On Monday, July 24, President Trump addressed the 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree in Glen Jean, W. Va., speaking to a crowd of 40,000 scouts. They enthusiastically received the president, frequently applauding and breaking into cheers of "USA, U.S.A., USA!"
It was a heart-warming event, during which the planet's most powerful politician praised scouting, pointing out that 10 members of his Cabinet had been scouts. Two of them, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, had indeed been Eagle Scouts (scouting’s highest rank, attained by only 4 percent of scouts). Zinke showed up in his scout uniform, short pants and all, which must have delighted the crowd.
The President, as he does, reveled in the warmth of his audience, as he reminded them of the importance of "hard work and perseverance," of loyalty, of the joy of doing something "that you love" for a living, and the importance of duty, honor, and taking care "of the people God put into your life."
It was, in short, just the sort of thing that one might expect the president to do appearing before the Boy Scouts. And yet, instead of praising the speech, the Chief Scout Executive, Michael Surbaugh, issued a subsequent statement that "I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric [that the President] inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent."
According to an account published in the UK’s Independent newspaper, which called Mr. Trump’s speech "highly politicized," Mr. Surbaugh was responding, belatedly, to "an outcry from angry parents, who responded by condemning Scouts for its initial 'silence' after the speech."
This is the same Michael Surbaugh who announced earlier this year that the Boy Scouts would be accepting transgender scouts. "After weeks of significant conversations," he explained, "we realized that referring to birth certificates as the reference point is no longer sufficient."
So was the speech really "highly politicized"? Or is it simply that anything President Trump does will be discolored by most of the media? The Independent reported that, "the president criticized former U.S. President Barack Obama, threatened to fire federal employees and denounced the media."
The truth is a bit different. The president did remind the scouts that President Obama had never attended a jamboree (which is true, though Mr. Obama did, once, send the scouts a recorded video commemorating their 100 year anniversary).
President Trump, obviously joking, did threaten to fire one federal employee, former scout, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, if he failed to get the votes to repeal Obamacare (so far Secretary Price has failed to get those votes, and he remains in office).
The president also reminded the scouts that it was highly doubtful that a media prejudiced against him would show the record-setting crowd he addressed on television, and he did denounce "Fake media. Fake news."
Was it really inappropriate for the president to point out to the cheering throng of 40,000 scouts that he wanted Obamacare replaced, that he unexpectedly triumphed over his political opponent in the election, and that though his predecessor never attended a scout jamboree it was his (Mr. Trump’s) intention to return? The Independent clearly thought so, declaring that "Donald Trump was the first U.S. president in 80 years to stray from the topics of diplomacy and citizenship, instead choosing to focus on partisan politics."
This was a mischaracterization of what President Trump had to say. Most of his address to the scouts was, in fact, the traditional homily emphasizing the famous scouting virtues of patriotism, reverence, responsibility, hard work, and community service.
Of course, Donald Trump being Donald Trump, did remind the scouts that it was his perseverance in visiting swing states and Mrs. Clinton’s failure to do so that got him the presidency. Are we to think that the cheering scouts were so fragile, so removed from the world, so lacking in the scout-like virtues of fortitude, that they needed to be protected from this?
What's significant here, of course, is the purported "outcry" resulting, presumably, from those sympathetic to Mrs. Clinton or Mr. Obama, because Mr. Trump injected "politics" into his speech. But what if the extreme political division in the country and what if the profound division over values is linked, and is, in fact, the most important issue which ought to be discussed by the president, and shared with the scouts?
It was clear to anyone at the event that something extraordinary was happening, just as it is whenever the president leaves Washington, D.C. and gives his campaign-style speech to ordinary Americans.
In his speeches, the president reaffirms traditional American values, the values that the scouts have always lived by. Could it be the media and his political opponents are really most upset because they don’t share those values?
Stephen B. Presser is the Raoul Berger Professor of Legal History Emeritus at Northwestern’s Pritzker School of Law, the Legal Affairs Editor of Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, and a contributor to The University Bookman. He graduated from Harvard College and Harvard Law School, and has taught at Rutgers University, the University of Virginia, and University College, London. He has often testified on constitutional issues before committees of the United States Congress, and is the author of "Recapturing the Constitution: Race, Religion, and Abortion Reconsidered" (Regnery, 1994) and "Law Professsors: Three Centuries of Shaping American Law" (West Academic, 2017). To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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