Beto O’Rourke’s announcement that he was “recently given documents showing that both Amy and I are descended from people who owned slaves” illuminates a great deal about presidential campaigning in 2019.

O’Rourke feels the country must know about the status of his great-great-great grandfathers on both sides. That’s five generations, roughly 170 years. Perhaps you think slavery continues to have a great impact on American society of 2019, or perhaps you think that its impact is minor compared with more recent events and changes in American society. Either way, you probably would find it surprising that a white man with roots in the American South is surprised by this, and that he feels the public should know about it as if it is some grand revelation.

O’Rourke declares, “the legacy of slavery in the United States now has a much more personal connection.” Should it matter? Should O’Rourke find slavery even worse now that he knows what his great-great-great grandfathers did? Should he feel guilt over the actions of his great-great-great grandfathers? Is O’Rourke somehow morally deficient or flawed because of the actions of his great-great-great grandfathers? (Is this why O’Rourke jumped on the “the Betsy Ross flag is hurtful” bandwagon so quickly?)

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