The only test to become U.S. president is an election. That means an uninformed, unqualified candidate lacking in knowledge of geography, civics or history can become president as long as he (emphasis on he) can win over enough like-minded know-nothings. This used to be a hypothetical we thought had been pushed to its believability breaking point by George W. Bush. Then Donald Trump came along and proved anything is possible, and I mean that in the absolute worst way.
It’s not like anyone expects the president to explain string theory or how the universe can be both infinite and expanding, but it would have been nice to have a leader who didn’t think there’s a 12th Article of the Constitution or didn’t just learn that Abraham Lincoln was a member of his party (which is literally nicknamed the Party of Lincoln). Trump only got word a few months ago that Bill Clinton signed NAFTA and that North Korea-China relations are complex. He actually thought being president would be easier than his old job, which mostly consisted of golfing and running businesses into the ground—exactly what he’s been doing in his new job. Barack Obama was a constitutional scholar, while Trump occasionally spells constitution with a “k.” Elections have consequences.
This is a problem, because there's stuff a U.S. president should know, and that stuff should outnumber the things high school civics students know. Trump fails on both counts. He tries to cover up his ignorance with long, meandering, lie-filled statements and doubletalk, which the press too often lets him get away with. Just once, as both Toronto Star reporter Daniel Dale and Hawaii Senate Democrat Brian Schatz recently suggested, the media should ask Trump a question he can’t wiggle his way around. “I'd pay so much to just ask Trump fact questions,” Dale wrote in a recent tweet. “What is a Protestant? What is Medicaid? What are the tax rates? Who borders Israel?” Sure, revealing Trump’s staggering ignorance won’t influence his base. You need someone skilled in deprogramming cult members for that. But it would prove a point for the rest of us.
Please note, your average American might not be able to answer some of these questions, which is fine. But any President of the United States should know this stuff. Here are five questions reporters should ask Donald Trump.
1. What is the capital of North Dakota?
Or Nevada (Carson City) or Kentucky (Frankfort) or Vermont (Montpelier)? Asking a U.S. president to name a state capital does not qualify as a “gotcha question.” Trump should be able to name all 50 state capitals, including the ones that are nowhere near any of his golf clubs. The capital of North Dakota is Bismarck. Although I’m sure that Trump will say the real answer is “Fake News Town” and his base will love him for telling all the elites right where they can shove their fancy basic geography.
2. Can you explain the difference between a health insurance premium and a deductible?
During a recent interview with the New York Times, Trump described how health insurance works. Someday his quote may be developed into a feature length film called “The Rich, Dumb, Out-of-Touch President.”
“From the moment the insurance, you’re 21 years old, you start working and you’re paying $12 a year for insurance,” Trump stated, “and by the time you’re 70, you get a nice plan.”
In case you missed it, Donald Trump thinks health care in this country costs about $12 a year, or 100 pennies a month. (In May, he made a similar statement, only he quoted a figure of $15 a year.) Several sources figured out that Trump, who reads nothing—especially not the health care bill he’s pushing—but watches Fox News like it’s his job, probably confused a commercial for baby life insurance with actual Obamacare. Keep in mind that during the same interview with the Times, he actually bragged about how impressed GOP senators are with his knowledge of health insurance.
“These guys couldn’t believe it, how much I know about it,” Trump boasted. “I know a lot about health care.”
The next time Trump starts giving some circuitous, crap-filled answer on health care, a reporter should simply ask him, “What’s the difference between a premium and deductible”? Anyone who has ever paid for health insurance knows that premiums are the monthly cost of your insurance coverage, and a deductible is the amount you have to pay before your health care provider starts subsidizing care. Trump ought to know both of these things, considering he’s trying to take health care away from 32 million people.
3.What does the acronym OPEC stand for?
This isn’t even a question about what OPEC does. It’s only a request for the president to state what those four letters stand for. The answer is Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries. You know right when he finally gives up and someone starts to tell him, he’d do that thing where tries to yell the words at the same time so it seems like he knew all along, but just forgot for a second.
4. What does the 13th Amendment say?
Better yet, just ask him to explain any Amendment that isn’t the First or Second—the ones he likes to emptily cite—and see how that goes. The 13th Amendment outlawed slavery (in name, anyway). When he stumbles, maybe the reporter can help him out by saying, “It’s the one Jeff Sessions is trying to repeal.”
5. What is the official name of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?
The Bill of Rights. Trump will try to insist his answer is acceptable, but “The Ten Commandments” is a totally different thing. Sorry.