We’re coming up on the one-year anniversary of Donald Trump’s speech to a national gathering of the Boy Scouts. With everything Trump has said publicly since his July 24, 2017 appearance at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, it’s hard to recollect some of the controversial things he talked about then. Suffice it to say that Boy Scout leaders did not call Trump to praise his speech, although Trump made that claim.
In fact, Scout leaders had to apologize for Trump’s performance. Trump’s remarks were laced with braggadocio, political rhetoric and derision of some of his foes. Some of the boys who heard it, booed at the mention of former President Barack Obama. Trump talked about Washington being not a “swamp,” but a “cesspool” or “sewer.” And he talked about “fake media” and “fake news.”
Later, Scout Executive Mike Surbaugh issued this statement: “I want to extend my sincere apologies to those in our Scouting family who were offended by the political rhetoric that was inserted into the jamboree. That was never our intent.”
The Rev. John R. Shear of Bridgeton, Missouri, was among those offended by Trump’s speech. But he thought the scout leaders should have gone further than merely apologizing for Trump. “The executive board of the Boy Scouts should agree to never allow this bully to address a Boy Scout event again,” Shear wrote. Rev. Shear had been invited to speak at local scouting events in the past. When he did so, he emphasized the importance of living the Scout Oath and the Scout Law throughout life, not just when a person belongs to a Boy Scout troop.
The Scouts, as they are now called, encourage their members to “be prepared.” The Scout Oath demands adherents to help other people at all times, and to be physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight. I once belonged to this organization, and although I did not earn a lot of badges, I still recall its principles. And I still have the Boy Scout Handbook, copyright 1959, which contains a lot of useful information, even nearly sixty years later.
Take page 438, which is loaded with wisdom that is badly needed today. Under “Becoming a Voting Citizen,” there’s advice for everyone to be thinking citizens rather than thoughtless ones. “Keep yourself informed on the happenings of the day–in your own community, your country, and throughout the world,” it says. “Learn how your country, your own state, your city, town or village are governed and find out how you fit into that government. Discover where that government is strong and where it is weak. Do your part as a citizen in the big task of upholding its strength and overcoming its weaknesses.”
This section of the book calls for civic engagement, a level of involvement, and voter participation that seem badly lacking today.
“Find out about our political parties and what they stand for–all of them, not just one. Study all sides of a question that concerns the welfare of your community, your state, your country. Then take your stand and vote as your conscience bids you. Vote those people into public office you feel best fitted to do what you think is right.”
This section of the handbook concludes that a nation is only as strong as each of its citizens. “America is as strong as YOU are!” The message between the lines of the Boy Scout book is that it’s not enough to wear an American flag on a lapel to demonstrate patriotism. Reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or standing for the National Anthem are mere public demonstrations. True patriotism stems from community involvement. It takes work.
Trump could have brought the Boy Scouts this message. But he didn’t.