The presidency of the United States may be the most powerful post in the world, but it doesn’t offer much room for self-expression. The duties and requirements mean that the president is often fairly constrained in his choices. The Presidential Medal of Freedom is one of the few areas where he has full creative control. As a result, the honorees, though typically deserving, tend to say less about the country than they do about the presidents who chose them.
John F. Kennedy’s executive order establishing the award offers only this broad guideline: “The Medal may be awarded by the President as provided in this order to any person who has made an especially meritorious contribution to (1), the security or national interests of the United States, or (2) world peace, or (3) cultural or other significant public or private endeavors.”
Even Donald Trump, ever the unconventional president, is sticking to the pattern set by his predecessors in his first picks, who will receive the medal Friday at the White House. In Trump’s first crop, he’ll give the honor to Miriam Adelson, a doctor and Republican mega-donor who is married to Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson; retiring Senator Orrin Hatch of Utah; Alan Page, an NFL Hall of Fame defensive tackle turned Minnesota state-supreme-court justice; Elvis Presley; Babe Ruth; Antonin Scalia, the late Supreme Court justice; and Roger Staubach, the NFL Hall of Fame quarterback.