Morning in America
Pulling in the Slack
ecades present clumsy units of cultural measure, deceptively
packaging lengthy and complex developments into neat
historical parcels. Nonetheless, the ideological reversal associated
with the year 1980 brought the cultural and political trends of the
1970s to such an abrupt halt as to create the impression of a deci-
sive rupture precisely along the fault line of the decade, seemingly
fulfilling a calendrical prophesy: the 1960s was a time of radical
change, the 1970s one of retreat and retrenchment, and the 1980s
one of reaction and backlash.¹ At the outset of the new decade,
Ronald Reagan’s landslide victory over Jimmy Carter signaled a sea
change in the national discourse on culture and modernity: tired
of the troubling doubts and insoluble social problems that seemed
to follow a broad push for social democracy in everyday life, this
experiment would be uprooted in its entirety with a return to tra-
ditional values, signaled by Reagan’s campaign slogan: morning
in America. Tired of moral seriousness and austerity in the realm
of consumption, Americans flocked to the traditional signifiers of
privilege, mass consumption and consumer excess. A report in U.S.
News and World Report in 1981 greeted the forfeiture of the moral
project of the 1970s by trumpeting, “Flaunting Wealth Is Back in
Style”: “Suddenly it’s O.K. to be rich and show it.” A lengthy “in” and
“out” list cataloged the decline of 1960s values in the face of the
new conservatism: in were wine bars, owning property, traditional
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