President Donald Trump presents the Presidential Medal of Freedom to former NBA basketball player and general manager Jerry West, in the Oval Office of the White House, Thursday, Sept. 5, 2019, in Washington.
Alex Brandon/AP Photo

Trump accidentally speaks his mind at Medal of Freedom presentation

Updated

On the surface, this seemed like one of the least controversial parts of Donald Trump’s week.

President Donald Trump on Thursday awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom to basketball legend Jerry West.

At a White House ceremony, Trump praised West – whose iconic dribble can be seen on the logo for the National Basketball Association – as an “extraordinary American” for his achievements on and off the court, saying the nation’s highest civilian honor was a “richly deserved” award.

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/4/19, 9:00 PM ET

Trump lies about storm harder to ignore than his usual nonsense

Rachel Maddow looks at a recent string of particularly bald-faced lies by Donald Trump, capped by an adamant insistence on a falsehood about the forecast of Hurricane Dorian that is particularly pernicious since the deadly emergency nature of the storm
So far, so good. It’s tough for a president to screw up a Medal of Freedom presentation, since it generally involves saying nice things about a prominent American. Even for Trump, this should be a piece of cake.

But it wasn’t. After welcoming people to the event, the president started reading Jerry West’s biographical information, including the fact that he was born and raised in West Virginia. At that point, Trump strayed from his prepared remarks and turned to Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), who was also in attendance.

“I shouldn’t say this, Joe, but I won it by 43 points,” Trump told the senator, referring to West Virginia. “That’s a lot.”

Turning back to Jerry West, the president added, “We love West Virginia. Probably helped you getting this award today.”

Trump was almost certainly kidding, though the joke was rooted in the idea that if West had been born and raised in a blue state, he’d be less likely to receive the Medal of Freedom.

Even at an award ceremony intended to honor someone else, Trump’s thoughts turned to Trump – and how impressed he is with himself.

The larger point to this is a point we last kicked around a year ago: this president isn’t just inept when it comes to governing; Trump flubs his ceremonial duties, too.

At last year’s White House Easter Egg Roll, for example, he delivered remarks – mostly to a group of children – in which he lied about the economy, talked about defense spending, and went on an extended riff about Democrats failing to meet his demands on immigration.

It’s hardly the only example that comes to mind. Nearly as jarring was Trump’s recent visit to an El Paso hospital. And his Trump’s awkward diplomatic events. And the paper-towel-throwing incident in Puerto Rico.

The presidency is a profoundly difficult job that includes disparate responsibilities. It’s not yet clear which of these duties meets Trump’s unique skill set.