In the age of Trump, no tradition is safe

Former White House photographer Pete Souza is still trolling Donald Trump.

This time, Souza posted an image on his Instagram account after Trump’s attempt to turn the Boy Scout Jamboree into a political rally.

The president, in keeping with tradition, appeared at the largest gathering of Boy Scouts. And in destroying tradition, proceeded to ignore the unstated policy of staying away from partisan politics when talking to the kids, even encourage the booing of a former president.

Writing on The Atlantic today, senior editor Yoni Appelbaum recalled his 1993 Scout Jamboree and says Trump crossed a line.

“The Boy Scouts of America must not … involve Scouting in political matters,” the group’s Rules and Regulations plainly state. But a presidential visit—Clinton would come to the next Jamboree, in 1997—was about the place that scouting occupied in the civic fabric of the nation. It wasn’t about politics. Or at least, it wasn’t supposed to be.

That’s the line that Trump crossed on Monday night, the same one he crossed on the Ford, and at the CIA, and at the Al Smith dinner. It’s the interjection of partisan politics into a space where it doesn’t belong. And every time he does it, every time he goes before some nonpartisan group and speaks to its members as if they had come to attend a campaign rally, a little more of our shared civic culture gets chipped away. He’s not the first to erode such lines, but he stands apart for his persistent disregard.

Perhaps Trump did it out of ignorance. Ten members of his cabinet are former Scouts, including Rex Tillerson, a one-time president of the group. But Trump himself never belonged, never recited the Scout Law, never pledged to “help other people at all times.”

His closest prior association with the group appears to have come in 1989, when his charitable foundation made the smallest donation it ever gave—$7—to the Boy Scouts of America, as David Fahrenthold has reported. His son, Donald Trump Jr., turned 11 that year; $7 was then the cost of registering a new Scout.

In a statement later, the Boy Scouts tried to soothe critics who objected to the political rally.

“The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy. The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies,” the organization said in a Monday night statement.

“The sitting U.S. President serves as the BSA’s honorary president. It is our long-standing custom to invite the U.S. President to the National Jamboree.”

  • kevins

    As an Eagle Scout, my apologies to our country for the humiliation that our Prez. put us through with that speech. Sadly, he thinks he did a great job, and none of the suits standing behind him would tell him he had no clothes.

  • jon

    I wish some one from the boy scouts had the mic cut, and asked the president to leave the stage… no reason a private organization has to put up with him doing this…

    Other private organizations would have taken note…

    But cutting off a partisan speech would have been seen as being partisan too…

  • Zachary

    I was at the ’97 Jamboree when President Clinton spoke. I don’t remember much of the speech, but during part of it, he made mention of being a Cub Scout in Arkansas and the delegation from Arkansas let out a huge cheer.

  • AL287

    I can’t help but liken this to the Nazi rallies with Hitler shouting at the mike. It’s damn scary. There were some who disagreed but were too afraid to confront him and we know all too well now that ended.

    The siren call of political power and influence is stronger than ever as evidenced by Trump’s latest performance. He craves adulation and attention and will take it any way he can get it even if it’s at a rally for the Boy Scouts.

    I’m sure our allies overseas are asking themselves why an organization like the Boy Scouts would put up with this adolescent behavior.

    If you want a subordinate to consider your agenda, publicly humiliating him/her is not the way to do it.

    It reminds me of the children’s story of the Wind vs. the Sun. They had a contest to see which one could get a man to remove his cloak the fastest.

    The wind blew and blew as hard as he could but the man only pulled his cloak that much closer.

    When it was the Sun’s turn the man very quickly removed his cloak.

    Politeness and consideration beats shouting and humiliation any day in my book.

    These strong arm tactics might have worked for Donald Trump when he was the only man in charge but he has 350,000,000 U.S. citizens, the judiciary and the Congress to answer to and he’s not liking not being the decision-maker-in-chief.

    We can only hope the polls, flawed as they are are right and that the tide is slowly turning against hatred, bigotry and intolerance.

  • Angry Jonny

    Guy ain’t got no couth.

  • Chris

    Republican President Donald Trump is a huge embarrassment to the country. He is clearly very rattled about the special counsel investigation (lock him up!) and his failure to pass any of the legislation he promised for the first 100 days. Sad!

    • Joseph

      🙁 . . .

      May the BSA never go that far, and may we be always patriotic yet non-political.

      -An Eagle Scout and Order of the Arrow member.

