Historian Gil Troy reexamines the Clintons and the 1990s (interview)Historians in the News
tags: Bill Clinton, Hillary Clinton, election 2016, Clintons
Despite Sen. Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump’s early campaign success, it remains overwhelmingly likely that either Hillary Clinton or Jeb Bush — or both! — will be a major party’s presidential nominee in 2016. Consequently, it is almost guaranteed that next year’s presidential race will be, at least in part, a referendum on the 1990s.
Twenty years is not such a long time, really, so you might figure there’s little to reassess. But as historian Gil Troy’s new book, “The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s,” reveals, just because a time period is in our living memory — just because we ourselves experienced that era, first-hand — that doesn’t mean we necessarily understand it. And while Troy’s book touches on many of the signal moments of the decade (from the rise of Clinton’s “new Democrats” to his becoming the second president in U.S. history to be impeached) it also reveals our recent past, and perhaps our near-term future, in a new light.
Recently, Salon spoke over the phone with Troy about his book, the man at its center, the decade it explores, and how many of the problems that define our politics today can be traced back to the Clinton era. Our conversation is below and has been edited for clarity and length.
There’s this idea that the ‘90s was a sort of quiet moment in U.S. history, the interregnum between the Cold War and the post-9/11 era. So why do you think the ‘90s matter enough to deserve a book-length analysis?
The ‘90s matter because even though it became a cliché and a bit of a joke when Bill Clinton kept on talking about building a bridge to the 21st century, the truth is that in many ways the 1990s invented our times.
If you go back to 1990, “Google” was just a big number, “Amazon” was just a river, and “PayPal” was just something that loan sharks said. That’s just a little illustration of the kind of the fundamental shifts that were going on in the economy, in the way we approach things in our daily lives. There is a certain sense in the 1990s of it being a bit of a bubble of peace and prosperity; and we realize that, in many ways, many of the problems of the 21st century were also being invented [in the ‘90s]. So I think its important for us to look back and see how we benefitted and also how we’re still suffering from some of the mistakes in the 1990s. ...