Don­ald Trump and the

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - PHILIP MARTIN

In 1903, Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Robert Stephen­son Smyth Baden-Pow­ell re­turned home to Eng­land from the Boer War a na­tional hero. For 217 days he had held off the Bo­ers who’d laid siege to the South African town of Mafek­ing.

His­to­ri­ans sug­gest the siege should never have hap­pened. B-P erred in se­lect­ing an iso­lated vil­lage deep in Boer coun­try as the base for his cav­alry. And he may have had the re­sources to break out and over­come the sur­round­ing Boer forces at any time. (The Bo­ers mightn’t have both­ered with Mafek­ing—which was of lim­ited strate­gic value—had not Lord Ed­ward Ce­cil, son of the Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter, been serv­ing as B-P’s chief staff of­fi­cer.)

But trapped in Mafek­ing, sur­rounded by 8,000 Bo­ers, things got so des­per­ate that the English had to eat their horses. To hold off the Bo­ers B-P used elab­o­rate ruses. He built a fake mine­field and in­structed his troops to gin­gerly pan­tomime their way through imag­i­nary barbed wire. Notic­ing the rail­road tracks lead­ing out of town had been left in­tact, he sent a heav­ily ar­mored train loaded with marks­men down the tracks into the heart of the Boer en­camp­ment and back.

More im­por­tantly, B-P no­ticed the courage and com­po­sure of the English boys be­tween the ages of 12 and 15 who made up the Mafek­ing Cadet Corps. They car­ried mes­sages, as­sisted in hos­pi­tals, and stood guard in or­der to free as many grown men as pos­si­ble for fight­ing. Baden-Pow­ell did not form the Cadet Corps him­self, but he was im­pressed by them.

So in 1907 he re­cruited 20 or 21— his­to­ri­ans ar­gue whether three or four Rod­ney brothers at­tended—boys from di­ver­gent so­cial back­grounds (un­heard of in Ed­war­dian Eng­land) to at­tend an ex­per­i­men­tal scout camp on Brownsea Is­land in Dorset County. They wore khaki scarves, tied knots and earned badges. The next year B-P pub­lished Scout­ing for Boys, which was es­sen­tially a re­vised edi­tion of his 1899 book Aids to Scout­ing—which was writ­ten with an adult mil­i­tary au­di­ence in mind—sup­ple­mented with youth train­ing ideas bor­rowed from Ernest Se­ton’s 1906 book The Birch Bark Roll of the Wood­craft In­di­ans. (Se­ton, an English­man raised in Canada, founded the youth or­ga­ni­za­tion the Wood­craft In­di­ans in Con­necti­cut in 1902; he was later the first and only Chief Scout of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica.)

More than 100 years later, it’s re­mark­able that an or­ga­ni­za­tion as charm­ingly anachro­nis­tic as the Boy Scouts still ex­ists. How did they make it through the cyn­i­cal decades of the late 20th cen­tury; how have they sur­vived to the present day? It was not one of Ge­orge Or­well’s bet­ter mo­ments when he al­leged “All scout­mas­ters are ho­mo­sex­u­als,” though he cer­tainly hasn’t been the only one to re­gard the cul­ture of the Boys Scouts with sus­pi­cion.

It’s easy to con­flate the khaki uni­forms and mil­i­taris­tic fil­i­gree with dis­cred­ited youth move­ments such as the Hitler­ju­gend and Soviet Pi­o­neers, groups that to some de­gree mod­eled them­selves on the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

Still, can you ar­gue with the 12 points of Scout Law? “A Scout is Trust­wor­thy, Loyal, Help­ful, Friendly, Cour­te­ous, Kind, Obe­di­ent, Cheerful, Thrifty, Brave, Clean, and Rev­er­ent.”

The great lit­er­ary critic Paul Fus­sell rec­og­nized this in his won­der­ful 1979 es­say “The Boy Scout Hand­book,” first pub­lished in the New Repub­lic and later the cor­ner­stone for Fus­sell’s es­sen­tial es­say col­lec­tion The Boy Scout Hand­book and Other Ob­ser­va­tions, which cred­ited “pli­a­bil­ity and adapt­abil­ity” for the move­ment’s “ca­pac­ity to flour­ish in a world dra­mat­i­cally dif­fer­ent from its founder’s.”

“Like the Ro­man Catholic Church,” Fus­sell wrote, “the scout move­ment knows the dif­fer­ence be­tween cos­metic and real change, and it hap­pily em­braces the one to avoid truck with the other.” Fus­sell found in the hand­book some in­valu­able ad­vice: Read­ing trash makes it im­pos­si­ble for any­one to be any­thing but a sec­ond-rate per­son. Learn to think. Gather knowl­edge.

Fus­sell wrote: “From its ex­plicit ethics you can in­fer such propo­si­tions as ‘A scout does not tap his ac­quain­tances’ tele­phones, ’ or ‘A scout does not bomb and in­vade a neu­tral coun­try, and then lie about it.’”

Fus­sell had Richard Nixon—and maybe Lyn­don John­son—in mind when he wrote those words, and he heaped some scorn on “Chief Par­doner” (and the only Ea­gle Scout to be­come pres­i­dent) Ger­ald Ford for ap­pear­ing in a pub­lic ser­vice an­nounce­ment decked out in a scout uni­form, but it’s hard to miss the irony of a man as dis­so­lute and in­tem­per­ate as Don­ald J. Trump ad­dress­ing a group as de­cid­edly un-ironic and ded­i­cated to old-fash­ioned no­tions of virtues as the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica.

Virtue is not some­thing we talk about in re­la­tion to pol­i­tics, un­less we’ve picked up the no­tion as a weapon to use against our en­e­mies. In the ’90s, se­rial phi­lan­der­ers Newt Gin­grich and Bob Livingston and con­victed child did­dler Den­nis Hastert used it as a pitch­fork with which to poke the clay-footed Bill Clin­ton.

Now, Trump’s ask­ing if a pres­i­dent might par­don him­self, while threat­en­ing to fire any­one who dares ques­tion his ques­tion­able busi­ness prac­tices. Of course, he turned the Na­tional Scout Jam­boree into an oc­ca­sion for self­ag­gran­dize­ment.

You can bet Trump never read the Boy Scout Hand­book.

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