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Presidential Medal of Freedom: The Bigger Picture

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at American chapter.

The Presidential Medal of Freedom is the highest civilian award in the United States and is historically presented to champions of civil rights, those who have made significant contributions to the arts, or people whose humanitarian efforts changed the world. Past recipients include Martin Luther King Jr., Aretha Franklin, and Chief Justice Earl Warren. It is characterized as a medal to recognize “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors”. 

On February 4, 2020, following the State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump awarded this medal to conservative radio host Rush Limbaugh. This decision sparked outrage due to Limbaugh’s contentious views and rash commentary on social and political issues. Although accomplished in his career, Limbaugh’s image is tainted by his racially charged and generally insensitive comments. In 2007, Limbaugh commented that “The NFL all too often looks like a game between the Bloods and the Crips without any weapons”. In 2012, Limbaugh labelled Georgetown Law student Sandra Fluke as a “slut” and “prostitute” after she presented a speech in support of mandating insurance coverage for contraceptives. To be blunt, these racist and sexist comments have no place in our society, and certainly should not be coming from the recipient of our nation’s highest civilian award. What’s more concerning is that the medal is meant to recognize someone who contributed to the national interests of the United States. Limbaugh receiving this award seems almost antithetical to its intent.  

But even more terrifying is the tone it sets and the message it sends to the rest of the country. When a racist, sexist, homophobic man is not reprimanded for his harsh comments, but rather rewarded by the president, we have to ask: What other actions are excusable or even encouraged because of a lack of understanding or care by the current administration? When Limbaugh was presented with the Medal of Freedom, I couldn’t help but be reminded of President Trump’s speech following the Charlottesville protests, where he failed to condemn the deadly actions of white supremacists and neo-Nazis. Since the current administration’s inaguration 2016, there is a resurgence of white nationalism in the United States as they are emboldened by the indifference presented by President Trump. 

The “national interests of the United States” are built on a foundation of diversity, acceptance, and equality – a foundation that appears to be eroding at the hands of ignorance and a blatant disregard for other people. The country and its leadership need to get back on track to promote its original values – values that aren’t the most salient in Medal of Freedom recipient Rush Limbaugh.

women fists raised in air
Original Illustration by Gina Escandon for Her Campus Media

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Photos: Her Campus Media

Shruthi Chandran is an undergraduate student at American University involved in the Global Scholars program pursuing an International Studies major and Philosophy and Spanish minor. She is from the Bay Area, California. When she isn't studying or at mock trial practice, you can catch her reading Supreme Court decisions (for fun), petting the closest dog, or watching an obscene amount of Tik Toks.