Trump’s speech to Boy Scouts irks some in ‘nonpartisan’ organization – Washington Post

 In World
Lavinia Falck had spent six days at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia, getting to know teenagers from around the world. Then, she and her friends gathered on the grass to hear from a special guest: the president of the United States.

“By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?” President Trump said during a rambling speech Monday in which he used harsh language, recounted election-night victories and New York cocktail parties, and attacked his political opponents.

“Everyone around me was booing,” said Falck, 17, a member of the co-ed Venture Scout program run by the Boy Scouts. She remembered looking at her new friends and wishing she’d been allowed to stay at her bunk, noting that the booing for Obama was particularly upsetting because attendees had been directed not to jeer Trump. “Scouts are supposed to be courteous and friendly and all these things, and it was really un-Scoutlike for everyone around me to boo.”

Trump’s speech at the Jamboree in Mount Hope, W.Va., broke with years of tradition — presidential traditions and Scouting traditions both. Past presidents had used these moments to extol American exceptionalism and civic virtues — such as service and honesty — that have long been pillars of the Boy Scout ethos.

Trump did a little of that before veering into a speech about his own exceptionalism.

“It pivoted to essentially a typical Trump rally. And it was not a campaign-rally audience. It was an audience of young boys and young men, who’ve come from around the country to celebrate Scouting,” said Robert Birkby, a former Eagle Scout who wrote three editions of the Boy Scout Handbook. “He did not share in the event. He shared of himself.”

By Tuesday, Trump’s speech had prompted a backlash from many current and former Scouts and their families, who say it was not only inappropriate but also undermines efforts to diversify and modernize the century-old organization.

On social media and in interviews, many said they thought national leaders should have cut short or condemned the speech, which included strong language — “Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” — and a reference to cocktail parties attended by “the hottest people in New York.” Trump at times tried to raise issues more traditionally discussed at Boy Scout gatherings, such as character and perseverance. But he also lingered on his campaign fight against Democrat Hillary Clinton and seemingly joked about firing his health and human services secretary over Republicans’ inability, so far, to pass health-care legislation.


President Trump speaks at the National Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday. (Saul Loeb/Agence France-Presse via Getty Images)

In a statement Tuesday, the Boy Scouts of America called itself “wholly nonpartisan” and said it is routine to invite the president to its Jamboree, which occurs every four years at the Summit Bechtel Family National Scout Reserve. Obama provided a video statement during a previous Jamboree.

“This 80-year-old custom of inviting Presidents to speak to Scouts is in no way an endorsement of any person, party or policies. Rather, the speaking invitation is based on our Duty to Country, from the Scout Oath, and out of respect for the Office of the President of the United States,” the organization said.

“As one of America’s largest youth-serving organizations,” the statement continued, “the Boy Scouts of America reflects a number of cultures and beliefs. We will continue to be respectful of the wide variety of viewpoints in this country.”

Randall Stephenson, national president of the Boy Scouts of America and chairman and chief executive of AT&T, declined to comment via an AT&T spokesman Tuesday. His company is trying to complete an $85 billion merger with Time Warner — a settlement the Justice Department is evaluating, using its antitrust powers. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is an Eagle Scout and also was president of the Boy Scouts from 2010 to 2012; Tillerson visited the Jamboree last week for the unveiling of a statue in his honor.

By midday Tuesday, the organization’s Facebook page included hundreds of comments from former Scouts and parents of Scouts, calling for the organization to make a stronger statement condemning the speech. Many threatened to pull out of Scouting.

The controversy comes as the venerable organization, which has promoted civic engagement and character development among children since 1910, strives to stay relevant and appear inclusive. Membership in the Boy Scouts has dwindled by a third since 2000, to just more than 2 million as of 2016.

The organization has sought to reach out to Hispanics through its Valores para Toda la Vida (Values for Life) program. It founded its co-ed Venturing program, which focuses on outdoor exploration for teens and young adults, in 1998 and has opened some of its other programs to girls, though so far not its prestigious Eagle Scout program. The organization rescinded its ban on gay members in 2014 and in January announced that it will allow transgender members.

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