The President Can Draw a Clock

The cognitive test that Trump passed was neither thorough nor difficult.

President Trump holds a signed bill in at the White House.
President Trump holds a signed bill in at the White House in 2017. (Alex Brandon / AP)

Amid growing speculation about President Donald Trump’s unfitness to hold the nuclear codes he has threatened to use, anyone who was suspicious that he could not identify a camel or draw the face of a clock can rest more easily tonight.

This afternoon the president’s physician, Navy Rear Admiral Ronny L. Jackson, said that the president “did exceedingly well” on a test called the Montreal Cognitive Assessment, reporting a score of 30 out of 30.

The Montreal Cognitive Assessment is a 10-minute test. It’s one of the commonly used screening exams for dementia. The questions on the test vary in difficulty, but they include:

Six points for knowing the date and where you are.

One point if you can identify what a train and a bicycle have in common, and another for watch and ruler.

Three points for correctly identifying pictures of a lion, camel, and rhinoceros.

Another point if you can repeat the phrase “I only know that John is the one to help today.”

Another point if you can read the following letters: FBACMNAAJKLBAFAKDEAAAJAMOFAAB.

Three points if you can draw a clock that indicates the time “10 past 11.”

It would be extremely concerning if a president of the United States did poorly on this exam.

I could find no record of other sitting presidents having undergone this assessment. The process of assessing the fitness of the president is traditionally opaque. Even today, it was up to Trump to choose what parts of the physical exam were disclosed, and which weren’t. (To be fair, Dr. Jackson said the president asked to take the cognitive test in order to address lingering questions about his mental fitness.)

It is reassuring to be told that Trump can pass this test. But it underscores the absurdity in the fact that this brief and voluntary assessment—of a sort that might be used to place a child in kindergarten—is the only basis for assessing fitness of a president. It underscores the need of a comprehensive, transparent, nonpartisan approach to testing the cognitive abilities of a president and sharing the results openly.