What Was Trump Thinking At The Boy Scouts Jamboree?

Every four years, thousands of Boy Scouts converge at the National Jamboree. Many spend days before the event touring our nation’s capital, learning about its rich history and the importance of service to others. At the Jamboree itself, the youth get to take part in activities ranging from obstacle courses to patch trading to military and camping skills. As an Eagle Scout, I was a participant at the 2001 National Jamboree and enjoyed rappelling, learning about military gear, and running a 5K.

The Boy Scouts of America, despite its recent political controversies over the inclusion of gay youth and adult volunteers, largely strives to be nonpartisan. Many elements of Scouting can be enjoyed by both liberals and conservatives alike. For liberals, there is lots of emphasis on nature and environmentalism, volunteering, education and exploration, and respect for diversity. For conservatives, there is lots of emphasis on work ethic, personal responsibility, religiosity, and the obedient pursuit of higher goals. 

While political disagreements may occur among Scouts and scouters, they should never be sparked by the honorary president of the BSA. In his speech at the 2017 National Jamboree, President Donald Trump did a disservice to Scouting by turning a moment of nonpartisan leadership into a political stump speech. And not just a political stump speech, but an inappropriate speech at that. He tried to besmirch his predecessor, Barack Obama, for not attending a Jamboree in person, spoke about the “hottest people in New York,” and threatened to fire Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price, who had awkwardly joined Trump on stage.

Even more awkward is the fact that Trump referenced the former Scouts who are part of his Cabinet… but did not mention the fact that Attorney General Jeff Sessions, with whom he appears to be feuding, is an Eagle Scout.

Worse, however, was when Trump referenced the Scout Law to appeal for “more loyalty.”  While the President was likely griping in general about his administration’s struggles with leaks, it could also be taken as a blatant political appeal for loyalty from thousands of young men in uniform. One reason the President should refrain from bringing together politics and Scouting is that it reeks of authoritarian indoctrination of youth. You know, the whole Hitler Youth and the Komsomol of the Soviet Union sort of thing.

Scouts should never be a political pawn, and Trump’s ham-handed and often bewildering Jamboree speech illustrates that nothing is nonpartisan to our controversial commander-in-chief. This is the umpteenth time Trump has failed to exercise nonpartisan leadership, and it obviously will not be the last. While Republicans often complain that public schools and institutions of higher education blatantly attempt to push liberal views on young people, the nation’s top Republican just attempted to indoctrinate Boy Scouts with his brand of trash-talking, right-wing “conservatism.”

As a result of Trump’s inappropriate speech, the Boy Scouts of America should end its policy of giving the U.S. President carte blanche to speak at the National Jamboree. Since we can no longer trust the nation’s chief executive to rise above the temptation to give a drivel-filled political diatribe when addressing the BSA, perhaps now is the time to request that the President film his remarks to Scouts beforehand and submit them for approval. Even George W. Bush could be trusted to do better. Though Bush did not attend the 2001 Jamboree, his filmed speech was free of drivel and partisan barbs.

Boy Scouts, most of whom are young teenagers, deserve better than to be pressured by the President to think ill of his predecessor, to disdain Obamacare, and to disbelieve the media. They deserve to be inspired to do better, to help serve those around them, and to put honor and compassion above politics.  Those who are liberal should feel free to guide their Scouting toward liberal goals, and those who are conservative should feel free to guide their Scouting toward conservative goals. Our nation needs young men whose Scouting careers have guided them toward excellence on both ends of the political spectrum. We need environmentalists and conservationists who work for the National Park Service just as we need brave young men who serve in our armed forces.

Unfortunately, the Boy Scouts of America is suffering from declining membership in a changing socio-political era.  We are no longer as collective a society, and the group nature of Scouting struggles in our culture of staunch individualism. The last thing the BSA can afford at this time is to be used as a political pawn and linked to Donald Trump’s brash politicking, dissuading more families from seeing Scouting as a viable option for their children. If the BSA’s reputation sours as a result of being linked firmly with Donald Trump, countless teenage boys will miss out on the benefits of Scouting, and the nation will be poorer for them never having gained invaluable skills.

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