Walt Whitman, the great poet of democracy, wrote that “other lands have their vitality in a few, a class, but we have it in the bulk of our people.” The reality is that America is not a classless society, nor is it a meritocracy. To acknowledge that we do have fixed classes (especially to a Tea Partier), with marked signifiers and mores, is considered downright un-American. Yet this friction between the ideal and the reality is the great stuff of art. Charles Baxter enters the kingdom of the super-rich in his story “The Winner.” One can argue that society can be further divided into two classes: those who go to war and those who don’t. In Benjamin Percy’s “The Locksmith,” an Iraqi war veteran’s return home is fraught. Legendary editor Gerald Howard pays homage to Raymond Carver and Ken Kesey, and poet Major Jackson injects another taboo—race—into the conversation, with four stunning new poems. And looking to the future, one of our country’s most astute observers of American society, Lewis Hyde, delineates the digital divide that will mark new class barriers.
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