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The Case for a Presidential Qualifying Exam

Name the two senators. Name at least two members of the House, or if it’s Wyoming, the one. We’re not looking for a perfect score, but damn it, you need at least an 85.
Image via reuters

Image via reuters

Like you, I have been vetted all my life. Prior to becoming a blackjack dealer in Atlantic City, a summer job I took in 1983 while paying for college, the New Jersey Casino Control Commission subjected me to a three month process with a 30-page application and a series of in-depth background checks that included an interview with my piano teacher from the third grade. My first real job, as a junior engineer at the New York City Department of Sanitation, triggered a full background probe by the Department of Investigation, as did my appointment to Chief Engineer at the Manhattan Borough President’s Office in 1991.

In addition to perhaps a dozen formal investigations over the years, my competence above and beyond the ability to complete a degree has been repeatedly subject to formal review, peaking with two all-day comprehensive engineering licensing exams in a couple of airplane hangar-like structures where hundreds of nerdy mechanical, civil, and structural engineers wheeled in stacks of textbooks on luggage carts that screamed, And you think prepared?

Every year the continuing education requirements to maintain my engineering license pile on, and every time I’m hired for a substantial project, a miniature version of the longer vetting process is begun anew. Recently, my older daughter, making the transition from a hard science master’s degree program to the work world, has beaten out many dozens of likely qualified applicants for any number of positions en route to being interrogated via Skype and promptly told to wait a few months.

The underlying impetus for this perpetual crucible is the suspicion that (fill in your name here) is incompetent, corrupt, or both. Americans audacious enough to aspire to the lofty goal of subsistence or better are most definitely assumed guilty until proven innocent and typically treated as posers, imposters, and charlatans. Should you ever have the misfortune of having to fly to a job interview, by the time you sit down with the deputy CFO for the third degree, you will possibly already have been cavity searched by TSA employees earlier in the day.

We are told to bear with these interminable and often humiliating processes because they exist to assure some kind of greater good. Moreover, we’re reminded that we are in no position to complain because, after all, everyone else has to undergo the same ordeal. Everyone, that is, except the leader of the free world.

While so many things disturb me to the core about the current occupant of the Oval Office, after some much needed time off and professional counseling, I’ve concluded that incompetence tops the list. More so than his outright malice, you say? More than his counterproductive policies? More than motives of personal financial gain so obvious we wonder if the President will be conducting any foreign policy whatsoever on his next trip to Russia?

Yes, yes, and yes. The other objections cause real hardship, but there are formal remedies for them— legal, constitutional, and political—however slow acting they may be. There is no such remedy for an empty brain with a permanent hall pass. The hollow orange sphere is not only capable of causing both direct destruction and profound collateral damage, his status is also a cold slap in the face to everyone who has ever had to pass a welding test or pee in a cup. Perhaps worse, legitimization of stupidity lays the groundwork for the next airhead to occupy the highest office in the land and somehow lower the bar one more rung. Maybe worst of all, this low intellectual bar has been on full display for the entire world two years now and running.

Clearly we need a presidential entrance exam. We’re not asking for a lot. Fill in a blank map of the United States. Write in the state capitals and the current governors. Name the two senators. Name at least two members of the House, or if it’s Wyoming, the one. We’re not looking for a perfect score, but damn it, you need at least an 85.

Now we move on to a blank map of the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Give us the heads of state. Tell us what kind of government they have—constitutional democracy, oligarchy, monarchy, etc. Cite when they became a sovereign state and explain by what series of events. Name their currency, top three exports, and top three imports. This is asking a bit more, so we’ll take a 70.

Now back to the United States. Name 10 significant Supreme Court cases and for each describe in 50 to 100 words how they changed the common understanding of the law, as well as the practical results of the decision. An 80 will pass muster on this section. Next, name the five U.S. wars with the highest casualties. Give the years, name the other combatants, and describe in 50 to 100 words what precipitated the conflict. Finally, name any 10 articles of the Constitution and 10 amendments, including a sentence describing the significance of each. We’ll accept a 75 on this section.

Sound unreasonable? Tens of thousands of high school kids ace comparable advanced placement history and government exams every spring. Tens of thousands of adults no longer in high school, on their way to an entry-level job at Jiffy Lube, are responsible for much of the same material when taking their GED. Perhaps most shocking, when not busy raping, pillaging, looting, and wriggling free lunches, immigrants are subjected to all sorts of civics high heat when stepping into that batter’s box called citizenship.

What do you think Donald J. Trump would score on an exam like the one described above? I would say about a 20 during the 2016 campaign. By now, maybe a 30. I don’t really know. What I do know is that someone would have taken the exam for him in return for a date with a former Miss Universe runner-up and a Trump University diploma.

This sorely needed appendage to our current vetting process—you know, the one where you don’t really need to release you tax returns—would likely require a Constitutional amendment. Getting either two-thirds of both houses of Congress or two-thirds of the state legislatures to vote Yea is probably unrealistic. But at least the process would force elected officials from both parties to stand up and shout, “We are a nation of idiots!” That alone might be refreshing. In the end, if we are to reestablish any sort of dignity to the office of the Commander-in-Chief, the occupant must be at least as qualified as someone paying out $37.50 in casino chips to a retired line cook who bet $25 and just drew a blackjack.