Episode from the podcastFrom Boomers to Millennials: A Modern US History Podcast

Episode 9B - Special: Reform in a Time of Cold War

Released Sunday, 24th May 2020
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This week’s episode considers the fate of social reform movements during the Cold War Era, giving an overview of long-term cultural trajectories. The Red Scare of the early Cold War years cast reformers who challenged existing institutions as potential subversives. After World War II, US society valued traditional gender roles; the “happy American housewife” was regarded as freer than the Soviet woman who was required to work. Southern politicians attacked black civil rights activists as Communistic agitators. However, reformers eventually found success by learning to work within an anti-Communist “liberal consensus.” Even conservative politicians like Nixon became persuaded that the US had to reduce racial discrimination in order to improve capitalism’s image among non-white nations during the Cold War. The social changes of the 1960s opened up new career & lifestyle choices for women. Federal “Great Society” programs attempted to reduce poverty during the 1960s, but in subsequent decades, advocates of progressive economic reform had little success. A New Left called for liberation of marginalized groups & cultural transformation, in contrast to the Old Left’s focus upon economic class struggle. By the late 1970s, social changes sparked conservative backlash & motivated New Right activists. During the last decade of the Cold War, major political changes came to an end, even as American culture evolved toward greater acceptance of diverse populations.

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