Now that President Trump has had his fun with the Boy Scouts, it’s up to their parents to clean up his mess.
Many critics of the president’s campaign-rally-disguised-as-a-jamboree address called on the Boy Scouts to denounce the rhetoric.
(Trump encouraged booing of former President Barack Obama and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, lamented the lack of loyalty in Washington, bragged about his “so red it was unbelievable” election night map, threatened to fire some people, trashed the media as fake and promised to bring back “Merry Christmas,” among other delights.)
On Tuesday morning, the Boy Scouts released a statement saying, essentially, “No harm, no foul.”
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“The Boy Scouts of America is wholly non-partisan and does not promote any one position, product, service, political candidate, or philosophy,” it reads. “The invitation for the sitting U.S. president to visit the National Jamboree is a longstanding tradition and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.”
Now the parents of those 40,000 Scouts have some explaining to do to their kids — even if they (the parents or the kids) loved the speech.
If I had a Boy Scout, I would say something along these lines:
“What a cool experience to stand with the Boy Scouts and have the president of the United States address you. I’m really proud of you for the hard work it took you to get to that moment.
“Some of your peers might have really enjoyed what the president was saying, and some of them might not have. Some of them might need some time to decide how they feel about what he said. It can be hard to really think about a person’s words and what they truly mean when a crowd is chanting and cheering. You sort of get the impression that the words are true and inspiring, even when they’re not.
“What I mostly want to talk about is how the president made it sound as though the Scouts are a group separate and apart from the rest of America. He tried to pit you guys against other people — grown-ups who’ve served their country nobly, people who don’t vote the way he does, people who don’t worship the way he does.
“Those people are not your enemies. They are your fellow Americans. Some of them are your fellow Scouts.
“People with a lot of power, especially people terrified of losing their power, will often flatter you to get you to start thinking and acting like them. You’ll see it at school when someone’s trying to talk you into breaking a rule or mistreating a classmate. You’ll see it at work when you’re older. You’ll see it in politics.
“It’s tempting to succumb to that flattery — to think that this powerful person sees something special in you and really wants your unique talents and traits on his team. And that may be true.
“But you have to decide if it’s a team you want to join.
“You have to listen closely to the powerful person’s words. Is he talking about treating everyone fairly? Is he talking about setting aside differences and working toward a common goal? Are his ideas ones that you would be proud to make happen — proud to tell us you made happen?
“Or is he mostly talking about how the people who aren’t on his team are losers? Losers who aren’t worth your time or your concern?
“That ‘winners vs. losers’ path can be a dangerous, lonely one to start down. Think long and hard about whether you want to win the favor of someone who divides a place — any place — into people worth respecting and people who aren’t.
“Lots of presidents have spoken to the National Scout Jamboree. President Harry Truman, in his speech, said America ‘is striving to build a world in which men will live as good neighbors and work for the good of all.’
“That’s a pretty good yardstick. That’s the kind of team I hope you’ll seek out and join. Because then, whether your team wins or loses, you can be proud of what you worked toward, how you conducted yourself and in what sort of shape you left the place — whether that place is your troop, your school, your workplace, or your country.”
Heidi Stevens is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune.
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