President Donald Trump this week presented a Presidential Medal of Freedom—the highest honor that the U.S. government can bestow on a civilian—to former Attorney General Ed Meese, The New Yorker reports. Trump lauded Meese as an “absolute titan of American law and a heroic defender of the American Constitution.” In addition to Trump, the eighty-seven-year-old Meese, and several generations of his family, those present in the Oval Office included Vice President Mike Pence, Attorney General William Barr, acting Office of Budget and Management director Russ Vought and Kay Coles James, the president of the Heritage Foundation, which Meese joined after leaving the Reagan Administration.
Occurring on the same day that the White House announced its refusal to coöperate in any way with the Trump impeachment inquiry, the ceremony highlighted an important dynamic that is now playing out on the right. Meese, who started out during the 2016 campaign as a critic of Trump but eventually endorsed him. In doing so, he helped explain why so many prominent Republicans have continued to defend Trump. In praising Trump, Meese cited “your commitment to the Constitution and your commitment to making sure that it’s interpreted it as it actually reads.” Referring to the fact that Trump has appointed 152 conservative judges to the federal bench, and two to the Supreme Court, Meese declared this to be “a monument to justice and the rule of law that will last literally—literally, for decades.”