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Trump medals of freedom go to Elvis, Scalia, Babe Ruth, and a megadonor

Meet the Adelsons, Miriam and Sheldon.
Reuters/Carlos Barria
Meet the Adelsons, Miriam and Sheldon.
By Ephrat Livni
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

US president Donald Trump today (Nov. 10) announced his first recipients of the Medal of Freedom, to be awarded on Nov 16. The seven-person list includes three athletes, a deceased rock star, Utah Senator Orrin Hatch, and one woman who happens to be a Republican mega donor.

“This prestigious award is the Nation’s highest civilian honor, which may be awarded by the president to individuals who have made especially meritorious contributions to the security or national interests of the United States, to world peace, or to cultural or other significant public or private endeavors,” the White House statement explains.

In this case, three of the recipients are deceased, including the US Supreme Court justice Antonin Scalia, who according to the White House “never backed down from the bedrock proposition that the Constitution means and will always mean what it meant when it was adopted.” Baseball player George Herman Ruth, Jr., better knows as Babe Ruth,” is being recognized posthumously for a “legacy that has never been eclipsed,” and legendary rocker Elvis Presley for remaining “an enduring American icon four decades after his death.”

Among the living recipients, Trump named Miriam Adelson, “a committed doctor, philanthropist, and humanitarian.” Some of the causes Adelson supports are “Jewish schools, Holocaust memorial organizations, Friends of the Israel Defense Forces, and Birthright Israel.” The official statement doesn’t note, however, that Adelson and her husband billionaire casino magnate Sheldon Adelson together are the largest donors to the Republican Party and Trump, forking over about $100 million to the GOP in 2018 alone.

Former National Football League star Roger Staubach will also receive the honor. He humbly noted, upon hearing the announcement, “I’m not sure I’m in the same league as past recipients like Mother Teresa, Muhammad Ali, Stephen Hawking and Dallas native Ernie Banks.” Staubach may be selling himself short. The White House noted his athleticism and contributions to various causes, including the United Way of America, the Children’s Scholarship Fund, and the veterans’ organization Allies in Service.

Another former NFL player to make the list is Alan Page. “After retiring from the NFL in 1981, Justice Page practiced law full-time before winning a seat on the Minnesota Supreme Court in 1992,” the White House states. Page was a judge for 20 years before retiring and founding the Page Education Foundation, which has provided scholarships to nearly 7,000 students.

Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah garnered the honor for his decades of political service. Most notably, “He has led the way in confirming qualified judges throughout the Federal judiciary in order to protect our constitutional order, and has championed religious liberty, fought against communism, and stood on the side of freedom around the world,” the White House says.

Medals of Freedom are typically given to artists, activists, philanthropists, leaders, and major cultural figures. In stark contrast to Trump’s white-male-dominated list, President Barack Obama named 16 diverse recipients of the medal in 2009, the first time he gave the awards, and didn’t limit it to Americans. That first group included British physicist Stephen Hawking, first female Irish president Mary Robinson, the first openly gay elected official in California, Harvey Milk, African American actor Sidney Poitier, South Africa’s archbishop Desmond Tutu, tennis player Billie Jean King, and Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner Muhammad Yunis, among others. In his two terms, Obama went on to set the record for the most Medals of Freedom awarded by a president.

Correction: A previous version of this post referred to Harvey Milk as the mayor of San Francisco. He was, in fact, elected to the Board of Supervisors. 

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