2Q The American Dream: reality and illusion, 1945–1980

This option provides for a study in depth of the challenges faced by the USA at home and abroad as it emerged from the Second World War as a Superpower. For many Americans, post-war prosperity realised the ‘American dream’ but the prosperity was not shared by all and significant problems at home and abroad challenged the extent to which the ‘American dream’ was a reality. It explores concepts and ideas such as American identity at home and abroad, anti-communism, social equality, ethnic identities and federal versus states’ rights. It also encourages students to reflect on the nature of democracy in a pluralist society, political protest and the power of the media.

Part one: prosperity, inequality and Superpower status, 1945–1963

Truman and Post-war America, 1945–1952

  • The United States in 1945 and the legacies of the world war: the powers of the presidency; the main political parties; post-war prosperity; regional, ethnic and social divisions
  • The USA as a Superpower: Truman’s character and policies; post-war peace making; the Cold War and ‘containment’ in Europe and Asia; the response to the rise of Communism in Asia
  • Truman and post-war reconstruction: the economy; political divisions and domestic problems; the rise of McCarthyism
  • African-Americans in North and South: the impact of the Second World War; campaigns for Civil Rights; the responses of the federal and state authorities

Eisenhower: tranquility and crisis, 1952–1960

  • The presidency: Eisenhower’s personality and the policies of ‘dynamic conservatism’; Nixon as Vice-President; the Republican Party; the end of McCarthyism
  • The growth of the American economy in the 1950s and the impact of the ‘consumer society’
  • The USA and the Cold War: Superpower rivalry and conflict with the USSR; responses to developments in Western and Eastern Europe; reactions to the rise of Communism in Asia; responses to crises in the Middle East
  • African-Americans in North and South: the emergence of the Civil Rights Movement; the policies and attitudes of the main political parties; the responses of the state and federal authorities

John F Kennedy and the 'New Frontier', 1960–1963

  • The presidential election of 1960 and reasons for Kennedy’s victory; the policies and personalities of the Kennedy administration; the ideas behind the ‘New Frontier’
  • Challenges to American power: the legacy of crises over Berlin and relations with Khrushchev; the challenge of Castro’s Cuba; deepening involvement in Vietnam
  • African-Americans in North and South: the rise of the Civil Rights Movement; the opponents of Civil Rights, including within the Democratic Party; Kennedy’s policies in response to the pressures for change
  • The United States by 1963: its position as a world power; economic prosperity; the growing pressures for social change from women and youth

Part two: challenges to the American Dream, 1963–1980 (A-level only)

The Johnson Presidency, 1963–1968 (A-level only)

  • Johnson as President: personality and policies; his pursuit of the ‘Great Society’; the impact of the Kennedy legacy; economic developments
  • Maintaining American world power: escalation of the war in Vietnam; relations between the USA and its Western allies
  • African-Americans in North and South: developments in the Civil Rights Movement; Johnson’s role in passing Civil Rights legislation; the impact of change including urban riots
  • Social divisions and protest movements: education and youth; feminism; radicalisation of African-Americans; anti-war movements; the role of the media

Republican reaction: the Nixon Presidency, 1968–1974 (A-level only)

  • The Presidential election of 1968 and the reasons for Nixon’s victory: divisions within the Democratic Party; the personalities and policies of the Nixon administration
  • The restoration of conservative social policies; the reaction to protest movements and forces of social change; economic change and the end of the post-war boom
  • The limits of American world power: peace negotiations and the continuation of the war in Vietnam and Cambodia; the influence of Kissinger on US policies towards the USSR, Latin America and China
  • The Watergate Affair and its aftermath: the role of Congress; the resignation of the President; Nixon’s political legacy

The USA after Nixon, 1974–1980 (A-level only)

  • Ford and Carter as presidents: responses to social divisions; political corruption and the loss of national self-confidence
  • The position of the USA as a world power: the final withdrawal from Vietnam; relations with the USSR and China; the response to crises in the Middle East; Iran and Afghanistan
  • African-Americans in North and South: the impact of civil rights legislation; change and continuity in the ‘New South’
  • The USA by 1980: its position as a Superpower; the extent of social and economic change; the reasons for Reagan’s victory in the presidential election.