From the time I joined the Boy Scouts as a Tenderfoot until I left as a Life Scout six years later my young life was shaped by selfless men devoted to teaching adolescents and teens what it means to be good citizens and good people.
These men sacrificed their personal time to lead us on weekend outings and summer camps. Their only reward was seeing how we boys responded to their example of patience and kindness while instilling in us respect for the truth, the greater good and ourselves.
I never had the opportunity to attend a Boy Scout National Jamboree, but the gatherings are a wonderful celebration of the organization’s values, one where tens of thousands of Scouts and their leaders from across America come together to rededicate themselves to the high ideals for which Scouting stands.
President Trump has seldom if ever governed his personal, business or political lives by the Boy Scout Law: Trustworthy, Loyal, Helpful, Friendly, Courteous, Kind, Obedient, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Reverent. So I wonder what those decent, selfless men I so fondly remember would think of someone so disgracefully inclined to lie and cheat addressing impressionable youths at last week’s 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree.
Here’s a guy who amassed a fortune on failed gambling casinos that promoted alcohol and prostitution; someone who bilked his business associates; a guy who bragged about philandering and committing sexual assault, and who consorted with sketchy Russians.
Donald Trump represents everything the Scouts don’t want young men to become. Yet there he was. Unfortunately, as the sitting president, Trump is the titular head of the apolitical Boy Scouts of America. He has to be invited to address the Jamboree. A friend who would know told me the B.S.A.’s national leadership reviewed and cleared Trump’s speech in advance. But they must have also known the president rarely sticks to the script, especially if it means indulging his hyper-inflated ego before a big crowd.
What should have been a brief inspirational talk about the guiding principles of Scouting devolved into a 40-minute soliloquy about the wonders of Donald Trump.
“Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I'm in front of the Boy Scouts?" brayed the president before proceeding to yammer on about politics and, of course, himself.
“I am disappointed in the president for exploiting a captive audience of young people to engage in flagrant self-promotion and to widen the chasm of division that pollutes our politics,” wrote Eagle Scout Jason Pontz at Lancaster (Pennsylvania) Online. “I am disappointed in attendees who applauded the president as he demeaned his predecessor Barack Obama (who, incidentally, was involved in Scouting), his former opponent Hillary Clinton, and the media,”
Pontz wasn’t alone. Many disgusted Scouting parents expressed their outrage on social media following Trump’s bizarre speech.
“Done with Scouts after you felt the need to have my kid listen to a liar stroke his ego on our time," wrote one of many angry parents on the Boy Scouts Facebook page.
"I am now suddenly questioning whether Scouts represent (the) values that I want my children to learn if this is someone they put forward as a role model,” commented another.
There was no such reaction when past presidents addressed the Jamboree. In 2010, for example, President Obama saluted the community services Boy Scouts perform, adding, "In the years ahead we're going to depend on you, the next generation of leaders, to move America forward."
President George W. Bush told the Scouts at the 2005 Jamboree. “You’ll find that confronting injustice and evil requires a vision of goodness and truth.”
After listening to Trump’s Jamboree speech, I began to wonder if the president is suffering from the early stages dementia, so astoundingly inappropriate and disjointed were his remarks.
My opinion was reinforced when, during the firestorm over his Jamboree appearance, the president told the Wall Street Journal, “I got a call from the head of the Boy Scouts saying it was the greatest speech that was ever made to them.”
Trump lied. There was no such call, as confirmed by the White House.
In fact, embarrassed national Boy Scout leadership scrambled to repair the public relations damage Trump did to the organization and its commitment to non-partisanship.
“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,” wrote Chief Scout Executive Michael Surbaugh on the BSA web site.
Think about that: the Boy Scouts of America forced to apologize for the words of the President of the United States.
Kevin Foley owns KEF Media Associates, Inc., an Atlanta-based producer and distributor of electronic publicity. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.