January, 1986, as a horrified nation watched on TV, the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated soon after launch, killing the crew of seven astronauts. The United States Senate allowed its debates to be televised on a trial basis. Approximately 6.5 million people formed a human chain from New York City to Long Beach, California, to raise money to fight hunger and homelessness. The Reagan government was plagued by the Iran-Contra scandal (1985-87); the U.S. Congress discovered that covert weapons were sold to Iran in exchange for American hostages and profits from the sales were diverted to anti-communist Contra rebels in Nicaragua. The U.S. Senate and House concluded that President Ronald Reagan held 'ultimate responsibility' for the illegal Iran-Contra deals.
During the late-1980s the Reagan administration won repeal of the Fairness Doctrine, which meant that broadcasters operating under federal licenses had no obligation either to dedicate programming to the public interest or to represent opposing points of view. In October, 1987, stock market indices fell sharply in the U.S. and around the world.
The serious problem of global warming was garnering some attention by the end of this era. As part of its call for government efficiency, the Reagan administration directed the EPA to focus on high priority problems. The 1987 EPA report Unfinished Business presented the collective priority recommendations of experts from all branches of environmental science. The scientists were convened by the EPA to evaluate the importance of environmental pollutants/problems based on the assessed risks. They unequivocally warned that the most important problem by far was “carbon dioxide induced global warming.” They reported that the effects of global warming were well-characterized and, if uncontrolled, would severely damage all natural systems in the entire biosphere; the effects likely would be irreversible. They emphasized that effective controls of CO2 and air pollutants would require coordinated, international efforts.6 Now, in 2019, the anticipated environmental damages are occurring and the recommended preventive measures listed in 1987 have been ignored for the most part. We believe that continuation of the past three decades of procrastination will make global calamity a real possibility.
Severe droughts and a massive heat wave gripped the Midwest and Rocky Mountain states; the crisis reaches its peak with the Yellowstone fires of 1988 that burned almost 800,000 acres over five months. A heavy smoke haze covered Bozeman and the Yellowstone region. The Exxon Valdez tanker ran aground and the resulting oil spill severely polluted Alaska's Prince William Sound.
President George Herbert Walker Bush (41st U.S. President, 1989-1993) was elected over Governor Michael Dukakis in the 1988 election. By the end of 1989, the stock market had almost recovered from its precipitous fall in 1987. The first of 24 Global Positioning System (GPS) satellites was placed into orbit.
President G. H. W. Bush and Soviet Premier Gorbachev released statements in 1989 indicating that the Cold War was ending. The subsequent dismantling of the Berlin Wall in Germany became the most-recognized symbol of that welcome agreement.
Last revised: 2021-04-19