In the 18th and early 19th centuries, American art and literature took most of its cues from Europe. Writers such as Washington Irving, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Edgar Allan Poe, and Henry David Thoreau established a distinctive American literary voice by the middle of the 19th century. Mark Twain and poet Walt Whitman were major figures in the century's second half; Emily Dickinson, virtually unknown during her lifetime, is now recognized as an essential American poet. A work seen as capturing fundamental aspects of the national experience and character—such as Herman Melville's Moby-Dick (1851), Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (1925) and Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)—may be dubbed the "Great American Novel."
Government policy designed to promote affordable housing, widespread failures in corporate and regulatory governance, and historically low interest rates set by the Federal Reserve led to the mid-2000s housing bubble, which culminated with the 2008 financial crisis, the nation's largest economic contraction since the Great Depression. Barack Obama, the first African-American and multiracial president, was elected in 2008 amid the crisis, and subsequently passed stimulus measures and the Dodd–Frank Act in an attempt to mitigate its negative effects and ensure there would not be a repeat of the crisis. In 2010, the Obama administration passed the Affordable Care Act, which made the most sweeping reforms to the nation's healthcare system in nearly five decades, including mandates, subsidies and insurance exchanges.More Info
After World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union competed for power, influence, and prestige during what became known as the Cold War, driven by an ideological divide between capitalism and communism. They dominated the military affairs of Europe, with the U.S. and its NATO allies on one side and the USSR and its Warsaw Pact allies on the other. The U.S. developed a policy of containment towards the expansion of communist influence. While the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in proxy wars and developed powerful nuclear arsenals, the two countries avoided direct military conflict.More Info
Law enforcement in the United States is primarily the responsibility of local police departments and sheriff's offices, with state police providing broader services. Federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the U.S. Marshals Service have specialized duties, including protecting civil rights, national security and enforcing U.S. federal courts' rulings and federal laws. State courts conduct most criminal trials while federal courts handle certain designated crimes as well as certain appeals from the state criminal courts.More Info
Environmental issues include debates on oil and nuclear energy, dealing with air and water pollution, the economic costs of protecting wildlife, logging and deforestation, and international responses to global warming. The most prominent environmental agency is the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), created by presidential order in 1970. The idea of wilderness has shaped the management of public lands since 1964, with the Wilderness Act. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 is intended to protect threatened and endangered species and their habitats, which are monitored by the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.More Info
After the Cold War, the conflict in the Middle East triggered a crisis in 1990, when Iraq under Saddam Hussein invaded and attempted to annex Kuwait, an ally of the United States. Fearing the instability would spread to other regions, President George H. W. Bush launched Operation Desert Shield, a defensive force buildup in Saudi Arabia, and Operation Desert Storm, in a staging titled the Gulf War; waged by coalition forces from 34 nations, led by the United States against Iraq ending in the expulsion of Iraqi forces from Kuwait and restoration of the monarchy.More Info
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