Author, Lecturer, Ethicist

Cramming For the First Presidential Debate

As I write this piece, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are both likely tucked away with staff and advisors somewhere, preparing for the first presidential debate, which begins in less than 48 hours.  One can reasonably assume that owing to major differences in temperament, experience and what the preeminent sociologist Erving Goffman called The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life that the two are likely preparing in vastly different ways.  And although their goals going into this debate are no doubt the same- coming out on top - the challenges they face are really quite different. 

For Secretary Clinton - the ultimate policy wonk who has long been "the smartest person in the room" -  her challenges are to attack without overwhelming, to show a softer, more human side, and to somehow goad Mr. Trump into going off-message. It is all but universally understood that in comparison to Donald Trump, Secretary Clinton knows far, far more about policy and procedure. The question, however, is whether independent and undecided voters see this as a plus.  For Donald Trump - the ultimate political outsider whose penchant for bloviating and telling untruths is legion - the challenges are quite different: to present himself as one who is informed, reasonable and "presidential" without tripping on his own tongue, reverting to type, and thus losing or confusing those who support him because of his brash, hard-edged "just-one-of-the-guys" plain outspokenness.  

Expectations for the two are quite different; without question, the two will be "graded" on different scales.  Should Secretary Clinton receive an overall grade of, say,  B+, many in the press will consider that a defeat.  On the other hand, should Mr. Trump eke out, say, a C-, hecould easily be considered the victor.  Much will depend on debate moderator Lester Holt who, despite Donald Trump's pre-debate accusation to the contrary, is a registered Republican. The challenges for Holt will be even-handedness in asking questions, not being afraid to ask follow-up questions, keeping the candidates on point, and, to the best of his ability, separating fact from fable. Sadly, as with most presidential debates, victory will depend more on optics than facts; more on one-liners than pointed explanations. Then too, one can debate whether, in the long run, presidential debates really matter all that much . . .

Having said the above, and in preparation for Monday night, let's pose 18 rather simple questions that anyone running for POTUS should be able to answer. (And here, a tip-of-the-cap to Barbara and Alfie Liebman for being the "godparents" of this post.)  Answers will be found below, highlighted in blue.

And away we go . . .


  1. What is the approximate amount of our trade deficit?
  2. What is the approximate amount of our national debt?
  3. Name the capital of Australia.
  4. What countries make up the loose confederation of Great Britain?
  5. Name the two bodies that comprise England's legislature.
  6. Name Pakistan's equivalent to our CIA, which played a major role in taking out Osama bin Laden.
  7. Who is the President of Venezuela?
  8. Identify, respectively, Jim Yong Kim and Christine Lagarde.
  9. Is ISIS at war with the Sunni or the Sh'ia?
  10. Where are the Straits of Hormuz?
  11. What year did Israel become a free and independent state?
  12. Who is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi?
  13. Who is the President of the Ukraine?
  14. What is the "Nuclear Triad?"
  15. What is the nickname of the plane which dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima?
  16. In what country did the military disaster known as "Blackhawk Down" occur?
  17. What is "Dabiq?"
  18. What is the average price of a gallon of milk in 2016?


  1. As of July, 2016, our trade deficit is approximately $39.5 billion.
  2. The most recent accounting places our national debt at $19.2 trillion.
  3. The Capital of Australia is Canberra.
  4. Great Britain is a confederation consisting of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales.
  5. The House of Commons and the House of Lords.
  6. Pakistan's equivalent of our CIA is the I.S.I. (Inter-Services Intelligence).
  7. Nicolás Maduro is the current President of Venezuela.
  8. Jim Yong Kim is President of The World Bank; Christine Lagarde heads the International Monetary Fund (IMF).
  9. ISIS is at war with (mostly) the Shiites.
  10. The Straits of Hormuz are in The Persian Gulf.
  11. Israel became an independent state in 1948.
  12. al Baghdadi heads ISIS
  13. The Ukrainian President is Petro Poroshenko.
  14. The "Nuclear Triad" is our the air-land-and sea nuclear delivery system, consisting of strategic bombers, intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
  15. The Enola Gay dropped the A Bomb on Hiroshima.
  16. "Blackhawk Down" occurred in Somalia.
  17. Dabiq is the name of the slick English language monthly magazine published by ISIS.
  18. Today, a gallon of milk, on average, costs for $3.40.

 So how'd you do?  Did you have to use Google to find answers? That's OK, for although it isn't necessary for everyone to know the answers to these questions, it would be nice;  for this would mean we have a fairly worldly, knowledgeable citizenry.  But again, it is by no means absolutely mandatory.  When it comes to the POTUS however, knowing the answers to these questions - or at least being curious enough to find out the answers - is a given.  And, the state of the world is such that neither America nor planet earth can afford a POTUS who needs on-the-job training. 

Hey Lester Holt: consider asking a few of these questions . . . and don't let either of them go off on tangents . . . OK?

Enquiring minds want to know . . .

Copyright©2016 Kurt F. Stone