President Donald Trump has just 16 days remaining in the White House, and in those final two-plus weeks, along with a slew of sleazy pardons and democracy-subverting tweets, he also is reportedly planning to decorate his most unflinching yes men with awards. Trump is expected to bestow the Presidential Medal of Freedom upon California Rep. Devin Nunes and Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan. The two congressmen have been on the front line of Trump’s conspiracy-addled, reality-bending efforts over the past four years and have distinguished themselves as Trump loyalists to their core, placing the interests of the president, and the perks they receive as a consequence, above all else. Nunes, as the ranking Republican member of the House Intelligence Committee, earned his stripes helping Trump duck and dodge, confuse and obfuscate, throughout the Mueller investigation.
The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the country’s highest civilian honor, dating back to 1963, and one that has historically been reserved for truly extraordinary contributions to the country and the world, spanning arts and culture, politics, science, and sports. A sampling of past recipients: Neil Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Frank Sinatra, Mother Teresa, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali, Aretha Franklin, Bob Dylan, Babe Ruth, and Elvis Presley.* An esteemed list that will now be joined by an undistinguished congressman from California’s undistinguished 22nd Congressional District and the man representing a contorted, gerrymandered suburban Ohio district who has been accused of failing to intervene in the sexual abuse of college wrestlers while he was a wrestling coach at Ohio State.
These latest awards, if they come to fruition, coming after Trump’s honoring of right-wing shock jock Rush Limbaugh with the medal in 2020, once again show Trump’s contempt for earned accomplishment and his willingness to use the power of his office to weaponize the trappings of that accomplishment. By bestowing the legitimacy that comes with such an award upon two individuals so clearly undeserving, Trump demeans past and future winners and once again blurs the distinction between exceptional and ordinary. If everyone can be exceptional by fiat, then perhaps no one truly is. That has always been an underlying logic of Trump’s candidacy, presidency, and life.
Correction, Jan. 4, 2021: This post originally misspelled Muhammad Ali’s first name.