The Boy Scouts are committed to Good Turn projects. The good deeds that benefit individuals, communities and society, as a whole, are demonstrated in many ways by members. Those concepts are reinforced during the National Scout Jamboree, a gathering of tens of thousands of youngsters from around the world. They convene to embrace the ideas of service, citizenship and global diplomacy.
For 80 years, American presidents have been speaking to the jamboree and on July 24 in West Virginia, Donald Trump was among those who delivered his message in person. Those who have been unable to attend have sent video messages or someone to speak on their behalf, as First Lady Nancy Reagan did for President Reagan in 1985. It's a tradition that dates back to the first Jamboree in 1937. President Franklin D. Roosevelt posed for photographs, awarded an Eagle badge and chatted with Scouts who swarmed his touring car.
Since that first jamboree, presidents have focused their talks on concepts that compliment the goals of scouting and reinforce points of the Scout's Law. A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave clean and reverent. For example, Roosevelt talked about good citizenship. Harry S. Truman discusses the importance of 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 of unification -- the “bonds of common purpose and common ideals.” And President George H.W. Bush spoke of “serving others.”
The speeches are available online via your preferred search engine.
When Bill Clinton spoke to the Scouts in 1997, it was the 60th anniversary of the first jamboree, and Clinton focused on people doing “good turns” for one another. “If every young person in America would give back to their community in the way you do, just imagine what we could do,” he said. “Imagine how many fewer problems we could have. So many times I have wished that every young person in America had the chance to be a part of Scouting. And tonight I see why, more clearly than ever. So I hope you’ll go home and help others to serve and learn the joy that you share by the service you do.”
President George W. Bush addressed the Scouts in 2001 and 2005. The second speech came at a time of growing national tension over the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: “Lives of purpose are constructed on the conviction there is right and there is wrong, and we can know the difference,” Bush said. “You’ll find that confronting injustice and evil requires a vision of goodness and truth.”
President Obama didn’t attend the jamboree in 2010, which marked the 100th anniversary of the Boy Scouts of America. But he did send the Scouts a videotaped message praising the organization’s history of community service and legacy of producing national leaders. He noted that 11 of the 12 people who walked on the moon were Scouts. "That service is worth celebrating, but there’s still more to do,” Obama said. “In the years ahead we’re going to depend on you, the next generation of leaders, to move America forward.”
In keeping with the Scouts’ traditions, the presidents and surrogates who have represented them have stayed away from partisan politics -- until last week. “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” Trump said in his opener to about 40,000 Scouts.
Then, in typical Trump style, he broke with presidential tradition. News reports indicated that he bragged about the “record” crowd size, bashed President Barack Obama, criticized the “fake media” and trashed Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. In the lengthy 35-minute speech, the president threatened to fire his health and human services secretary if he couldn’t persuade members of Congress to vote for the Republican health-care bill. At one point, he told a rambling story about a conversation he had at a New York cocktail party with a once-successful home builder who “lost his momentum.” The lesson, apparently: “You have to know whether or not you continue to have the momentum. And if you don’t have it, that’s okay.”
Throughout the address, Trump did praise “the moms and the dads and troop leaders” and thanked the Scouts for upholding “the sacred values of our nation.”
A friend of mine who has four sons clearly was disappointed by Trump's message: "All my boys are in scouting," he said in a social media post. "We refer to the Scout Law as the ideal on how to live. As a result, the boys routinely point out how the president does not follow most of its points. I can't argue with them. Sad."
I agree. We all fall short and none of the past presidents were perfect, but they did offer speeches in keeping with the mission of Scouts. Trump delivered a message that was inappropriate for his scouting audience. As my friend said, sad.
Shea Wilson is the former managing editor of the El Dorado News-Times. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @sheawilson7.