What I want to hear from the candidates tonight

Trump and the politics of protest
Trump and the politics of protest

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Trump and the politics of protest 02:49

Story highlights

  • 5 remaining presidential contenders will appear on "The Final Five" airing at 8 p.m. ET on Monday on CNN
  • Issac Bailey: I hope the candidates let us into their world in ways they haven't so far

Issac Bailey has been a journalist in South Carolina for two decades and was most recently the primary columnist for The Sun News in Myrtle Beach. He was a 2014 Harvard University Nieman fellow. Follow him on Twitter: @ijbailey. The views expressed are his own.

(CNN)At this point in the 2016 presidential cycle, what the candidates' presence on the national stage probably says about the United States means more than what they are saying. Still, how voters respond to what they will hear during the one-on-one interviews on CNN will help to redefine American ideals well into the 21st century.

Hillary Clinton is likely to be the Democratic nominee, even though she isn't particularly likable to a good number of Americans. She is also the personification of the promise and peril of our democracy. Clinton is on the verge of becoming the first woman to lead a major-party ticket and may well be the first woman to take the reins of the world's most powerful nation. That represents real progress, but it will have been almost a full century since women received the universal right to vote and will have come long after other nations broke the same barrier.
    Issac Bailey
    Ted Cruz is the son of immigrants, but he has made his name in large part by advocating the harshest immigration policy possible. This is despite the fact that even if he wins, he would be the first president to not have been born in the United States or colonies that became a part of this country.
    Bernie Sanders has become a top-tier candidate by tapping into American unrest about a persistent economic inequality that has been in place for decades by promising things not even a king could deliver, let alone a president in a politically divided country.
    John Kasich is a man whose soft words betray his ruthless strategy to become president -- he has no chance of earning the spot by standards adhered to for the past few decades, suggesting a win-at-all-costs mindset that has become standard in the United States.
    Then there's Donald Trump, who represents America in more ways than his critics like to admit. He's a man born into privilege who's been able to convince millions that his success is evidence of his intellect and hard work and little else. This is the same false message most of the country's leaders have been selling since its founding, which helps raise hopes while simultaneously making it more difficult for the country to adopt the kinds of policies and standards that could put a real dent in inequality.
    The truth is that Trump is a bigot in a business suit, stirring ugly passions to prey upon the angst of the poor to continue enriching himself. Sadly, this is in line with the modern American tradition of race, in which Klan hoods and cross burnings aren't allowed, but advocating a similar message is.
    I don't expect much from Trump in his one-on-one, just more of the same -- inane and not well articulated policies, middle school-level threats and insults and lies and inaccuracies.
    And I don't expect to hear a lot new from the other candidates, although they would undoubtedly grab my attention if they showed the courage to switch off campaign mode momentarily and speak seriously and openly about how this country cultivated the rise of someone like Trump.
    For example, I would love to know what the candidates think it is about this period of the 21st century that has seeded the ground for the return of overt bigotry; not so they can gain votes or blame a particular political party, but to show they understand that the position they take today will be remembered by the history books forever.
    I would also be ecstatic if they spoke with sincerity to the millions of Americans who are also suspicious of who they are and what they stand for. I don't need policy prescriptions; I can get those from their websites and past statements. I want heartfelt, soul-level honesty about what it means to be an American today and what it will mean in a majority-minority nation, which will be our reality not too long from now.
    We've watched the predictable stump speeches, seen the campaign ads, heard constantly from surrogates and supporters. For a few hours Monday, I hope the candidates let us into their world in ways they haven't so far. Because barring something surprising at one of the conventions, come January 20, one of them will be the leader of the free world. So they need to tell us where America will be heading under their leadership. And ultimately, they need to explain why we should trust them with a reimagining of American values that will beat back the reemergence of overt bigotry and make room for more of us to experience our highest ideals.