The many prob­lems with Trump’s Boy Scouts speech

Ea­gle Scout Ted Genoways is glad his son missed the jam­boree

The Washington Post Sunday - - OUTLOOK - Twit­ter: @TedGenoways Ted Genoways is the au­thor of “This Blessed Earth: A Year in the Life of an Amer­i­can Fam­ily Farm.”

Pres­i­dent Trump opened his speech be­fore the Na­tional Scout Jam­boree at Sum­mit Bechtel Re­serve in West Vir­ginia on Mon­day with what turned out to be a rhetor­i­cal ques­tion. “Who the hell wants to speak about pol­i­tics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts, right?”

Trump wasn’t the first pres­i­dent to ad­dress a crowd of tens of thou­sands of Scouts, brought to­gether from all over the coun­try. Franklin D. Roo­sevelt started the tra­di­tion when he wrote a mes­sage to the first Na­tional Jam­boree, held on the Mall in 1937. At that gath­er­ing, Scouts from each of the 48 states brought wood and built a col­lec­tive camp­fire, which was lit by Dan Beard, a founder of the Boy Scouts of Amer­ica, us­ing only flint and steel. At­tor­ney Gen­eral Homer Cum­mings de­liv­ered Roo­sevelt’s words, urg­ing the boys to carry home with them the spirit of the Jam­boree, “for sooner than we who are older re­al­ize, you will as­sume the full re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of cit­i­zen­ship.” Since then, seven of the 11 U.S. pres­i­dents who were in of­fice at the time of a Jam­boree have come in per­son to ad­dress these na­tional gath­er­ings of Scouts. Pres­i­dents from both par­ties have used the op­por­tu­nity to praise the ser­vice and com­mit­ment of the boys and chal­lenge them to be­come young men of even greater char­ac­ter.

Not Trump. He talked about him­self. He bragged about “that fa­mous night on tele­vi­sion” when he won the elec­tion. He com­plained about “fake polls” and “fake news.” Ap­par­ently still smart­ing from In­au­gu­ra­tion Day, he pre­dicted that the me­dia would un­der­es­ti­mate the size of the crowd at the Jam­boree. He broached pol­icy dis­cus­sion by vow­ing to “start our path to­ward killing this hor­ri­ble thing known as Oba­macare.” He even went so far as to in­ter­rupt a recita­tion of the Scout Law. “A Scout is trust­wor­thy, loyal,” Trump be­gan. As the as­sem­bled Scouts con­tin­ued to list the virtues to which they are all to aspire, the pres­i­dent in­ter­jected, “We could use some more loy­alty, I will tell you that” — an ap­par­ent ref­er­ence to At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions re­cus­ing him­self from the Rus­sia in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Or per­haps to one of the other slights ric­o­chet­ing in the pres­i­dent’s head at any given mo­ment. Con­sid­er­ing Trump’s past pub­lic state­ments, none of his re­marks at the Na­tional Jam­boree come as any par­tic­u­lar sur­prise — but for me, they cut es­pe­cially deep.

My fam­ily has been af­fil­i­ated with the Boy Scouts since 1949. That’s the year my fa­ther, then a third-grader in a one-room school­house out­side Ba­yard, Neb., begged my grand­fa­ther to take him to a mem­ber­ship meet­ing of the Cub Scouts. When they went, one of the den moth­ers told my grand­fa­ther that they needed a new Cub­mas­ter. “I guess you would say they vol­un­teered my ser­vices on the spot,” he told the lo­cal pa­per years later. It was the be­gin­ning of 68 years — and count­ing — of Scout­ing for my fam­ily. Even­tu­ally, my dad com­pleted his Ea­gle award, went on to re­ceive his Sil­ver Award in Ex­plor­ers (a more se­nior level of the Boy Scouts), and made two trips to Philmont Scout Ranch, the orig­i­nal Boy Scout high ad­ven­ture camp in New Mex­ico, seen as the pin­na­cle of Scout hik­ing and camp­ing. In 1957, he capped his Boy Scout ca­reer by at­tend­ing the Na­tional Jam­boree in Val­ley Forge, Pa.

Even af­ter my dad went away to col­lege and started a fam­ily of his own, my grand­fa­ther con­tin­ued as a Scout­mas­ter. He was awarded Scout­ing’s top honor for lead­ers at the coun­cil level, the Sil­ver Beaver. Then the town of Ba­yard named the com­mu­nity cen­ter, where the Boy Scouts still meet, in his honor: Genoways Hall. The area Scout coun­cil es­tab­lished the Ted Genoways Youth Lead­er­ship Award. When my grand­fa­ther died in Jan­uary 1980, the fu­neral was packed with Boy Scouts and Cub Scouts. I re­mem­ber my mother point­ing to one of the Cub Scouts and say­ing, “That will be you soon.” In time, I got my Ea­gle, too, and like my dad, I went to Philmont, and in 1989, I at­tended the Jam­boree at Fort A.P. Hill in Vir­ginia as a mem­ber of the post of­fice staff.

