On Monday evening, the President of the United States of America visited the National Jamboree of the country’s Boy Scouts. In making the visit, he was by no means the first one to do so and he won’t be the last. The President of the United States of America has been the “honorary president” of the Boy Scouts of America since the organisation was founded in 1910. The first official visit by a President to the Boy Scouts should have taken place in Washington, D.C. in 1935, in celebration of the organisation’s 25th anniversary. A polio outbreak led to the cancellation of the event and so President Franklin Delano Roosevelt addressed the boys by radio instead. FDR eventually got to speak to the Boy Scouts at their first National Jamboree two years later. Since then, there has been a standing invitation to each President to visit and speak to the young people.
Not all Presidents have taken up the offer, though most have. In keeping with the Scouts’ traditions, all eight presidents and those who have represented them have avoided partisan politics. Franklin Delano Roosevelt used the occasion to talk about good citizenship. Harry S. Truman extolled fellowship: “When you work and live together, and exchange ideas around the campfire, you get to know what the other fellow is like,” he said. President Dwight D. Eisenhower spoke about the “bonds of common purpose and common ideals.” And President George H.W. Bush talked of “serving others.”
None ever made a speech quite like the one that Donald Trump chose to make on Monday evening. The Washington Post describes it as “unlike anything we’ve seen from a president in 80 years of them giving speeches to the Boy Scouts… Trump turned it into something akin to a campaign rally, complete with attacks on Hillary Clinton and the media, a push for the GOP health-care bill, and even another apparent swipe at Jeff Sessions.”
Since Monday evening, I’ve received a barrage of emails and messages on social media, asking me what I think of the situation. So, here’s my take. It’s a personal one – and I write as an individual, not as a representative of any organisation with which I am associated.
1. As he is POTUS it was appropriate for the BSA to invite Trump to address their national Jamboree. There is strong precedent.
2. As the BSA have commented, its traditional speaking invitation to a sitting President was “in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.” The BSA is ““wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy.”
3. His submitted speech, as written, was appropriate and in keeping with the occasion. What actually came out of his mouth wasn’t. It was startlingly inappropriate. Politically charged, completely unsuitable for an audience of teenagers, utterly disrespectful.
4. I believe that as a direct result, he has forfeited the right to be invited to address the World Organization of the Scout Movement’s next World Scout Jamboree, to be held in West Virginia in 2019. As I have always taught the young people with whom I have worked, actions have consequences.
5. Note, whilst the World Scout Jamboree will be hosted by the BSA, Scouts Canada and Scouts Mexico, it is a WOSM event. I suspect there are some challenging conversations to be had between WOSM and the Jamboree organisers over the coming months.
I visited the BSA National Jamboree last week. It was wonderful. The site is amazing. The hospitality shown by the Boy Scouts of America to their international guests was unshakeably warm.
I am happy that I had left West Virginia and was in Guyana by the time Mr Trump made his appearance. Many of my BSA friends, Republican and Democrat, were keen let me know that they were delighted that the Presidency was being represented at the Jamboree, but perturbed by the presence of this particular incumbent. I think this is an important distinction.
IMHO, judging by the content of the speech, which strayed wildly from the prepared script, they were right to be perturbed.
I have the utmost respect for the American people, their flag, their values and their Presidency. But, I cannot say the same of Mr Trump.
A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.