    • crystals

      This was my first thought as well. History is here for us to learn from.

  • Jerry

    But isn’t telling made up horror stories (like 17 years of Obamacare) to children a Boy Scout tradition? Although I usually assume it’s around a campfire.

  • Blasko

    The contrast between the values the BSA teaches and the behavior of this Republican president couldn’t be more clear. Here’s hoping it was an important lesson for some young men in the audience. Sometimes we have to know what NOT to become, too.

  • TGB

    From page 3 of the Scout policy: This policy does not
    prohibit the Boy Scouts of America from
    expressing its opinion upon matters of
    governmental concern when considered in its best
    interest by the governing body of the Boy Scouts
    of America.

    • seedhub

      I don’t understand how this is relevant. Did the BSA express an “opinion upon matters of governmental concern” somewhere in this story?

      • TGB

        If this article mischaracterizes the BSA’s policy, how can we have an honest discussion? The BSA’s statement from Monday night does not affirmatively approve or disapprove of Trump’s statements. This article contains no valid information, and only seeks to disparage Trump himself.

        • seedhub

          Irrelevant information does not make a discussion “honest.”

          The excerpt you quoted refers to the expression of opinion by the Boy Scouts of America, and not to the expression of opinion by the president. It’s not relevant here.

          • TGB

            But don’t you see? This was the BSA issuing opinion! They cheered the whole time! It was a record attendance! People were ecstatic that, against all odds, he won! That’s why it’s relevant. This article seeks only to disparage Trump, BUT makes no discussion regarding their shared ideals or individual policies. It contributes no value to political discourse.

          • seedhub

            But the article did make discussion regarding their shared ideals or policies. It quoted the BSA itself, in fact:

            “The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate or philosophy. The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.”

          • TGB

            That’s a neutral statement, it doesn’t confirm or deny shared policies and positions with or against Trump. It’s a meaningless statement.

          • seedhub

            It’s not meaningless if it shows that your initial comment was, in fact, irrelevant.

          • TGB

            In your opinion does that statement affirmatively condone the content in Trump’s speech?

          • seedhub

            No.

          • TGB

            Okay good, now here is the important part… below is the full statement from BCA, where in the statement does it reject or criticize the content of Trump’s speech?

            “The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one political position, candidate or philosophy.

            The invitation for the sitting U.S. President to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition dating back to President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937. Since then, an invitation to speak has been extended to every U.S. President that has had a Scout Jamboree occur during his term. This 80-year-old custom of inviting Presidents to speak to Scouts is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. Rather, the speaking invitation is based on our “Duty to Country” from the Scout Oath and out of respect for the Office of the President of the United States.

            As one of America’s largest youth-serving organizations, the Boy Scouts of America reflects a number of cultures and beliefs. We will continue to be respectful of the wide variety of viewpoints in this country.”

          • seedhub

            It doesn’t. The statement neither “affirmatively condones” nor “rejects or criticizes” the content of Trump’s speech. It is neutral.

          • KTFoley

            The problem, in my view, is that the text doesn’t reject the content of the speech.

            Right, the BSA invited him per history and protocol and doesn’t want to be accused of making some kind of pro-Trump gesture, everyone gets that. The Coast Guard Academy had the same dilemma for their commencement speech this spring, as does the Queen of England for a country visit. Sympathies to all. However, the BSA is neither an arm of the US military nor a world ally in trade & defense. It therefore deserves the heat it’s getting right now for a statement text that pretends the speech itself was above criticism, too.

            “The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one political position, candidate or philosophy.” The text doesn’t acknowledge that the president violated the BSA’s own non-partisanship stance by delivering a rally speech for his own political position.

            “Rather, the speaking invitation is based on our “Duty to Country” from the Scout Oath and out of respect for the Office of the President of the United States.” The text doesn’t address the crucial distinction between an appeal to do one’s duty to the country and a demand to pledge one’s loyalty to the individual occupying that office.

            “As one of America’s largest youth-serving organizations, the Boy Scouts of America reflects a number of cultures and beliefs.” The text doesn’t admit that the President’s disrespect of the first black president while speaking at a Jamboree reflects precious little of the cultures and beliefs among scouts who saw in Obama’s White House terms a bit of hope for their own place in American citizenry.

            “We will continue to be respectful of the wide variety of viewpoints in this country.” The text doesn’t abjure the notion that a sitting president should exhort young people to boo civil servants whose viewpoints differ from his own.

