The United States in the Twenty-First Century

The Election of 2000

In the election of 2000, Republican George W. Bush ran against Vice President Al Gore. The result of the election was not decided for more than a month. Although Gore won the popular vote (the total of all votes cast across the country), Bush won the electoral vote. A presidential candidate needs 270 votes to win the electoral college vote. In the end, Bush had 271 votes, and Gore had 267.

George W. Bush, 2001-2009

Bush was a conservative Republican. Early in his first term, the economy was slowing. To turn it around, Congress passed spending cuts that were expected to save $1.35 trillion over 10 years. In 2003, Congress passed a bill adding prescription drug benefits to Medicare. They also passed education reform laws that were intended to increase the accountability, or responsibility, of schools and teachers and to set a standard for education across the country.

Bush was more of an isolationist than previous presidents. He ended talks with North Korea that aimed to keep North Korea from developing nuclear weapons. Bush insisted that other nations (South Korea, Japan, and Russia) be involved before restarting talks.

In spite of Bush’s tendency toward isolationism, he announced a major new initiative in his State of the Union address in 2003. He asked Congress to provide $15 billion to battle AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and other diseases in Africa and the Caribbean.

September 11, 2001

On the morning of September 11, 2001, Bush’s view of the world changed. Terrorists, people who use fear and violence for political gain, attacked the United States. Two commercial airliners were flown into the World Trade Center in New York City. Another plane targeted the Pentagon in Washington, DC. A fourth plane, flying over Pennsylvania, crashed when passengers fought back against the terrorists on board. More than 3,000 people died in the September 11, 2001 attacks, including many first responders.

A group known as al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the attacks. Al-Qaeda is an Islamic fundamentalist group. Fundamentalists believe in strict traditional interpretation of religious beliefs or principles. Al-Qaeda has claimed responsibility for attacks worldwide.

Global War on Terror

On September 20, 2001, Bush said, “Our war on terror begins with al-Qaeda … . It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” Afghanistan was run by the Taliban, a fundamentalist group that allowed al-Qaeda to operate in the country. Al-Qaeda had terrorist training bases there. In October 2001, US troops were sent to overthrow the Taliban and destroy al-Qaeda.

Iraq War

In 2002, the Bush administration was fairly certain that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). WMDs are chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons. In 2003, US troops, along with forces from several other nations, invaded Iraq. The Iraqi army was quickly defeated, and Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was captured. Unfortunately Hussein’s removal left the country without a government. Insurgents, or armed rebels, resisted change. Even after a new constitution was written and a new government formed, Iraq remained unstable.

In 2007, costs were continuing to rise and the war was becoming increasingly unpopular with Americans. In an effort to stop the violence, Bush sent about 30,000 additional troops. The “surge” (rush), as it became known, helped reduce the instability.

The Election of 2008

In 2008, many Americans were angry about the continuing war in Iraq and discouraged by the decline in the economy. The 2008 election featured two firsts: an African American man (Senator Barack Obama) and a woman (Senator Hillary Clinton) were serious contenders for the Democratic nomination. After a long primary season, Obama won the Democratic nomination for presidency. He ran against Republican Senator John McCain.

Barack Obama, 2009-2016

Barack Obama was the first African American elected to the presidency and the third African American to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He promised to withdraw US troops from Iraq, cut taxes for middle class families, and reform health care. One of Obama’s first acts as president was to submit an economic stimulus package. An economic stimulus is a program of government spending designed to boost the economy. In March 2010, Obama signed into law the Affordable Care Act. This law ensures all Americans access to health insurance.

The Iraq war ended in August 2010; however, US troops went on fighting in Afghanistan . In addition, the war on terror continued. On May 2, 2011, US forces attacked a compound in Pakistan, killing the al-Qaeda leader, Osama bin Laden.

Challenges for the Twenty-First Century

As the second decade of the twenty-first century began, the United States faced several continuing challenges.

Economic Issues

In 2007-2008, a recession led to a rapid economic decline in housing, banks, auto manufacturers, and many other areas. Unemployment rose to almost 10 percent in 2009. By 2013, unemployment had dropped below 8 percent. The globalization of financial institutions meant that trouble in one country affected the rest of the world. Many US companies opened offices and factories overseas, moving jobs to countries where hiring workers was less expensive.

Environmental Issues

Americans were becoming increasingly aware of environmental issues. Drastic climate change, also known as global warming was a great concern. This concern grew in 2012, as heat waves and storms, like Hurricane Sandy, affected much of the United States. The need to develop renewable energy resources became more urgent. Automobile companies worked to develop cars that ran on biologically-based fuels other than gasoline. Other companies created new materials and technologies that generated power from sustainable energy sources such as wind, the Sun, and heat deep in the ground.

Wind Turbines

Foreign Policy

Great challenges existed for the United States in foreign policy as well. These were some of the problems:

  • The rise of China as a world power
  • Continuing instability in North Africa and the Middle East
  • North Korea’s isolation and nuclear capacity
  • hostility and nuclear ambitions in Iran