Donald Trump's speech to the Boy Scouts this week reached impressive new heights of self-parody

Donald Trump must be the greatest Scout leader in history. In just six months, he has taught all of us to be prepared for absolutely anything, other than a public display of presidential sanity

Matthew Norman
Tuesday 25 July 2017 18:41 BST
The tangerine Baden-Powell of the Oval Office: Trump addresses the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday
The tangerine Baden-Powell of the Oval Office: Trump addresses the Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday (AP)

The least astounding revelation of this week, or any, is that Donald Trump was never a Boy Scout. Had the US movement of the mid-1950s introduced merit badges wrought from 24-carat gold, and awarded them for such wholesome tasks as Whites Only Property Renting, Dodging The Draft On Spurious Medical Grounds, and Avoiding Social Encounters With Children of Non-Multi-Millionaires, who knows? But it didn’t, and he wasn’t.

Given the safe assumption that Trump regards getting dirty outdoors and doing stuff with rope as a profit-less waste of time for sad losers who are far less altruistic than they’d have you believe, it seems that here, as elsewhere, he follows the teaching of his presidential role model. “Nobody’s a Boy Scout,” said Francis Underwood in House of Cards. “Not even Boy Scouts.”

This in mind, a huge hats-off to Trump for faking the love in yesterday’s speech to the National Scout Jamboree. Some 40,000 Boy Scouts gathered in Glen Jean (not a guns’n’God-clinging country singer from Louisiana, as the name suggests, but a town in West Virginia) to be inspired by the timeless grace and wisdom for both of which “Trump” has become the thesaurus’s go-to synonym.

And he was off to an absolute flier. “Who the hell wants to speak about politics,” he began, “when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts?”

Who indeed? Who, addressing an audience awaiting a folksy talk about how scouting prepares the flower of American youth for productive lives, is crazy enough to indulge in political score-settling?

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So it was, after opening with his suspicion that the media would lie, inauguration-style, about the size of the crowd, that Trump talked movingly about the American dream and gave shout-outs to cabinet members present.

“Tom Price still lives the Scout oath, helping to keep millions of Americans strong and healthy as our Secretary of Health and Human Services. And he's doing a great job. And hopefully he's going to get the votes tomorrow to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare that's really hurting us.”

At this, cheeringly enough, applause and “USA, USA!” erupted.

“By the way, are you going to get the votes?” continued Trump. “He better get them. He better get them. Oh, he better. Otherwise I'll say, ‘Tom, you're fired.’ I'll get somebody. He better get Senator Capito to vote for it. He better get the other senators to vote for it. It's time.”

Who the hell would want to speak about politics?

Not Trump, who instead spoke about the holy trinity of scouting: campfires, merit badges, and fake news. “Man, this is a lot of people… That is so incredible… What do you think the chances are that this incredible massive crowd, record setting, is going to be shown on television tonight? One per cent or zero?... Fake media. Fake news.”

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What followed included attacks on Barack Obama (a Boy Scout in Indonesia) for dissing the movement, and on Hillary Clinton – booed for this at a Scouts Jamboree! – for not campaigning in the Rust Belt. “But we go to Wisconsin, and we had tremendous crowds… But the polls are saying – but we won Wisconsin,” he plouged on in that flawless pidgin tongue of his own creation. “So I have to tell you, what we did, in all fairness, is an unbelievable tribute to you.” He congratulated many thousands of people who are too young to vote.

Job figures, stock prices, new military hardware – mentions of these wholly apolitical subjects were intertwined with on-autocue homilies about the splendour of unremunerated hard work and tirelessly helping others.

In celebrating the elements of scouting he holds dearest, Trump’s sincerity was striking. Just as you needn’t read them to understand intelligence briefings better than anyone else, you need never have been a Boy Scout to embody the very soul of scouting. What is his presidency if not perpetual homage to the movement’s credo that the very best way to learn is on the job? Learning From Experience is even more valuable than Learning From Paying Trump University $35,000 For A 50-cent Piece Of Paper.

If anyone had doubts that the scouting movement is right to claim that “practical experience” acquired in “small groups… builds unity, camaraderie and a close-knit fraternal atmosphere,” Trump’s endless attacks on colleagues (Attorney General Jeff Sessions being the latest daily victim) and that semi-jocose threat to sack Tom Price slew them.

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As Jared Kushner would confirm, if not necessarily under oath, learning on the job instils “trustworthiness and personal honour, and develops responsibility, reliability, and readiness”. Only today, the President tweeted, “Jared Kushner did very well yesterday in proving he did not collude with the Russians. Witch Hunt. Next up, 11 year old Barron Trump!”

If he was joking, there is still infinitely more chance of that 11-year-old being subpenoaed under suspicion of colluding with the Kremlin than of being so un-filial as to join the Scouts. And why would he? Why would anyone these days? Boy or girl, woman or man, no one need be a Scout to master the paramount precept of scouting.

The tangerine Baden-Powell of the Oval Office must be the greatest Scout leader in history. In just six months, he has taught all of us to be prepared for absolutely anything, other than a public display of presidential sanity, in the age of Trump.

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