In past years, it has been custom for presidents to design their own coins and distribute them to members of the military, police, firemen, and federal workers. Although each president’s coin has been a bit different, the design has remained relatively muted and avoided flashy details. Enter President Trump, whose presidential challenge coin was unveiled Friday. In true Trump fashion, the coin is "very gold," according to one White House aide — and perhaps the flashiest presidential coin in history.
The Trump coin’s ostentatious design appears to outdo every other president’s "challenge coin" in gaudiness. Whereas Vice Presidents Pence, Biden, and former President Obama had simple coins bearing their titles and a classic image of an eagle, Trump manages to fit in his own name not one, but three times, on the coin. The eagle has been replaced by a gold image of the White House. And instead of the motto of the United States, "E Pluribus Unum," the coin says, "Make America Great Again."
To no one’s surprise, President Trump was "personally involved" in designing the coin, according to The Washington Post. After all, this is a man whose $100 million Manhattan apartment is covered in 24-karat gold. The coin — which is twice the size of past presidential coins — seems to reflect Trump's insatiable desire to outpace his competition, if only in the most shallow ways.
Trump critics immediately mocked the new coin. Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, a well-known member of the "Never Trump" camp of the Republican party, tweeted that he would extend kudos to the first person "who politely but conspicuously tosses it in the Oval waste basket."
MSNBC commentator Joy Reid said Trump's move to makeover the coin echoed the attitude of dictators like Kim Jong Un, who are notoriously obsessed with their image.
Some objected to the idea that the coin would be given to donors and supporters at campaign rallies, rather than to members of the military and other service personnel. Peter Delacroix, a former member of the Navy, wrote in a tweet that the coins "hold great meaning" for military personnel, and that Trump’s coin was "vulgar and an insult."
Trevor Potter, a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission, told the Post that the president’s decision to replace the American motto, "E Pluribus Unum," with his own campaign slogan was ethically questionable. Potter told the newspaper:
"For the commander in chief to give a political token with a campaign slogan on it to military officers would violate the important principle of separating the military from politics, as well as diminishing the tradition of the coin."
A number of people said that the "Make America Great Again" motto on the coin only magnified the divisive nature of Trump's politics. While "E Pluribus Unum" means "out of many, one," the president has never been about bridging divides, as lawyer Neal Katyal pointed out. Katyal is representing Hawaii in a lawsuit against Trump's travel ban.
Star Trek actor and activist George Takei tweeted that the move to remove the nation's motto was "Donald in a nutshell," noting that "he seeks to divide us while promoting his own interests over anyone else's."
This coin isn't the only presidential design that has bucked tradition this year. The White House Christmas ornament is emblazoned with the president's monogram, and is yet another testament to how much Trump likes seeing his name on things. Previous White House Christmas ornaments have featured relatively apolitical scenes of Santa Claus or sleigh rides, but this year's features a bold eagle surrounded by American flags. While it's unclear how much actual control the president has over these collectors' items, given his involvement in the presidential challenge coin makeover, it isn't hard to imagine he had some hand in designing them.