Opinion: With our country in chaos after attack on Capitol, Donald Trump plans cheap stunt: a Medal of Freedom for Bill Belichick

If you want to understand why President Donald Trump's awarding of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Patriots coach Bill Belichick is one of the most breathtakingly tone-deaf acts of the Trump era (and that's saying something), there's a scene that happened on Sunday that helps to illustrate why.

Hundreds of police officers lined the streets near the Capitol in the afternoon to salute a funeral procession for Brian Sicknick, the U.S. Capitol officer who was killed by rioters, rioters incited by Trump.

It was not just a sign of respect for the officer, but an indicator of the still fresh wounds, and how the nation continues to reel from the attacks on the Capitol.

Hours after that somber moment, unbelievably, stunningly, and yes, disgustingly, it became clear Trump was awarding the medal to Belichick. The news was first reported by Politico. 

We'll discuss if Belichick deserves the award in a moment (spoiler alert: he doesn't) and if he should accept it (spoiler alert: he shouldn't), but just the fact it's being awarded at this moment in time is a staggering thing. 

A week after Donald Trump's followers attacked the Capitol, Trump is planning a Medal of Freedom ceremony for Patriots coach Bill Belichick. (Photo: Geoff Burke,USA TODAY Sports)

The country is still recovering from one of the ugliest acts in our history: an army of rioters attacking one of the world's greatest symbols of democracy and plunging the nation into chaos.

What Trump is doing by awarding the medal to Belichick and others this week is using it not as recognition of remarkable feats, but as a cheap distraction, a magic trick to draw attention from what is likely an impending impeachment trial.

It doesn't just cheapen the award; it demonstrates a lack of respect for what is a sad and frightening moment in American history that requires reflection, fierceness in the face of white nationalism, and an almost rabid defense of the country's democratic values.

We're still mourning the dead. We're still wondering what this means for the future of our nation. We're staring at another impeachment trial. We're in the middle of a pandemic with hundreds of thousands dead.

This isn't just bad timing. It's manipulation. That's the primary problem. It's not meant to honor. It's being used as a tool to distract. That's not the purpose of this medal.

The other issue is secondary but also problematic. Frankly, there's no way Belichick deserves it.

Look at some of the recipients. Mother Teresa was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom from Ronald Reagan in 1985. I'm sure you've heard of her. She's literally a saint.

Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall was awarded it. He's a civil rights and legal icon. Another civil rights legend, John Lewis, also received the prestigious award. So did John Glenn, the first American to orbit the Earth.

On and on it goes. Remarkable people doing remarkable things and earning recognition for what the award says is "an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace, cultural or other significant public or private endeavors." It's the highest civilian honor.

Sure, not every winner is an astronaut or fought for voting rights. There are sports stars, actors and musicians. The key is most, if not all, are worthy.

Trump views the award as something to give loyalists. There are numerous examples of this but one of the best was when he gave it to Lou Holtz last year. Holtz endorsed Trump for president and then became one of his most strident backers, even speaking at the Republican National Convention.

Holtz won two national championships and was 12-8-2 in bowl games. He was a solid coach but if you rank the best college football coaches in history, he wouldn't make the top 10.

This isn't to say that none of Trump's recipients are worthy. But no president, not even close, has used the reward as a form of political payback and grift the way Trump has.

The friendship between Belichick and Trump goes back decades. Belichick wrote a letter of support for Trump during the campaign in 2016. The former quarterback for the Patriots, Tom Brady, is also a Trump friend.

“He's a very good friend of mine. He's a winner,” Trump told Hugh Hewitt during a radio interview in August, speaking of Belichick, according to Politico. “You know, if I ever had a military battle, I'd call up Belichick and say what do you think? What do you think? Give me a couple of ideas.”

Trump and his supporters may say the award is being given, in part, because of the Patriots bringing awareness to the genocide in Armenia. That of course is a noble cause, but if you think Trump knows anything about Armenia, you're a fool.

Anyone who says to inject yourself with bleach to fight a deadly virus doesn't know about Armenia.

Will Belichick accept the award? He's no dummy. He knows he's being used. However, he may not care. The award may be too alluring to turn down. 

Trump has mainly been a divisive presence in the sports world. He attacked protesting NFL players and has engaged in verbal battles with LeBron James his entire presidency.

But this? This moment? This timing?


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