“Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?” said US president Donald Trump at the beginning of his speech Monday night (July 24) at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia.
Yet that is exactly what the president went on to do in a rambling 35-minute speech that focused much more on politics and the president’s perceived injustices than it did honor, duty, and the Boy Scout way.
Trump was never a Boy Scout, unlike previous US presidents John F. Kennedy, Gerald Ford, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama. But that didn’t stop Trump from complimenting himself for knowing people who are Boy Scouts: “I’ve known so many Scouts over the years. Winners. I’ve known so many great people.”
The speech, given to an audience primarily made up of kids and teenagers, was basically a highlight reel of Trump’s favorite conversation topics (crowd size, the lying media, criticizing Barack Obama) and had more than a few tone-deaf and strange moments:
Attacking the press
“Boy, you have a lot of people here. The press will say it’s about 200 people. It looks like about 45,000 people. You set a record today. You set a record. That’s a great honor, believe me. Tonight we put aside all of the policy fights in Washington DC—you’ve been hearing about that with the fake news and all of that. We’re going to put that aside.” Trump also attacked polling data as “fake polls.”
Insult Washington bureaucracy
“You know, I go to Washington and I see all these politicians, and I see the swamp, and it’s not a good place. In fact, today, I said we ought to change it from the word ‘swamp’ to the word ‘cesspool’ or perhaps to the word ‘sewer.'”
Threatening to fire cabinet members
“By the way, are you going to get the votes?” Trump said while discussing the upcoming Senate vote on the new healthcare bill. “[Secretary Price] better get them. He better get them. Oh, he better. Otherwise I’ll say, ‘Tom, you’re fired.'”
Deriding leaks from his administration
“A scout is trustworthy, loyal,” Trump said, pausing as he referred to the tenets of the Boy Scout oath. “We could use some more loyalty I will tell that you that.”
Long-winded personal anecdotes
Trump spent a significant portion of the speech relating a story about a New York real-estate developer he knew from his younger days who “lost his momentum” after he got bored of a life of yachts and parties.
His 2016 election win and “the maps”
Trump referred to election night 2016 as “that incredible night with the maps,” and provided a detailed state-by-state breakdown of his electoral victory, while also accusing Democratic rival Hillary Clinton of ignoring the middle of the country.
Insulting his predecessor
“By the way, just a question, did President Obama ever come to a Jamboree?” Trump asked. (Obama addressed the Jamboree via video in 2010 to mark the Scouts’ 100th anniversary).
Other cringe-inducing moments
The president thanked the crowd for voting to ‘Make America Great Again’ (most of the attendees at the Jamboree are not legally able to vote) and pledged his administration would make sure everyone says “Merry Christmas.”
Trump’s appearance garnered a mixed reception of cheers and boos from the Scouts. When parents learned about it, the negative reaction was swift. After criticism mounted overnight, the Boy Scouts of America released a statement that reiterated that the organization is “wholly nonpartisan.” “The invitation for the sitting US president to visit the National Jamboree is a long-standing tradition,” the BSA said, “and is in no way an endorsement of any political party or specific policies.”
On Tuesday, the BSA Facebook page was flooded with angry comments from parents who were upset that the parent-funded, parent-run organization featured such a politicized speech at its flagship event. Many parents threatened to remove their children from the Scouts and accused the Jamboree of becoming a de facto youth rally for Trump.
The National Boy Scout Jamboree is the Boy Scouts’ marquee event, held every four years. It brings together tens of thousands of Scouts, leaders, and staff from across the country for 10 days of activities. Trump is the eighth US president to attend (the last president to appear was George W. Bush in 2005). Obama turned down the organization’s invitation to speak in 2013 in protest of a former BSA policy that prevented gay members and leaders from joining (the Scouts only began letting transgender youths join the organization this year).
Read the full text of President Trump’s speech at the National Boy Scout Jamboree here.