Now my son is in Boy Scouts, prob­a­bly a year or so away from com­plet­ing his Ea­gle, and he’s al­ready look­ing ahead. As se­nior pa­trol leader at camp this sum­mer, he started push­ing the idea of at­tend­ing Philmont, and he’s been re­search­ing up­com­ing Jam­borees. He was crushed when he found he’d missed the signup date for the Na­tional Jam­boree this year — but, af­ter hear­ing Trump’s re­marks, I’m glad he wasn’t there. I wouldn’t have wanted him to watch the pres­i­dent turn the largest gath­er­ing of Boy Scouts into a po­lit­i­cal rally, as if they had come only to see him. It’s a des­e­cra­tion of our fam­ily tra­di­tion and of more than a cen­tury of Scout­ing tra­di­tion. Worst of all, Trump did it for no rea­son and with­out a sec­ond thought. He made the Na­tional Jam­boree about him­self be­cause he makes every­thing about him­self.

Don’t mis­un­der­stand me: The Boy Scouts of Amer­ica is far from a per­fect or­ga­ni­za­tion. It didn’t re­quire the de­seg­re­ga­tion of all troops un­til the 1970s. Lead­er­ship po­si­tions weren’t opened to women un­til that same time pe­riod. Start­ing in the 1980s, troops be­gan deny­ing mem­ber­ship to gay boys and lead­er­ship po­si­tions to gay men (a po­si­tion only fully re­versed in 2015). The BSA kept records of pos­si­ble pe­dophiles at least as early as 1919 but didn’t re­lease those names, even to par­ents, un­til com­pelled by a court or­der in 2012. In short, the na­tional lead­er­ship has of­ten failed to live up to the high ideals of the or­ga­ni­za­tion.

But Trump didn’t dis­honor the Boy Scouts by fall­ing short of its stan­dards; he made a mock­ery of the prin­ci­ples them­selves. Whether by de­sign or as an act of ca­sual self­ish­ness, Trump en­listed 35,000 chil­dren in his po­lit­i­cal machi­na­tions. On­line, peo­ple re­sponded with jokes about the Hitler Youth and Trump look­ing out on “a sea of brown shirts” at the Jam­boree. Oth­ers crit­i­cized the boys for ap­plaud­ing. But the sim­ple fact of the mat­ter is: They’re chil­dren; he’s the pres­i­dent of the United States. The re­spon­si­bil­ity for re­spect­ing the non­par­ti­san­ship of Boy Scouts was his. The BSA apol­o­gized on Thurs­day for the fact that “pol­i­tics were in­serted into the Scout­ing pro­gram.” The or­ga­ni­za­tion had to be clear: Scout­ing is open to all boys, re­gard­less of race, re­li­gion or po­lit­i­cal af­fil­i­a­tion.

Trump might know that, if he had been a Boy Scout — or had ever sup­ported his sons’ in­ter­est in the or­ga­ni­za­tion. In­stead, the only time Trump had any pre­vi­ous deal­ings with the Boy Scouts was when Don­ald Jr. joined in 1989. The mem­ber­ship fee was $7 in those days — and Trump ap­pears to have paid it from his char­ity, rather than from his own pocket.

I’m sorry that the pres­i­dent and his sons didn’t stick with Boy Scouts long enough for Trump to un­der­stand that Scout­ing is a ves­tige of an older world, be­fore every­thing be­came im­bued with par­ti­san sig­nif­i­cance. To­day, your po­lit­i­cal al­le­giance is de­fined not only by how you vote but by which church you at­tend, where your kids go to school, which TV chan­nels you watch, what kind of cof­fee you drink. When I was a kid, Scouts was a wel­come haven, a place to es­tab­lish shared values. Trump told the Jam­boree crowd that lib­er­als in this coun­try don’t un­der­stand “the for­got­ten peo­ple,” and now, “they’re go­ing crazy try­ing to fig­ure it out.” But if he truly be­lieves that bring­ing hate and divi­sion into our most cher­ished non­par­ti­san or­ga­ni­za­tions is what Amer­ica wants, then it’s the pres­i­dent who fails to un­der­stand the coun­try he has been charged with lead­ing.

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