President Donald Trump waves to some 30,000+ Scouts and Venturers during the "Fellowship and Service Show" on 24 July 2017 at the BSA's National Scout Jamboree (Carlos Barria/Reuters)
By now, many of you have seen, read or heard about President Donald Trump's appearance and performance during the 2017 National Scout Jamboree. It reminded me of a movie I saw when I was younger. The movie was called "Groundhog Day," and it starred comedic actor Bill Murray. In this movie, Murray's character was an on an endless "do loop" while covering a story on Groundhog Day (February 2nd) No matter what he did to attempt to change the outcome of the day, he would go to bed and wake up on February Second -- things would occur exactly the same way, exactly in the same order, exactly as he remembered it. So, he went ahead with the gag. He laughed. We laughed. The spell was broken.
We -- those of us living in the greatest and freest (is that a word? I'm using it) country on the face of this planet -- we are all living "Groundhog Day." We are not laughing, however.
The President of the United States was invited to attend and address the participants and staff of the 2017 National Scout Jamboree during the "Fellowship and Service Show" on July 24, 2017. The show is one of several which are offered to the participants and staff of the ten-day National Jamboree. Two of the shows, the opening, and closing shows are also open to the general public. The Jamboree is typically held once every three to four years in the United States.
In advance, the BSA's Communications Team provided simple guidance to those coming to the show. It reminded Scouts and Venturers (older male and female members of the BSA), their adult leaders and staff members that the Jamboree is a microcosm of American life. There are some who are very appreciative to the 45th President, and there are others who cannot stand the man -- and there are many in-between. Scouts and Venturers are asked to be kind, friendly and courteous during the show; to basically be on the kinds of behavior one would show to someone coming to your home for a visit.
The President's comments -- he was to appear for 26 minutes, according to an outline of a schedule -- was scripted for him. Not being a former Scout or Scouter, Mr. Trump had no clue to what a Jamboree was nor the standards of behavior which Scouts were asked to respectfully display while in the presence of the leader of the Free World. The script was reviewed by the White House Communications staff and provided to the BSA's Communications team before final touches were placed on the words by the President himself before it was placed into Teleprompters he would be speaking from. Mr. Trump's people failed to provide more than just a thumbnail of "it's like a campaign stop except for everyone here is a kid" That proved to be a contributor to the program's bad execution. The script, by the way, emphasized service to the community, to the nation, and pride in being a member of the Boy Scouts of America at this point in American history.
If the scripted comments were spoken with very little personal commentary, it would have certainly be touted as a "turning point address" and one which President Trump could later point to with pride and state "THIS helped me change the narrative!"
Instead, several places within the scripted comments were places whereby the President could insert personal comments. It was designed for Trump to comment on "where's my buddies from West Virginia" or "Where's the Scouts from Wisconsin...you know I spent a great deal of time in your state..." to whoops and hollers from those from that State.
The President used many of those places to diverge off the “staked out trail,” and when he got stuck, he simply paused and reverted to “campaign mode.” We had hoped that the prepared words would discourage him from drifting off… but they did not. This was no different than when, a short while after he was elected, he went to the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) headquarters, and while standing in from of their Memorial Wall honoring CIA operatives who have given their lives in defense of our country, he delivered his basic “stump speech.” More recently, he shocked the group of uniformed military personnel at the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford by telling them to please lobby Congress in support of his agenda.
(Military people cannot do any form of lobbying, even for causes which may support them. It is against the law.)
One comment totally expected was the contrast between the previous President non-attendance and his own.
"How many Jamborees has President Obama made?" to the audience yelling "NONE!" President Trump had a right to gloat about this: in 2013, a serious storm affected the east coast and prevented the helicopter from landing at the then-new Summit Reservation for their first National Jamboree on those grounds. Excusable.
In 2010 however, President Obama turned down the offer to be at the last National Jamboree at Fort AP Hill, Virginia -- 47 air miles from the White House -- and instead, citing a "contractual agreement with the ABC television network", flew and was driven to the network's New York City studios to appear on the daytime show "The View" which featured an all-female hosting cast. "Inexcusable," said a lot of Scouts and Scouters.
President Trump also goaded and encouraged Scouts and Venturers to "boo" former President Obama for his non-appearance. They did because as we know, Scouts and Venturers are Obedient. To them, this was no different than when Will Smith tells concert-goers to “Wave your hands in the air” or Garth Brooks asking those attending his concert appearance to sing with him the last “unofficial” risqué verse of Friends in Low Places.
With other comments more appropriate for one of his election rallies than a Scouting event, the President publically threatened one of his Cabinet secretaries – his HHS Secretary (despite spin, it was not in jest; a major vote to repeal/replace/get rid of the "Obamacare" insurance plan the next day was being managed by the Secretary of Health and Human Services) and talked about "hot women" at a dinner party he attended a while back, and it was done.
Social and traditional media lit up afterward, and not in a good way. Parents - Moms and Grandmoms mostly - called local Councils and the National Center asking simply "How can you let this happen?" The words the President started to say -- the words to the Scout Law -- the Scouts turned and pointed fingers at the President while repeating the time-tested words to him.
I made the suggestion earlier that like with two other Presidents, the BSA videotape the President's address and showed it instead. The arena has a multimillion-dollar audio/visual set up, which would allow all of the Scouts and Venturers to see their President. It would have had a more positive impact, I argued.
"What would he talk about for 30 minutes...he doesn't have a Philmont or Jamboree story of his own to share; not a funny story about how he joined Cub Scouts and "the boys with the red arrows." He can't tell how important carrying a twenty-five cent laminated card in his wallet really is -- and how it has gotten him out of trouble more times than he can recall. He has no heroism, no conservation, no recruiting stories." I said.
We saw this yesterday and the day before that, and the day before that.