            Some of the finest people I know are Eagle Scouts. The journey to becoming one requires a committed act of leadership in service, yes? Putting the Oath and the Law into living practice? No part of President Trump’s speech can be traced to doing one’s duty to country, to other people or even, as the BSA intends it, to self.

            And pretending that nothing happened IS a big deal when leading youth & volunteers. Way to be irrelevant, team!

            Pardon me: way to be irrelevant AGAIN.

            The BSA finally got around to being better than bigotry by dropping its exclusion of gay leaders and participants, but that was a case of catching up to the rest of the world. Here’s a chance to play a true leadership role for its own troops & supporters. Illustrate what “morally straight” looks like in a complex & risky world — teach by example. Demonstrate the trustworthiness, loyalty, bravery and so on by acknowledging what went wrong here, apologizing for the damage and taking steps against the next occurrence.

            When its nominal leader stands in front of the annual highlight of the BSA experience and transgresses everything the organization hopes to instill in its scouts, it leaves the rest of us at a loss to witness a statement that says … absolutely nothing.

          • seedhub

            I so very much want to agree, but part of me cringes at the possibility of the BSA taking a stand against Trump, even if it’s just in the context of this one speech. I don’t suffer the expectation that any (non-religious) group remain apolitical, but I also have a problem with the idea that all of those kids should be dragged into this fight.

            My own kids are politically aware and vocal in their opinions. My wife and I foster that — but I think the decision of when and how to be vocal is best made in the family, not the troop.

          • DavidG

            Acknowledging that the speech violated the norms and expectations of the organization is not exactly taking a stand against Trump.
            Is it only a problem that they might do so in the context of this speech?
            What if he had heard a Scout object during his speech and told the others to “get him out of here” like he does at his rallies? Would it be wrong for the BSA to speak up about that?

          • seedhub

            No, it wouldn’t be wrong. Point taken.

            @ktfoley:disqus suggested what a better response by the BSA would have been, and you and I probably agree that it’s spot-on.

          • DavidG

            Yes, that is the response I had hoped to see from the BSA.

          • KTFoley

            I’d be happier if they could just manage the basics:
            Acknowledge: “The content of the speech given by our invited guest went against our expectations for a non-political setting.”
            Apologize: “We are sorry that the Jamboree became a platform for a political position.”
            Address: “Going forward, we will hold ourselves, our participants and our presenters accountable for maintaining this distinction.”

            Yes, that means that being prepared to call time-out when content turns political, regardless of whether the BSA agrees with the details of that content.

          • seedhub

            You’re exactly right. I was admittedly having trouble imagining what the appropriate response would sound like, but that is pitch-perfect. Thank you.

          • KTFoley

            “This was the BSA issuing opinion!” The BSA carefully and insistently did not issue an opinion.

            “They cheered the whole time!” The Jamboree is an annual nationwide gathering of scouts on a week long trip away from home. The whole week is celebratory. Pancakes are received with equal enthusiasm.

            “It was a record attendance! ” To repeat, the Jamboree is an annual nationwide gathering of scouts on a week long trip away from home. Plans for trips like this often launch at the start of the previous school year — before November. Record attendance has nothing to do with the President.

            “People were ecstatic that, against all odds, he won!” A crowd of non-voters cheered a famous speaker. You have no idea whether they’re ecstatic about a Trump election or about being in crowd with a famous speaker after a great meal of pancakes.

        • RBHolb

          “This article contains no valid information, and only seeks to disparage Trump himself.”

          There is a supposed mischaracterization of BSA policy, but beyond that, is there anything that is untrue? Not just uncomfortable for Trumpistas, but untrue?

          Was this speech appropriate for the situation? If so, please explain why.

        • BWF

          Believe me, the only one who has disparaged Trump, is Trump himself.

  • lindblomeagles

    Please tell me we’re not surprised by this? C’mon people. He’s Donald Trump. When, since becoming a political creature, has he NOT gone there? I hold the Boy Scouts accountable frankly. Donald Trump told the American audience he was not going to change, apologize, or empathize, with anybody. He has CONSISTENTLY stayed the course, never once deviating from it. WHY WOULD ANY NONPARTISAN ORGANIZATION, COMPANY, CHURCH, SCHOOL, OR LABORATORY invite this guy, President or not, to give a speech about anything, TRADITION BE-DAMNED? They SHOULD HAVE KNOW what they were getting when they sent Trump the invite. Yes, Trump IS THAT PREDICTABLE.