Profound disappointment barely seems to scratch the surface of my feelings toward both President Donald Trump and the Boy Scouts of America after the president’s speech at the National Boy Scout Jamboree in West Virginia on Monday evening.
Trump, whose meandering address contained nuggets of advice cloaked in shameless self-aggrandizement, redoubled his attacks on both Democrats and civil institutions, derided “Obamacare,” and touted economic indicators that have been on the rise for years.
I am disappointed in the president for exploiting a captive audience of young people to engage in flagrant self-promotion and to widen the chasm of division that pollutes our politics. I am disappointed in attendees who applauded the president as he demeaned his predecessor Barack Obama (who, incidentally, was involved in scouting), his former opponent Hillary Clinton, and the media.
And I am disappointed in commenters on social media who posted horrifying side-by-side images and comparisons of the Jamboree and Hitler Youth rallies.
Each group — presented with a unique opportunity to celebrate values that should guide our nation —displayed an appalling lack of self-control.
In a time of unyielding rancor, the tenets of the Scout Law were used not as ideals to which we can aspire, but as weapons with which we can bludgeon our political opponents.
So here I offer an alternate message, one that could have been given by the president to a group that aims to embody so much of what we purport to value as a country.
What Trump could have said
On a foggy evening in London more than 100 years ago, a disoriented businessman named William Boyce received directions from a young man who expected nothing in return. He was a Scout doing a good turn. Inspired by this simple act of kindness, Boyce brought an organization to America that has been part of its fabric for 107 years.
In a time when our politics divides us, the Scout Law reminds us of our duty to ourselves, to one another and to our country. It extols the virtues of citizenship; it centers our mind on service; and it reminds us of our fundamental duty to love our neighbors as ourselves.
We find wisdom in the points of the Scout Law.
A Scout is trustworthy. He can trust his neighbor; his neighbor can trust him.
A Scout is loyal — not to any one political party or ideology, but to his peers and to his country.
A Scout is helpful. He knows that when one of us succeeds, we all succeed. To that end, when he has a hand to lend, he lends it, trusting that the next time he needs a hand, someone will lend him one.
A Scout is friendly, courteous and kind. He doesn’t need a reason to show kindness to someone else, and he doesn’t expect a quid pro quo. He just does what is right.
A Scout is obedient. Whether or not he agrees with a directive, he upholds it, and then later, if he believes it's unwise, he seeks to change it through proper channels. He respects leaders and authorities, realizing that they must make decisions, and he must respect them.
A Scout is cheerful. He maintains a positive attitude even when circumstances appear bleak. When the challenges appear insurmountable, he puts a smile on his face and presses forward because he realizes the only permanent failure is a failure to put forth one’s best effort.
A Scout is thrifty. He uses his time, his energy and his money wisely.
A Scout is brave. He stands up for what he believes is right even if that means he stands alone. Faced with a moral dilemma, he turns inward to confirm what he knows is right rather than looking outward to see what the crowd is doing.
A Scout is clean— in thought, word, and deed.
A Scout is reverent. He puts God ahead of everyone and everything else. He trusts in the divine wisdom of the Lord Almighty to guide him along his path.
In this age of division and incivility, I call upon all Americans to reflect on the values of the Scout Law.
When we’re willing to work as a team, caring more about the job getting done than who gets the credit, we can overcome so many of the self-imposed barriers before us.
When we realize that leadership means putting others before ourselves, remembering the words of the scout’s oath of office (I promise to do my best to be worthy of this office for the sake of my fellow scouts and my troop and the World Brotherhood of Scouting) —which never mention self-interest — we can put ourselves on the path to the more perfect union our nation's founders envisioned some 241 years ago.
For it is in the legacy of one simple good turn by a young man done in 1909 that we are gathered today. With that in mind, go forth and serve your communities and your country one good turn, one service project and one smile at a time, knowing that the impact of your actions will be felt for generations to come.
Benjamin Pontz, a 2015 Eagle Scout from Troop 56 in Strasburg, is a sophomore political science and public policy double major at Gettysburg College. He earned the Bronze Palm, which means he earned five additional merit badges as an Eagle Scout, and remained active in his troop as an Eagle Scout. He’s also a member of LNP’s Generation Next staff.