President Donald Trump broke with decades-long tradition when he unveiled his “challenge coin” — ditching the presidential seal and slapping on his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” in place of the national motto E pluribis unum (out of many, one).
The Presidential “challenge coin” is a tradition that goes back two decades, with each president’s coin differing slightly in design from the next. The coins are given, usually to members of the military, to celebrate accomplishments or recognize a particular act of service. The custom is discrete, with presidents typically passing the coins to the recipients via a handshake.
According to a White House aide who spoke with the Washington Post, Trump played an active role in designing the coin. And the design is a noticeable departure from years past — an eagle emblazoned with Trump’s signature replaces the Presidential seal on one side (in fact, Trump’s name appears three times on the coin), a bright American flag serves as the backdrop of the White House on the other side, 13 arrows representing the original colonies have been removed, and the usual muted copper and silver colors have been replaced with a bright gold. The coin is also much larger and thicker than those of years past.
Jennifer Burch, a former staff sergeant in the U.S. Air Force (medically retired) and a Trump voter, said Trump was “disrespecting” tradition with the new coin design.
“When I was in the service, I would get a challenge coin for doing something above and beyond,” she told ThinkProgress, adding that she received one for helping to raise more than $20,000 in relief funds after the 2010 Haiti earthquake. “Every coin tells a story … I feel like, now, they’re being a little overused.”
“Some change can be good. But this is not. It’s not classy,” Burch added.
News of the change also drew widespread criticism on social media:
It is beyond fitting that Trump deleted “e Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one—from the Presidential coin. Our national motto sums up our nation’s deepest aspirations. Trump has never shown even the slightest respect for the motto and what it stands for. https://t.co/tSz9rg3jQj
— Neal Katyal (@neal_katyal) December 22, 2017
(close your eyes) Imagine @seanhannity and @foxandfriends reaction if President Obama had remade the Presidential coin into a tribute to himself instead of a tribute to the country. https://t.co/WVpSmYuuJQ
— Jesse Ferguson (@JesseFFerguson) December 23, 2017
Trump replaced the national motto, "E Pluribus Unum"—Out of many, one—with his own campaign slogan. Then he had them make it gold and thicker, and put his name on it three times. It is as if they forged his mania and insecurities in the form of a coin. https://t.co/WarhQy4Loa
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) December 22, 2017
But the discussion surrounding Trump’s deviation from past designs is not simply a matter of taste. Trevor Potter, a Republican who served as a chairman of the Federal Election Commission, told the Washington Post, “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.”
Trump is also deviating from tradition with respect to how the coins are usually distributed. According to the Washington Post, a White House aide said that the Trump administration may distribute the coins, which are traditionally given mainly to service members, at campaign rallies and to donors.
“They’re going to be used in ways they haven’t been in the past,” the aide said.
Burch said the coin design is the latest action to make her feel “disappointed” in Trump.
“Handing [coins] out to civilians and donors, I think that’s fine … but let Trump have a separate coin for that,” she said. “As a veteran, they have done some stuff for us, but not as much as I was hoping.”
UPDATED: This story has been updated to include comments from Jennifer Burch.