As both political parties have picked their presumptive nominees, Hillary Clinton for the Democrats and Donald Trump for the Republicans, the battle lines are now formally drawn for the 2016 Presidential campaign. In thinking about the upcoming election, it's important the black community develop a perspective informed by our historical experience in America.
Mark Twain once said, "It ain't what you don't know that gets you in trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so."
Americans believe the organizing principles of this country are capitalism, democracy and freedom. They will refer to the founding document of the American experiment, Thomas Jefferson's Declaration of Independence, arguably the most eloquent words ever written about the political context of the human condition.
Since Americans have been told this since the crib, it must be true. Except, it's not.
Since the creation of the republic, America's cultural, economic and political systems have rested upon one never-changing principle: white male privilege. If you were a white man (or, relatively speaking, a white woman married to a white man), the system worked.
A patriarchal racist culture will function rather efficiently in a country where people who are identified as white are 88 percent of the population. It's the general acceptance of this principle that made genocide of the Native American population and hereditary chattel slavery for the African Diaspora morally acceptable collateral damage in the creation and growth of the American nation state.
Which brings us to the clown act known as the 2016 Republican Presidential Primary. In a long list of mediocre men who have sought the office and/or served as president, Donald Trump is unique in the annals of American history. With the possible exception of Sarah Palin, there has never been anyone representing a major political party for national office as totally unfit as Donald Trump.
Trump is a narcissistic, ignorant, bigoted, ill-tempered, megalomaniacal bully. His public persona has the emotional development of a two year old. Only babies and puppies are as self-absorbed as Donald Trump. There is no person of color with the aforementioned qualities who could get nominated to run for bathroom attendant.
So how did Trump pull it off?
Only white male privilege explains Donald Trump. Trump is not only a white man, he was born a rich white man. For men like Trump, any requirements of intelligence, competence and character are not necessary for achievement or advancement. Hereditarily rich American white men are the most privileged species on the planet.
Not all Republicans are pathologically committed to white male privilege, but everyone pathologically committed to white male privilege seems to be a Republican. With the current and projected demographic trends of the United States, that privilege is structurally unsustainable. This is the reason Donald Trump could slice through a Republican Primary field of 17 like a hot knife through butter.
If you are African-American, Latino, Asian, Muslim or a member of the LGBT community, voting for Hillary Clinton for president is a matter of self-defense – self-preservation, really. If you are an American who identifies as white, you face a choice latent with profound moral and social implications, much like the election of 1876.
Back then, the Civil War resolved the issue of slavery, but raised the question: What is the status of the freed slave population? The 13th, 14th, 15th amendments to the constitution and Reconstruction were the country's progressive and morally correct answer to that question. Call it the country's first attempt at inclusion.
There was a virulent reaction in substantial parts of white America to Reconstruction. The effort at doing the right thing was too much work for the majority of white America, so the election of 1876 reversed the reforms of Reconstruction and marked the beginning of the American system of apartheid – aka, Jim Crow for blacks and the reservation system for Native Americans.
The election of Barak Obama in 2008, in a sense, was a 21st century Reconstruction Redux for America. Obama's elevation to the presidency could be viewed as a present-day attempt to redefine and expand the American experience. And like post-Civil War America, there has been a vitriolic, borderline sociopathic response to the idea of Barak Obama as president.
There is only one way to understand this reaction to the idea of a black man assuming the iconic mantle of POTUS: It's because it drove a stake in the heart of white male privilege.
The election of 2016 raises the same question as the election of 1876. Will white Americans who know better have the stamina and moral courage to prevail over white Americans who won't do better?
Mike Jones, who has held senior policy positions in St. Louis and St. Louis County government, is a member of the St. Louis American editorial board, as well as the Missouri State Board of Education.