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Another Trump political ally honored with Medal of Freedom

The Presidential Medal of Freedom hasn't traditionally been used as a reward for political allies. And yet, Trump can't seem to help himself.
Image: A U.S. Marine military aide holds the Presidential Medal of Freedom for Trump to award to Holtz in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington
A U.S. Marine military aide holds the Presidential Medal of Freedom for U.S. President Donald Trump to award to retired football coach Lou Holtz in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., December 3, 2020.Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

Donald Trump has occasionally struggled with the ceremonial aspects of his job, but yesterday offered an especially odd example of the president's troubles.

Wrestler Dan Gable, an Olympic gold medalist, was in the Oval Office to receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom, which went largely according to plan. Trump touted Gable's record; he pretended he won last month's election; etc.

But as Matt Stieb noted, something strange happened at the end of the event.

After giving the highest award a civilian can earn to wrestler Dan Gable — one of 11 sports figures Trump has given the medal to out of his total of 19 recipients — the president bailed on the ceremony a bit early, leaving Gable alone and more than a little confused.

If you haven't seen it, the video is rather entertaining. Trump just walks out of the room, leaving Gable in the middle of the Oval Office, unsure what to say or do next. The retired wrestler literally shrugged his shoulders and raised his arms to reporters, as if to say, "I guess we're done?"

Complicating matters, this appeared to be the latest in a series of examples of the president rewarding political allies with the nation's highest civilian honor. The Des Moines Register, for example, had this report a couple of weeks before Election Day.

Iowa wrestling legend Dan Gable joined President Donald Trump onstage at a Des Moines rally Wednesday evening, accepting the president's praise and telling several thousand cheering fans that Trump is "a champion" who deserves re-election.

As we discussed last week, this keeps happening. About two years ago -- after the president awarded the Medal of Freedom to the wife of a Republican megadonor -- a Washington Post analysis highlighted "a growing pattern: one of Trump awarding a large majority of such medals ... to supporters, to Republicans, and to recipients who fit his political agenda."

The pattern hasn't changed. Trump has now honored 17 people with the award, most of whom are politically aligned with the president. Updating last week's post on this, the list includes:

  • Antonin Scalia, the late conservative Supreme Court justice
  • Miriam Adelson, the wife a Republican megadonor
  • Orrin Hatch, a former Republican senator
  • Roger Staubach, an athlete and longtime conservative Republican
  • Arthur Laffer, a derided Republican economist
  • Edwin Meese, a highly controversial former Republican attorney general
  • Mariano Rivera, an athlete and Trump supporter
  • Roger Penske, a businessman and Republican donor
  • Rush Limbaugh, a far-right media personality
  • Jim Ryun, a former Republican congressman
  • Lou Holtz, a former coach and longtime Republican who was chosen for the honor after attacking Joe Biden's faith at the Republican National Convention

In case this isn't obvious, this honor hasn't traditionally been politicized, and presidents haven't traditionally seen it as a reward for political allies.

Going forward, perhaps we can make the Presidential Medal of Freedom great again?