The Presidential Medal of Freedom is a farce

Orrin Hatch has died This is hardly something I feel sad about, and I pretty much concur with PZ Myers. Reading his obituary, I noticed that he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Trump.

Wikipedia explains the purpose and history of the medal:

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is an award bestowed by the president of the United States to recognize people who have made “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.” The Presidential Medal of Freedom and the Congressional Gold Medal are the highest civilian awards of the United States. The award is not limited to U.S. citizens and, while it is a civilian award, it can also be awarded to military personnel and worn on the uniform. It was established in 1963 by President John F. Kennedy, superseding the Medal of Freedom that was established by President Harry S. Truman in 1945 to honor civilian service during World War II.

Until Biden there has been handed out 656 Presidential Medals of Freedom, spread out across 11 presidents.

John F. Kennedy 31
Lyndon B. Johnson 58
Richard Nixon 28
Gerald Ford 26
Jimmy Carter 34
Ronald Reagan 86
George H. W. Bush 42
Bill Clinton 110
George W. Bush 85
Barack Obama 132
Donald Trump 24

Until Trump, the Presidential Medal of Freedom was given to sport and cultural personalities, as well as noteworthy public servants and politicians across the political spectrum. Under Obama, a lot of the recipients were people involved in Civil Rights, less so under other presidents. Unsurprisingly, Trump used the Medal of Freedom as a political tool.

I took a look at the list of recipients under Trump, and tried to categorize them:

As you can see from the figure, more than half of the recipients are sports people, a couple of which were foreign. Most of the rest were Republicans, all of which supported Trump.

This pretty much demonstrates why the Medal of Freedom is a farce. It is completely up to the president to decide who gets it, and it is frequently used to award political allies. Also, I find it curios, how someone like the Swedish golfer, Annika Sörenstam, is qualified to get the medal – she was the last recipients of Trump’s Medals, which I used her as an example, but I could use any number of the Trump recipients.

Anyway, the Presidential Medal of Freedom might have meant something in the past, but like everything else he touched as a President, Trump has shown how it can be used for political purposes, and that it is a farce, like everything else that the US Presidential position has the full control over.


  1. blf says

    Arguably, a great deal of the USAian-“legal” and “political” systems are built on the idea of trust and people acting responsibly. E.g., the Senate will fairly consider appointments in a timely manner; The President will only issue pardons or provide clemency in deserving cases; Judges will try to be impartial and recuse themselves if there is any plausible doubt; etc., etc., etc. Hair furor and teh thugs blew all of that up spectacularly, albeit assaults on the concept have been mounted by teh thugs for decades, at least since tricky dicky and perhaps before.