By January 20, 1981, the country survived a series of shocks that began with the 1963 Kennedy Assassination. The Vietnam War, Watergate, Nixon Pardon, Energy Crisis, Iran Hostage Crisis, and a major recession struck America in succession undermining people’s confidence in government. At first, the Reagan Era appeared headed down the same road. An assassination attempt and a continued economic recession kept the country in Carter’s “malaise.” However, Reagan survived the assassin’s bullet, pushed his economic program through, and the economy and zeitgeist turned around ending the turbulence.
About one month before Reagan assumed office, Mark David Chapman murdered John Lennon. The former Beatle moved to New York City because it granted him some anonymity and freedom of movement. On December 8, 1980, Chapman met Lennon and got an autograph. He came back in the evening, waited for the Beatle, and shot him in the back. No one could understand how anyone could shoot John Lennon. It made no sense, but the murder represented the era. Nothing seemed to make sense.
A month after Lennon's murder, Reagan assumed office. The voters charged him with fixing the economy and changing the national mood. Unlike Carter who criticized the country for a “crisis of confidence,” Reagan believed in America. He became a national cheerleader with an innate optimism not seen since Franklin Roosevelt. Symbolically, Iran released 52 Americans held hostage as Reagan entered office. The terror nation held the Americans for 444 days. Reagan's inauguration seemed to usher in a new era.
As the country celebrated the hostages safe return, Democrats geared for war with Reagan over the budget. The president wanted to limit government’s power and cut taxes. Democrats believed this meant rolling back the Great Society and New Deal. In Reagan’s view, the policies of the sixties destroyed the economy and the high tax rates represented thievery.
As the two sides began jockeying for the tax cut debate, John Hinkley Jr. shot President Reagan. The country braced for yet another major system shock. Unlike President Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and John Lennon, Reagan survived. Additionally, the president cracked jokes with the medical staff and told his wife he “forgot to duck.” The new president seemed immune to the dark forces that befell the nation. The country breathed a sigh of relief and Reagan’s popularity skyrocketed. He got his tax cuts as Democrats crumbled before the public.
It took time for the economy to turn around. At first, the economy worsened and unemployment increased. The Democrats geared for a public rejection of Reaganism. They scored average gains in the 1982 midterms. However, the economy turned the corner and entered a period of dramatic growth. Unemployment dropped to around 5%, inflation to 4%, and income increased.
The country’s mood changed with the economy. Ironically, the anti-government insurgent restored people’s faith in government. Shocks continued with the Challenger Disaster and Iran Contra Affair, but people viewed them differently. The negativity and malaise of the seventies gave way to the optimistic eighties. Instead of wallowing and complaining, people felt confident. This belief continued into the following decade.