Trump’s Speech To Boy Scouts Is Just Another Example Of His Outrageous Narcissism
President Trump spoke to the quadrennial Boy Scout Jamboree last night, and the event was as unusual as the times we are living in:
GLEN JEAN, W.Va. — President Trump looked out Monday evening at the sea of Boy Scouts who were gathered in a remote field, far away from the travails of the capital, and declared that he would not talk about politics.
“Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” he asked.
It turned out he did, at least a little.
Amid standard testimonials to hard work and American values, Mr. Trump launched into a speech to the scouts replete with classic Trumpian jabs at opponents and the “fake media.” He harkened back to his “incredible” election and jokingly told his health secretary that if he failed to deliver enough votes in Tuesday’s health care vote, “you’re fired.”
With an estimated 40,000 scouts, volunteers and others on hand, it was certainly the largest crowd Mr. Trump had seen since his inauguration, and a highly supportive one. As anyone who followed last year’s election knows, Mr. Trump is no boy scout — but he boasted that 10 members of his Cabinet were, including some he brought with him.
“By the way, just a question,” Mr. Trump said mischievously. “Did President Obama ever come to a jamboree?”
He knew the answer was no. While Mr. Obama, like every president since the founding of the Boy Scouts of America in 1910, served as its honorary president, he never came to the jamboree, which is held once every four years, because of policies barring gay scouts and scoutmasters.
Those policies have since changed, and Mr. Trump enjoyed ribbing Mr. Obama. He also needled Hillary Clinton, recalling the time he spent with voters in Michigan during last year’s campaign while she did not. “My opponent didn’t work hard there,” he said.
It paid off on election night, he pointed out, despite pundits and pollsters. “Do you remember that incredible night with the maps?” he said. “And that map was so red it was unbelievable and they didn’t know what to say.”
He also trumpeted the economy and leaned on Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Republican of West Virginia, to vote to open debate on repealing Mr. Obama’s health care law. And he said that “under the Trump administration, you’ll be saying Merry Christmas again when you go shopping.”
Trump’s decision to become blatantly political in a speech that has been traditionally non-partisan quickly drew derision from across the political spectrum, including from Stephen Stromberg at The Washington Post, himself a former Boy Scout, who called the speech an insult to everything the Boy Scouts stand for:
Sure, scout membership skews right. But those of us who did not fit that stereotype know that the organization is and should be open to all. I spent middle and high school in a small troop that met in a Mormon church but contained Jews, agnostics, a Seventh-day Adventist and various others. The boys’ politics, such as they were, stretched from extremely conservative to socialist. We went on to Harvard and community college, Silicon Valley and the Army. My scoutmasters were store owners, building contractors and, for a brief time, Oscar nominee William H. Macy. (Hey, it was L.A.) This was the 1990s, so the organization still had some growing to do. When one of our fellow scouts came out of the closet, he left the troop. But the BSA has since revised its membership policies to better reflect its mission of offering guidance to all young men.
As Trump spoke Tuesday night, former scouts on Twitter angrily invoked the complete scout law: A scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. Trump neither exhibits nor extols any of these traits. He dwells on perceived slights and humiliates those who dealt them; recall when Trump forced Mitt Romney, a good, public-spirited man (and former scout), to publicly kowtow to him, just before rejecting him for any position in his administration. He is a well-documented serial liar who neglects his solemn responsibilities; Republican lawmakers have been perplexed at how little he understands health-care policy, even though he may soon sign a bill that could mean life or death for millions. Also, remember when Trump encouraged his crowds to beat protesters? And remember when he was caught on tape glorifying sexual assault?
Trump’s lesson for 30,000 young men was that the bullies are right and that humility and self-sacrifice are for suckers. Exulting in his election victory, attacking his political opponents and railing on about killing Obamacare, the president celebrated winning — and, specifically, his winning — above all else. His boastful speech did not model public-spiritedness; it showcased the immodesty and one-upmanship that the organization expects its boys to grow out of. Instead of addressing the crowd, the president could have learned something from its finer members, decades his junior.”
On some level, I suppose it isn’t surprising that Trump behaved this way even in front of 30,000 Boy Scouts. The past two years have proven that he is largely incapable of controlling the narcissism, self-absorption, and demagoguery that have defined his character for the vast majority of his public life. The past six months have proven that even becoming President, which has been known to tame the outsized personalities of the men who have held the office in the past, has failed to change who and what Trump is. Given that, the fact that he would essentially use a speech to a gathering of teen and pre-teenage boys dedicated to the values that scouting is supposed to inculcate to promote himself and engage in petty attacks on his enemies and even those closest to him who he perceives as not being loyal to him should not be surprising at all.
In addition to giving a wholly inappropriate political speech, Trump managed to turn his appearance at the Jamboree to engage in some of the same political back-stabbing that has become all too common from this White House. In this case, Trump invited several members of his campaign who were former Boy Scouts, such as Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price. Noticeably not present was Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who was a Boy Scout and an Eagle Scout and who of course has recently become a target for public humiliation by the President of the United States. This isn’t dissimilar to the way Trump treated Sean Spicer during the trip earlier this year to Rome when it was decided that Spicer, a devout Catholic who apparently had made it known that he hoped to be invited along to the audience with Pope Francis, was left off the invite list by the White House in what was widely, and probably accurately, seen as a decision by Trump to silently humiliate his Press Secretary. Trump himself, by the way, was not a Boy Scout or a Cub Scout, although there are five former Presidents who were involved with the organization, including John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama.
While I largely share the disdain that Stromberg feels regarding Trump’s speech last night, it’s becoming increasingly hard to put into words just how bad this President is becoming so early in his Administration. As Peter Baker puts it in a piece in The New York Times, the President is testing the nation’s capacity for outrage, and it only seems likely to get worse long before it gets better. The sad truth, though, is that the people who voted for Trump and who continue to support him did so knowing that this is exactly what they would get if he managed to win. The fact that he spoke to a group of Boy Scouts in the same manner that he would speak to a bunch of his rapid supporters at a political rally should be neither surprising nor shocking at this point. This is what you signed up for, Trump supporters. The only problem is that you’re forcing the rest of us to live through it too.