In 2010, President Barack Obama sent a video message to the Boy Scouts of America’s National Jamboree celebrating Scouting’s 100th anniversary. He was booed. Presumably, many Scouts were unhappy that the President had seemed to choose to appear on The View instead of at the national gathering of Boy Scouts. This, however, would not be the last time Obama would be booed at a National Jamboree. Seven years later, another President, Donald Trump, would encourage some 40,000 people to boo the former President.
“By the way, just a question. Did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?” Trump asked the crowd. This prompted widespread booing and shouts of “NO!”. Trump, after turning to Secretaries Zinke (Eagle Scout), Perry (Eagle Scout), and Price, then answered his own question. “The answer is no, but we’ll be back,” referring, presumably, to the 2021 National Jamboree.
Seven sitting presidents have spoken at the National Jamborees since the first in 1937, at which FDR spoke. These presidents include George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, and George W. Bush. President Trump joined the seven with his speech to the Scouts on July 24.
His remarks were a disgrace to himself, to the Boy Scouts of America, to his Secretaries, and to the United States of America. Trump began by asking, “who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” Apparently, Trump did. Blasting Obama and Obamacare garnered raucous applause and a chant of “U-S-A!” from the crowd. The President used the occasion to press West Virginia Senator Shelley Moore Capito to support the GOP healthcare bill. He called D.C. a “sewer,” his new talking point, and he attacked “the fake media, fake news.” He promised that Americans would be allowed to say “Merry Christmas” again while holiday shopping.
Later in the speech, Trump asked the children and adults gathered there if they remembered “that famous night on television, November 8th?”, calling his victory “an unbelievable tribute to you and all of the other millions and millions of people that came out and voted for Make America Great Again.” Most of the crowd were under the age of eighteen.
He continued to indulge himself by recounting his victory and his electoral strategy, taking some time to bash Hillary Clinton and her failed strategy, which prompted some boos for the former Secretary of State. “She [Clinton] was told she was gonna win Michigan and I said, wait a minute the car industry is going to move to Mexico.” What is unbelievable is that the President would use this speech to say anything even remotely close to such nonsense.
These are comments unbecoming of any person addressing the Scouts, not to mention the President of the United States of America. Trump’s remarks stand in stark contrast to George W. Bush’s remarks to the Scouts at the 2005 National Jamboree:
“In the years ahead you will find that indifferent or cynical people accomplish little that makes them proud. You’ll find that confronting injustice and evil requires a vision of goodness and truth. You’ll find that many in your community, especially those younger than you, look to you as an example of conduct and leadership. For your sake, and for the sake of our country, I hope you’ll always strive to be men of conviction and character.”
Of course, Trump’s speech was not merely wistful remembrances of his political victories and Clinton’s shortcomings. His remarks included some appropriate, if trite, advice for the Boy Scouts gathered at the Summit in West Virginia. Trump encouraged the Scouts to “never ever quit, never give up,” “persevere,” and work to “achieve their dreams.” He talked about the joy of achieving success through hard work. “When you do something you love, you never fail.” He praised Scouts and their future, asserting that “We know that the Boy Scouts never, ever, ever let us down!” He also praised Scouting’s “values” that have kept America free and strong. He admonished the Scouts to “Wear your values as your badge of honor…let your Scouting Oath guide your path from this day forward. Remember your duty, honor your history, take care of the people God put into your life, and love and cherish your great country.” These values are clear, according to the Scout Law: “A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
Unfortunately, the parts of the President’s speech that were arguably good and appropriate were tarnished by Trump’s inability to refrain from corrosive political rhetoric and spiteful, unnecessary attacks on Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.
Trump’s bullishness in his political self-indulgence may have stemmed from a belief that the crowd would be friendly. To this extent, he may have been right; Scouting has often attracted politically conservative people because of Scouting’s historical adherence to traditional values. However, families from every part of political spectrum are involved with the Scouts, and a President playing to only one side is exclusive and disgusting. It instills in our youth the death of political discourse that we see in American adults.
Young boys tend to follow the lead of the loud, forward, older boy. A spiteful, immature older boy can easily lead younger Scouts astray from the Oath and Law. Disgraceful is the President’s decision to use peer pressure and his bully pulpit to lead thousands of children to boo a former President and indulge in the worst side of politics. Unfortunately, this was on full display during the President’s speech, as many in the crowd cheered and applauded some of his inappropriate and unnecessary political rhetoric.
Yet, the President’s disgraceful speech may yield some positive results. Scouts—many of whom will be future leaders of America—should discover at a young age that those in power are not always the best leaders or role models. The question is, will those Scouts who followed along with the petulant older boy’s immature posturing learn this lesson?
The Boy Scouts of America is at a tumultuous time in its history, as deep divisions about LGBTQ Scouts and leaders threaten the unity of troops and the organization nationally. The organization’s future and adherence to its mission is in doubt. Now more than ever, Boy Scouts look up to their country’s leaders and in particular to the President for guidance, a steady hand, and hope for the future. Obama’s absence was unhelpful, but Trump’s malignant presence is far more dangerous.
Every Eagle Scout, including the two that stood awkwardly behind the President during his speech to the Jamboree, has said the following Oath dozens of times:
“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.”
JFK, Ford, Clinton, and Bush 43 were Boy Scouts. Donald Trump never was.