Much has been said about Donald Trump’s entirely inappropriate, partisan, hateful word-salad of a speech he delivered to 40,000 eleven to eighteen year-old Boy Scouts and their leaders. It deviated greatly from traditional non-partisan presidential visits to scouting’s greatest meetup (Obama in 2010 and video of Bush in 2005 below for reference).
A transcript of the speech can be read here. Trump kicks it off with the following, “Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I am in front of the Boy Scouts?” I would have omitted the word “Hell” when talking to children but on that I’m willing to give a pass, what followed makes it pale in comparison as Trump proceeded to turn one of the more worthy and non-partisan presidential duties into a political rally.
The President raged against the Washington “cesspool,” boasted once again about his electoral map, slammed the “fake news” media and mocked President Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. He even joked about firing Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price if he didn’t round up the votes to repeal and replace Obamacare this week. “Joked.”
Trump misrepresented the Scout Law, utilizing the word loyal to criticize those in Washington who he feels are showing insufficient allegiance to him. From the Scout Handbook – “A Scout is loyal. A Scout is true to his family, friends, Scout leaders, school, and nation.” I was taught that when I say Scout is Loyal, it means he remains steadfast in his adherence to what is right.
He mocked his former Democratic presidential rival, Hillary Clinton. I certainly remember studying to earn the “mock your defeated rivals” merit badge. And he slammed “fake” polls and “fake news” while mocking political commentators who once argued that he had no path to 270 electoral votes. He even made a very tasteful yacht orgy anecdote:
And it was very sad because the hottest people in New York were at this party. It was the party of Steve Ross—Steve Ross, who was one of the great people. … And I was doing well, so I got invited to the party. I was very young. And I go in, but I’m in the real estate business, and I see a hundred people, some of whom I recognize, and they’re big in the entertainment business.
And I see sitting in the corner was a little old man who was all by himself. Nobody was talking to him. I immediately recognized that that man was the once great William Levitt, of Levittown, and I immediately went over. I wanted to talk to him more than the Hollywood, show business, communications people.
So I went over and talked to him, and I said, “Mr. Levitt, I’m Donald Trump.” He said, “I know.” I said, “Mr. Levitt, how are you doing?” He goes, “Not well, not well at all.” And I knew that. But he said, “Not well at all.” And he explained what was happening and how bad it’s been and how hard it’s been. And I said, “What exactly happened? Why did this happen to you? You’re one of the greats ever in our industry. Why did this happen to you?” And he said, “Donald, I lost my momentum. I lost my momentum.”
The chief of the Boy Scouts of America today made a neutered and insulting apology for the speech. The apology which amounts to “sorry if you were offended” isn’t an apology at all, in fact it is pretty much the definition of non-apology “apology.”
I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent.
The message to scouts is what’s most concerning here. Effectively Scouts have been taught that the Scout Oath and Scout Law matter only when backlash forces you to respond. You can set them aside when inconvenient to your political stance or ability to close a big business deal. For reference:
On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.
A Scout is Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent
As an Eagle Scout it is really hard to watch the lack of character, morals and decency in Trump’s actions and words spread to institutions like the BSA. Doubly concerning watching the speech were the actions and reactions of the Scouts and leaders themselves. Booing presidents of past and cheering political attacks goes against the values Scouting stands for. Leaders should have intervened, through inaction they communicated to Scouts and their leaders that Scouting values don’t count when you’re deriding your enemies, boasting about your achievements or reveling in the defeat of another.
What Boy Scouts really deserve is an apology from President Trump. Of course, that will never happen. In the absence of an apology, the BSA must act. If the Boy Scouts of America truly is the values-based organization it claims to still be then it needs to engage in some self-reflection here and communicate to Scouts and their leaders what appropriate conduct looks like. Luckily, the foundation already exists in the Scout Oath and Law.