As the field of Democratic presidential contenders fills out, we’re hearing reporters ask them about the Green New Deal, Medicare-for-all, Supreme Court packing and other topics. Voters will have to decide whether candidates’ answers suggest that they have thought about policy issues in a serious way and know where they want to lead the country.
However, if we have learned anything from President Trump, it is that character, intellectual curiosity, humility, steadiness, self-awareness, courage and decency do matter.
So let’s start asking about those things:
- Where are your tax returns? (Every candidate should be asked this every day until he or she releases them.)
- Did your parents or other relatives make a substantial gift to a university at or around the time you were applying? Have you made such a gift regarding a university to which your child was applying?
- How much charity have you given over the course of your adult life? How much time (not money) have you spent for a charitable cause?
- What have you done to address racism in America? Income disparity? Sexism?
- Has anyone in an organization or company you ran complained of harassment or discrimination? If so, what did you do?
- What ethics rules would you abide by if elected?
- Please describe a time in which you stuck to a commitment or were truthful to your own detriment?
- Have you ever made a career sacrifice for the benefit of your spouse and/or children?
- What advantages (i.e. a condition not related to your own merit or effort), if any, did you have that contributed to your success? How have you tried to ensure that Americans who don’t have such advantage(s) have an equal chance at success? How would you do so as president?
- How has faith or some philosophical belief guided you in public life?
- How do you plan on improving public discourse?
- How do you plan on strengthening First Amendment rights (speech, press, assembly, religion and petitioning government)?
- When have you publicly apologized for something? Explain.
- Do you believe people who voted for Trump are racists or improperly tolerant of racism?
- How would you nurture pluralistic democracy?
- How do you define “American”?
- Please tell us about the last few books you’ve read.
- How do you get your news?
- How do you make big decisions?
- What public policy issue did you have to become conversant in after being elected? How did you get up to speed?
- What is required of citizens in a democracy beyond voting (if you think that is required)?
- What sacrifice would you ask of Americans? For what goals?
- Has conscience ever compelled you to quit a job or association? Sublimate partisan loyalty? What sort of thing would compel you to do so?
That’s a start. I sincerely hope some or all of these questions get asked in debates, town halls and interviews. We elected someone in 2016 entirely unfit for the office of the presidency, and we’ve learned how much damage an unfit person can do to our democratic norms and institutions. The next president will have much to repair — and better not make matters worse.