GLEN JEAN, WV (BY: JONI APPELBAUM, THE ATLANTIC) – Donald Trump continued his ongoing tour of cherished American institutions on Monday night, delivering yet another jarringly partisan speech to an apolitical audience—this one, comprising tens of thousands still too young to vote.
During the campaign, his performance at the Al Smith dinner—where presidential candidates roast their rivals and themselves every four years—devolved into overt attacks on his opponent. Shortly after his election, he stunned CIA employees by delivering a campaign-style stump speech before the agency’s Memorial Wall. On Saturday, he surprised the crowd of uniformed personnel at the commissioning of the USS Gerald R. Ford by imploring them to lobby Congress in support of his agenda.
So his speech on Monday night to the 2017 Boy Scout Jamboree ought to have been unsurprising. Trump, after all, seems to have only one mode, irrespective of the setting, or the nature of the audience he’s addressing; one familiar litany of triumphs and grievances to which he constantly returns, delighting his fans and galling his critics.
But he retains the capacity to surprise.
“As the Scout Law says: ‘A Scout is trustworthy, loyal’—we could use some more loyalty, I will tell you that,” Trump said, and paused there. The assembled scouts shouted the rest of it for him: “…helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent.”
Like millions of other boys, I grew up reciting that creed on weekends. I had always taken it to be a list of obligations; its lessons that the path to leadership lay in serving others, and that there are ideals greater than self-interest. The Scout Oath is a pledge to “do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law,” to subordinate self gratification to the pursuit of that litany of virtues.
So when Trump paused at “loyal”—when he interjected, “we could use some more loyalty”—I was stunned. This is the president who told James Comey, “I expect loyalty.” Over the weekend, he’d inveighed against Republicans who “do very little to protect their President.” And there he was, looking out at a sea of Scouts, telling them that “Boy Scout values are American values,” apparently unaware that his own definition of loyalty—something that he himself is owed—is precisely the opposite of the definition those Scouts are taught to embrace—something that we owe to others.