Normally, when the president speaks at the Boy Scouts Jamboree, the kids hear a lot about doing their duty to God and their country, and the necessity of being thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. They will usually throw in a self-effacing anecdote from their time in scouting, if they participated, or perhaps just offer a generalized foible or two while cheering the value of the experience.
Yesterday, though, the Scouts got a special treat from Donald Trump — a warning to HHS Secretary Tom Price that his job was on the line this week, along with helpful advice about the nation’s capital being a “cesspool” and instruction on “fake news.” The good news is that everyone present qualified for the Politics merit badge:
During a speech unlike any most of the crowd had heard at a Scout function before, Trump mixed a traditional message to Scouts of encouragement about loyalty, service to others and never giving up, with mentions of fake news, former President Barack Obama, a replay of how Trump won the election, fake polls, and how Washington is a swamp, or even worse “a cesspool or sewer.” Some in the crowd broke into chants of “USA, USA.”
Trump told more than 40,000 Boy Scouts, leaders and volunteers at a national gathering in West Virginia that Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price “better get” the votes to begin debate on health care legislation Tuesday, lest Trump repeat his tagline from “The Apprentice,” the reality show he once starred in.
“Hopefully he’s going to get the votes tomorrow to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare,” Trump said, before turning to Price.
“By the way, you gonna get the votes? He better get ’em,” Trump said, adding: “Otherwise, I’ll say: Tom, you’re fired.”
Was this really necessary? Not long ago, the White House rightly objected when commentators started taking potshots at the appearance of Trump’s son Barron, noting that children should not be used as political targets or props. This is the flip side of that same value. The Boy Scouts have a long tradition of offering presidents a platform, but it has also been understood that the opportunity exists to promote scouting, not politics. Until now, every president has understood that tradition and kept the kids out of the political fray.
Criticism arose almost immediately, including from Senate Democrat Chris Murphy, who’s also a Scout leader:
As a Scout leader, my stomach is in knots about what Trump did today. If you haven't watched it yet, don't. It's downright icky.
— Chris Murphy (@ChrisMurphyCT) July 25, 2017
Icky sounds about right. Some others went overboard, however:
I'm an Eagle Scout. Trump using the 30,000 BoyScouts as his props tonight was a scene out of Triumph of the Will. Shocking abuse of children
— Michael Moore (@MMFlint) July 25, 2017
Inappropriate, yes. Leni Riefenstahl and child abuse it ain’t.
The Boy Scouts rushed out a statement after criticism of their invitation began:
“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.”
To be fair, perhaps Trump had them confused with the Girl Scouts.
In the future, the president needs to discern between a political rally like the one he’ll hold in Youngstown Ohio tonight, and appearances that offer him an opportunity to provide a different kind of service. Save the political rally speeches for the crowds that are actually eligible to vote.